My Favorite CSO: David Cooper

David Cooper joined the CSO as principal horn in 2019.

Dickie Hill

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.

A member of a horn-playing family (his uncle and grandmother both performed with the Lansing Symphony Orchestra), David Cooper attended the Curtis Institute of Music, received a Tanglewood Music Center Fellowship, and spent three summers performing at the Marlboro Music Festival. He served as principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic and Dallas Symphony Orchestra as well as acting principal horn with the Victoria Symphony and co-associate principal horn of the Fort Worth Symphony. Cooper also has appeared as guest principal horn with the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Liceu Opera in Barcelona, before being appointed principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2019 by Riccardo Muti.

MAHLER Symphony No. 5
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1970 for London
Georg Solti conductor
“Of course, the horn obbligato in the third movement played by Dale Clevenger is the gold standard for how this piece goes. If you want to be a professional horn player, you must hear this recording.”

MAHLER Symphony No. 7 in E Minor
Recorded in Krannert Center, Urbana, Illinois, in 1971 for London
Georg Solti conductor
1972 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance, Orchestra
“Best brass playing on the planet! The end of the first movement when Adolph “Bud” Herseth goes up to the high note (around 20:55–21:00) is one of the greatest moments in music of any recording I have ever heard. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Clevenger also thought this was the best recording of himself playing that he ever made because it sounded most like what he thought he sounded like in real life. Also, the opening with Jay Friedman on the tenor tuba! I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than that. It simply doesn’t.”

MAHLER Symphony No. 9 in D Major
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1976 for Deutsche Grammophon
Carlo Maria Giulini conductor
1977 Grammy Award for Best Classical Orchestral Performance
“This is the epitome of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra sound and of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. It just doesn’t get any better than this for me. Especially the last movement. The way Clevenger phrases is like poetry in motion!”

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 10 and Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 60 (Leningrad)
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1988 for Deutsche Grammophon
Leonard Bernstein conductor
1990 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance
“The opening of the third movement in the Seventh! Daniel Gingrich achieves the best low horn playing I have ever heard in my life. He sets up the entire brass section and makes the whole chorale ride on his shoulders! It’s unreal!”

STRAUSS An Alpine Symphony and Die Frau ohne Schatten Symphonic Fantasy
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1992 for Erato
Daniel Barenboim conductor
“I always think of that moment in the Alpine Symphony at the end of the storm of the brass (37:55). I mean, if you want to get chills up your spine, just start at minute 37:00 and listen until the end. It is simply some of the best brass playing and the most exciting orchestral playing you will ever hear in my opinion. Then there’s the horn solo at the end with Clevenger and the organ at 40:52. It’s simply sublime and brings tears to my eyes every time. One of the best moments in recorded music, in my opinion.”

PROKOFIEV Suite from Romeo and Juliet
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2013 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti conductor
“Talk about gorgeous flute playing! Mathieu Dufour! I think the cornet solo is really beautiful, and this is one of the prime demonstrations of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra horn sound. It has the sustain and the smoothness from note to note that I just adore. Listen to Romeo and Juliet Before Parting (38:52). Also, Death of Tybalt at 28:27. The horn sustain is just out of this world, and it is my guide for a horn section sound.”

A few honorable mentions: