New Recording Spotlights Brilliant Brass Sound of Chicago

Album of the Week

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Doomsayers warn that a homogeneous international style is infecting orchestras around the world – that a symphony in Russia or Italy sounds no different than one in Los Angeles or New York these days.

While it’s true that many ensembles are drawing from an increasingly global pool of musicians, thus eliminating regional qualities, it’s also true that one group in particular maintains a particularly unique sound: that being the Chicago Symphony and its mighty brass section. It’s a sound characterized not only by sheer decibels but also a fullness, warmth and yes, delicacy. The brass section has just released an album that puts its trademark brilliance in the spotlight, with works by Gabrieli, Bach, Grainger, Prokofiev, Walton and Revueltas.

Chicago’s brass first came into focus under Fritz Reiner in the 1950s and it grew in power under Georg Solti in the 1970s, occasionally to the point where the sound bordered on caricature (when the orchestra played Berlioz or Mahler, it was sometimes called a brass section with accompanying strings). Still, figures like principal tuba Arnold Jacobs and Adolph “Bud” Herseth, the orchestra's legendary principal trumpeter, took orchestra brass playing to new levels. While new blood has since arrived, the basic character remains.

Included here are three antiphonal works by Giovanni Gabrieli, delivered with precision and drama; the recording’s engineers separated the two brass choirs into left and right stereo channels to give you the same perspective enjoyed by those in the center of a concert hall or church. Particularly hair-raising is J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582, with its steady, mercurial tread surrounded by high trumpet filigree. An arrangement of Percy Grainger’s wind band favorite Lincolnshire Posy is carried out with supreme affection. And the CSO percussion joins in for this and for the opening and closing numbers, Walton’s Crown Imperial march and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, respectively.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live
CSO Resound
Available at


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Comments [4]

Andrew Galambos

As a retired professional musician, but not a brass player learning my craft in the 1960's, no one inthe world had a better sound then the Cleveland Orchestra. No orchestra in the world had the ability tohave 100 musicians sound like one. No orchestra could blend like Cleveland of Szell.

Having now said this, no orchestra in the world had the POWER and the force like Chicago without it sounding ugly or out of tune. They were the "bad boys of brass" back in the 1960's

Philadelphia had nice woodwind section

NY Philharmonic was an embarressment to music and Bat Mitzvah boy Lenny was one of the worst conductors in the world, but being in NYC he became a legend. Go figure taste?

May. 01 2012 04:47 PM
Michael Meltzer

This Chicago album is a winner. So are, in addition, all the albums of brass w/organ put together by E. Power Biggs, as referenced by Mr. Brown.
This is my fourth or fifth post suggesting that WQXR take the rich Biggs discography out of mothballs. Among other things, it's a brass goldmine.

Oct. 04 2011 12:04 PM
William H. Brown III from Chappaqua NY

One way to settle all this controversy is to simply enjoy the recording from the 1960s "The Antiphonal Music of Gabrielli" which features the brass ensembles of the Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Boston symphony orchestras, plus "Horsepower" Biggs on organ. This way, everyone can hear their favorites from times past. You can even pick them out since the notes have a nice "scorecard" which lays out each musician and where he is located sterophonically

Oct. 03 2011 07:13 AM
Michael Meltzer

I don't doubt that you have a nice album of brass music there, but this is not the first time that you've posted a written capsule history of something in the mid-20th century that's at variance with my own recollection of the same years.
When I was a music student in the 1960's, all the brass players in school were talking about the brass section of George Szell's Cleveland Orchestra, with special mention of Mason Jones, Ward Fearn and the french horn section of Ormandy's Philadelphia Orchestra.
Nobody was knocking the Chicago, but I can't recall anyone ever talking about it either. That's why, again, it would be nice if the people who write your stuff with such authority would sign it, so we know who is saying what.

Oct. 03 2011 02:20 AM

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The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.