My Favorite CSO: Aviva Chertok

Russian American violinist Aviva Chertok is a regular member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

Chris Christodoulou

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.

Russian American violinist Aviva Chertok is a regular member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. She earned a bachelor's degree with honors from the University of Michigan, as a student of Andrew Jennings, and a master’s degree in violin performance from the Royal College of Music in London, under Itzhak Rashkovsky and Michał Ćwiżewicz. Chertok received first-place awards at the Discover National Chamber Music and Rembrandt Chamber Music competitions, and she has been featured on radio stations in the United States, including Chicago’s WFMT, the Public’s Radio in Rhode Island, and on NPR’s From the Top. During the pandemic, she volunteered performances for livestreams in Canada and Italy—notably the AndràTuttoBene Festival di Musica Online—and organized fifty violinists from fifty states across the United States for a performance of Elgar’s Salut d’amourdedicated to healthcare workers everywhere.

MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 and
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1993 for Erato
Daniel Barenboim conductor
Itzhak Perlman vioiln
"Nothing can compare in mystery and foreboding to the opening of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto. The tempestuous and dark colors of this highly original work resonate in me, a child of Russian immigrants, as if from a place and a past that can be felt across generations. This piece requires a sense of fantasy and an almost theatrical approach, which the Orchestra executes perfectly, guided between shadowy and glorious passages by the expressive and rich playing of the legendary Itzhak Perlman. With brightness, excitement, and moments of soaring beauty, the concerto resists its own anxious tendencies and never lets go of hope for something beyond the darkness."

BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 and Lélio, or the Return to Life, Op. 14b
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2010 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
Gérard Depardieu narrator
Mario Zeffiri tenor
Kyle Ketelsen bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe director
"Having grown up watching movies like La chèvre and Cyrano de Bergerac, I rushed to see this performance of Lélio with narrator Gérard Depardieu. As a sixteen-year-old who had just played Symphonie fantastique for the first time under Allan Dennis at the Midwest Young Artists Conservatory, I will never forget seeing Depardieu live onstage and hearing Berlioz’s sequel to the symphony, brought to life by the Orchestra and Chorus. The fire and drama of Maestro Riccardo Muti’s conducting and magnetic performance of the great Depardieu is an experience to relive again and again through this recording."

BRAHMS Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102 (Double)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1986 for CBS
Claudio Abbado conductor
Isaac Stern violin
Yo–Yo Ma cello
"Brahms composed his final work for orchestra as a reconciliation with his close friend of many years, the violinist Joseph Joachim. In this recording, we can hear a musical portrait of the arguments and compromises of friendship, depicted passionately by Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma. I was four years old the first time I saw Stern on television, and I was so captivated that I told my mother I wanted to marry him (he was in his seventies). He commands the music with intense clarity and meaning, which couples beautifully with the passion and heart of Ma’s playing. Claudio Abbado and the CSO create a rich textural backdrop on which the soloists, conductor, and Orchestra find perfect unity."

Riccardo Muti Conducts Mason Bates and Anna Clyne
(BATES Alternative Energy and CLYNE Night Ferry)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2012 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
"Mason Bates’s Alternative Energy is, hands-down, the coolest piece that I have ever heard. I was studying at the University of Michigan in 2012 when the CSO came to the famed Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor to premiere Bates’s work. An environmental fantasy in four movements, Alternative Energy uses electronic sounds, a real Ford automobile crank, and recordings of a particle accelerator from Fermilab to transport us from a peaceful past, through an industrial age, and into a post-atomic world. This piece left me literally gripping the sides of my chair in excitement!"

A few honorable mentions:

  • BARTÓK Roumanian Folk Dances with Sir Georg Solti for London (1993)
  • JOACHIM Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 11 with Carlos Kalmar and Rachel Barton for Cedille (2002)
  • MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection) with Claudio Abbado for Deutsche Grammophon (1976)
  • DEBUSSY La mer with Sir Georg Solti for London (1991)