My Favorite CSO: Mark Shuldiner

Mark Shuldiner frequently performs with he Chicago and Saint Louis symphony orchestras, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Music of the Baroque.

Todd Rosenberg Photography

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's commercial recording legacy began on May 1, 1916, when second music director Frederick Stock led the Wedding March from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Columbia Graphophone Company. The Orchestra has since amassed an extraordinary, award-winning discography on a number of labels — including Angel, CBS, Deutsche Grammophon, Erato, London/Decca, RCA, Sony, Teldec, Victor and others — continuing with releases on the in-house label CSO Resound under tenth music director Riccardo Muti. For My Favorite CSO, we asked members of the Chicago Symphony family for their favorite recordings (and a few honorable mentions) from the Orchestra's discography.

Harpsichordist Mark Shuldiner maintains a rigorous and varied performance schedule, and he frequently collaborates with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, including upcoming performances of Handel's Messiah in December 2021. Recently, he was featured on CSOtv as soloist in Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, leading members of the CSO from the harpsichord. Shuldiner also is a regular performer with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Palm Beach Opera, Music of the Baroque, the Staunton Music Festival and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, where he served as harpsichordist and cover conductor to both Nicholas McGegan and Richard Egarr. In addition to performing, he is the proprietor of a harpsichord-building workshop based in Urbana, Illinois, serving a varied clientele across the country, including the English Concert, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

BATES Anthology of Fantastic Zoology
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2015 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
“One of the most important draws (for me) in music is imagination. The universal language of music is uniquely suited to creating a space of self-reflection, allowing the listener seamless access to parts of their mind that are normally unengaged in waking life. Mason Bates' Anthology of Fantastic Zoology is an incredibly evocative tool for exactly that type of exploration. In addition, this work provides a unique opportunity to hear the vast range of skills employed by the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. You hear them drawing not only on the lush orchestral sound for which they’re known but also on their ability to intimately engage with each other as stellar chamber musicians. Riccardo Muti leads this sonically diverse and interesting eleven-movement work as only he can, running the Orchestra along twisting paths and leading the listener from one mythical being to the next. My favorite movement, by far, is Sirens. The winds and percussion provide a watery backdrop while the strings spin impossibly beautiful counterpoint moving in evocative swells, beckoning the listener to come crash upon their shores.”

BEETHOVEN Concerto for Piano No. 5 in E‑flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
Recorded in Krannert Center, Urbana, Illinois, in 1971 for London
Georg Solti conductor
Vladimir Ashkenazy piano
“Absolutely my very favorite work for keyboard, of any era, is Beethoven’s immense Emperor Concerto. Maestro Solti draws an incredibly substantial feel from the CSO strings in this recording that belies the subject of the concerto. In addition, you have one of the world’s great pianists, Vladimir Ashkenazy, painting not only with incredible color but also with impeccably sensitive timing. It is a treat to return to this as a touchstone of an extraordinary time in the CSO’s long history. Of special note is the way in which Solti supports Ashkenazy with the strings in the second movement. Never once does the Orchestra overwhelm the piano’s delicate spinning of melody, yet, at each rise in emotional intensity, the ensemble meets Ashkenazy’s intent. True music making, truly rendered.”

CHOPIN Concerto for Piano No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1983 for Deutsche Grammophon
Claudio Abbado conductor
Ivo Pogorelich piano
“No one has ever — nor will ever — composed for the piano quite like Chopin: the power, the sensitivity and the raw emotive potential. There is always so much musical resource in his writing from which a creative musician can derive inspiration. His Second Piano Concerto could not be in better hands than those found on the CSO’s recording — Ivo Pogorelich. In this recording, Claudio Abbado and Pogorelich come together in a beautiful collaboration, allowing moments of stunning beauty, feats of virtuosity and everything in between. Truly, this concerto sounds like a
‘best of’ Chopin set with an orchestral backdrop. Interesting, considering Ignacy Dobrzyński and Tomasz Nidecki are said to have orchestrated — or at the very least assisted Chopin in orchestrating — this concerto. While there is, to my ear, a compositional disconnect between the stunning writing for the piano and the more pedestrian orchestral writing, the CSO, under Abbado’s direction, brings home a very satisfying musical result.”

POULENC Gloria
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2007 for CSO Resound
Bernard Haitink conductor
Jessica Rivera soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe director
“No
list of Chicago Symphony Orchestra favorites would be complete without including a major choral work. It makes sense that one of the best orchestras in the world would have one of the best choruses in the world, and they are found in fine form in the CSO Resound recording of Poulenc’s Gloria. All of the ingenuity and color one would expect from Poulenc is present in this piece, with energetic rhythms, beguiling melodies and a true understanding of what makes each instrument (including the chorus) great. When listening to this, I was drawn especially to the beautiful winds in the Domine Deus and the wondrous richness in both brass and chorus.”

DEBUSSY Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1990 for London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Donald Peck flute
“Color
is what pushed me toward this recording as my final choice of favorites. This work has captured my imagination for most of my life, and I found it both inspiring and liberating to hear it performed with so much expressive shape and clarity. The CSO under Solti’s direction is able to maintain a softly impressionistic haze while drawing lucid lines. This masterful interplay is magical to behold, and Solti’s ability to bring structured freedom throughout is stunning. These contrasts contribute intimately to the journey — it is a work of earth and air; close your eyes and listen, to feel the forest floor under your feet.”

A few honorable mentions:

  • RESPIGHI The Birds with Désiré Defauw for RCA (1945)
  • TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 with Sir Georg Solti and András Schiff for London (1985)
  • VERDI Overture to I vespri siciliani with Riccardo Muti for CSO Resound (2017)

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