My Favorite CSO: Pei-yeh Tsai

Pei-yeh Tsai, a recent alumna of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s keyboard section, visiting Canyonlands National Park in Moab, Utah in May 2018

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 native of Taiwan, Pei-yeh Tsai moved to the United States to earn a master's degree in piano performance from the Juilliard School and a graduate diploma from the Peabody Conservatory. She has won several international piano competitions, both as a soloist and chamber musician, and she has appeared as a soloist with Boston University Orchestra and Peoria Symphony Orchestra. Tsai was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago for four years, serving as a fellow and a regular member, all under the guidance of Mary Sauer, retired CSO keyboard. With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, she recently performed in recording sessions for the soundtrack to Philharmonia Fantastique: The Making of the Orchestra by former Mead Composer-in-Residence Mason Bates. Currently, Tsai is principal keyboard for the New Bedford and the Peoria symphony orchestras as well as substitute pianist for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

CORIGLIANO Symphony No. 1
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1990 for Erato
Daniel Barenboim conductor
Stephen Hough piano
John Sharp cello
1991 Grammy awards for Best Orchestral Performance and Best Contemporary Composition
"The piano is a unique breed in an orchestra, and I focused my selections on works with a strong keyboard presence. Corilgliano's First Symphony is one of my favorites, and it features a backstage piano solo, played beautifully by Stephen Hough. This is echoed by the haunting string section, creating such heartfelt emotion that one cannot help but be moved. Two well-deserved Grammy awards say it all for this Erato recording."

IVES Symphony No. 4
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1989 for Sony
Michael Tilson Thomas conductor
Mary Sauer piano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis director
particular piece calls for a several keyboards: celesta, ether organ, quarter-tone piano, orchestral piano (four-hands), solo piano and organ, and Mary Sauer led the CSO keyboard section in this extraordinary performance for this Sony recording. Hired by sixth music director Fritz Reiner in 1959, Sauer served as the CSO's principal keyboard for many years, and her mastery of all keyboard instruments and orchestra keyboard repertoire is worth mentioning in the history of legendary pianists.

"Thomas M. Brodhead, who edited the performance edition of this work, also wrote several thoughtful essays on it, such as, 'Survival guide' (which is everything you wanted to know about the symphony but were afraid to ask) and a 'Checklist for orchestra librarians.’ The complexity of this piece demonstrates how the CSO utilizes its deep resources to put this large work together."

BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1960 for RCA
Erich Leinsdorf conductor
Sviatoslav Richter piano
1960 Grammy award for Best Classical Performance–Concerto or Instrumental Soloist
"Growing up in Taiwan, I listened to this recording again and again, along with Dvořák's Cello Concerto with Yo-Yo Ma. Sviatoslav Richter has been one of my favorite pianists ever since. His fearless performance with grand yet gentle sound helps us to see the profound beauty in Brahms’s music. The CSO did a great job on the recorded sound, considering it was made in 1960."

TIPPETT Symphony No. 4
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1979 for London
Sir Georg Solti conductor
"Although this piece may not be well known, I think it deserves special attention. Sir Georg Solti led the world premiere with the CSO in 1977, and in this performance, we can hear how his interpretation reflects the great understanding of the long-term friendship between the conductor and the composer. This exciting performance by the CSO depicts the vivid image Tippett had in mind. As a twentieth-century composer, Tippett didn’t confine himself to any school; rather, he combined genres to paint his scores, and his eclectic approach was ideal for a large orchestra. In this rendition, the CSO brass along with piano will no doubt be a test of a stereo sound system! An interesting side note: Tippett also quoted the opening of the symphony in his Fourth Piano Sonata, and for that reason, perhaps, he included a substantial piano part in this symphony."

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
"In Lélio, Berlioz includes a piano for one of the first times in the orchestral repertoire. In this live recording, the large production includes an actor, four-part chorus, tenor and bass-baritone soloists, piano and full orchestra. Certainly a rare event! Riccardo Muti leads a sensitive and moving performance, taking the listener to another realm. Berlioz called it half music, half poetry, and there is no doubt that Muti achieves a transcendent romantic image in this recording."

A few honorable mentions: