My Favorite CSO: Robert Curl

Robert Curl—pictured here in Sedona, Arizona in 2021—is operations coordinator for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

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.

Robert Curl is operations coordinator for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He earned a master's degree in bassoon performance from Roosevelt University, where he studied with CSO Bassoon Dennis Michel and former CSO Principal Bassoon David McGill, and he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California, where he studied with Judith Farmer. Curl held the position of second bassoon with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra for four seasons; has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; and was a regular member of the Civic Orchestra from 2014 to 2016. He attended the Tanglewood Music Center as a bassoon fellow in 2018 and spent previous summers as a bassoon fellow at the Aspen and Sarasota music festivals. 

VERDI Messa da Requiem
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1977 for RCA
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Leontyne Price soprano
Janet Baker mezzo-soprano
Veriano Luchetti tenor
José van Dam bass-baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
1977 Grammy award for Best Choral Performance
“This album was one of the first classical CDs I ever owned. I listened to this recording every day for months in high school, and it’s still the recording I compare all others to for this piece. The soloists—especially Leontyne Price—and Chorus sound so gorgeous throughout, and the recording is full of exceptional woodwind solos and powerful brass tuttis."

STRAVINSKY Symphony in Three Movements, Four Etudes, and Pulcinella
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2009 for CSO Resound
Pierre Boulez conductor
Roxana Constantinescu mezzo-soprano
Nicholas Phan tenor
Kyle Ketelsen bass-baritone
"Pulcinella is one of my favorite pieces, and I studied this recording a lot while preparing for bassoon auditions. Principal Bassoon David McGill is fantastic in the toccata, the gavotta, and variations, and the whole recording is full of light and stylish playing from the entire orchestra. It’s also nice to hear a live recording of the complete ballet with singers, as there’s so much beautiful music that gets left out of the more commonly performed orchestral suite."

BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1955 for RCA
Fritz Reiner conductor
"This recording is iconic! Every time I hear it I am amazed at the technical precision and how perfectly the Orchestra captures every mood and color that Bartók writes. The recording quality is immaculate as well—I can’t believe how crystal clear and well balanced every voice is. There are so many great CSO recordings from that period, and for me this recording captures all of the best qualities of the Fritz Reiner era."

MAHLER Symphony No. 7 in E Minor
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1984 for Deutsche Grammophon
Claudio Abbado conductor
"One of my most cherished musical memories was getting to play Mahler's Seventh Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Bernard Haitink in 2015. Beforehand, I didn’t know this symphony nearly as well as Mahler’s other works, but it has since become my favorite Mahler symphony. This recording has so many exciting solos for the wind players and particularly for the principal horn and principal viola. This piece also contains some of Mahler’s most unique orchestrational moments, like the use of mandolin, offstage cowbells, and the haunting tenor horn solo that opens the first movement."

TIE: WAGNER Overture to Tannhäuser
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1976 by Unitel, released by London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1994 for Erato
Daniel Barenboim conductor
"I’ve probably played along with this Sir Georg Solti recording on YouTube about a hundred times. The opening chorale is so intimate and is played incredibly smoothly. What I admire about this recording is how well it paces the gradual buildup of energy, and how the opening perfectly sets up the more playful and maestoso material that follows. The Daniel Barenboim recording of this is just as great! I love that the chorales in Barenboim's interpretation are more sustained and have an almost organ-like quality to them."

A few honorable mentions: