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Fritz Reiner – The Complete Columbia Album Collection [14 CDs]

Fritz Reiner – The Complete Columbia Album Collection [14 CDs]

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When the 50-year-old Fritz Reiner was appointed conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1938, he was still relatively unfamiliar in his adopted American homeland. This pupil of Bartók at the Academy of Music in his native Budapest, former conductor of the Dresden Royal Opera, where he worked with Richard Strauss, and for the past 16 years music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was still rarely mentioned in the national press and never in record reviews. Although he had actually made some discs in 1938 with the New York Philharmonic, they were issued anonymously.

Everything changed for Reiner when his move to Pittsburgh led to nearly a decade of major recordings for American Columbia. Sony Classical is now pleased to present a new 14-CD box set collecting all of Reiner’s Pittsburgh Symphony discography together with the Columbia recordings he made after moving to New York in 1948 to become a principal conductor at the Metropolitan Opera.

Reiner was already an experienced Wagner conductor when he came to Pittsburgh and, not surprisingly, his first sessions in February and March 1940 included, among other popular selections, the “Ride of the Valkyries”. This is the oldest recording in the new set and Reiner’s first credited commercial record. Electrical problems unfortunately spoiled the remaining 1940 Wagner masters, so those works had to be re-recorded in 1941, but now at the huge Syria Mosque, the orchestra’s regular venue and site of all the other Pittsburgh recordings collected here. Others dating from before the war include Strauss’s Don Juan (from January 1941) and Don Quixote, with cellist Gregor Piatigorsky (November 1941), as well as Debussy’s Ibéria (also November 1941).

Following the wartime national recording ban, Reiner and the orchestra returned to the Syria Mosque in March 1945 to set down some prime examples of the conductor’s widely varied repertoire: Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony; the premiere recording of Robert Russell Bennett’s suite from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, commissioned by Reiner; his Hungarian friend Léo Weiner’s Divertimento No. 1; the Galánta Dances by another compatriot, Zoltán Kodály; and Beethoven’s Second Symphony.

A number of his most memorable Pittsburgh recordings were made in February 1946: the first-ever studio production of the Concerto for Orchestra by his erstwhile teacher Bartók; Brahms’s Hungarian Dances and the First Piano Concerto with Rudolf Serkin; Falla’s El amor brujo, a perennial Reiner favorite, with the fine mezzo soloist Carol Brice, who also recorded Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen during those sessions; and the suite from Strauss’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, which Reiner had introduced in the US at Cincinnati. None of these except the Brahms concerto and the Strauss has ever before appeared on CD at Sony Classical.

Reiner conducted his last Pittsburgh recording, Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, in November 1947. Two years later, his first New York sessions for Columbia took place at the 30th Street Studio, producing a remarkably stylish complete set of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. Also being released by Sony Classical on CD here for the first time, it features such illustrious names as harpsichordists Sylvia Marlowe and Fernando Valente, flautist Julius Baker, trumpeter William Vacchiano, oboist Robert Bloom, violist William Lincer and cellist Leonard Rose. A few months earlier, Fritz Reiner made one his most famous recordings of all. He was at the Metropolitan conducting Strauss’s Salomé with the finest exponent of the title role, Ljuba Welitsch, making her house debut. In the midst of the run in March, at the 30th Street Studio, Columbia captured the final scene on disc, a recording that has retained its benchmark status.

In 1953, the final chapter of Fritz Reiner’s long career began when he became music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and began a celebrated series of stereo recordings for RCA Victor. But any full appreciation of this legendary conductor’s legacy has to include his earlier achievements for Columbia Records in Pittsburgh and New York. For all Reiner’s countless aficionados around the world, Sony Classical’s new 14-CD box set will be essential listening.


Strauss's Don Quixote is jam-packed full of character, whether biting, lyrical or touched by gentle humour, and it is blessed by memorable solo playing from cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and violinist Henri Temianka. Reiner's first recorded treatment of Strauss's Don Juan is, like his first Chicago recording, all breathless excitement. A Wagner programme features an excellent Venusberg Music as well as orchestral snippets from The Ring and the disc’s highlights, the Overture and a ‘three-piece suite’ from Die Meistersinger. Eight Brahms Hungarian Dances are given highly charged readings.

While the sound quality of these fairly late mono recordings is, as one might expect, highly variable, the transfers themselves are extremely clean.

-- Gramophone (Rob Cowan)

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 14
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Sony Masterworks SRM 2
    • UPC/Barcode: 190759367728
    • Item Number: 19075936772