At the third annual Grammy ceremony on April 12, 1961, the Orchestra’s recording of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta received the award for Best Classical Performance–Orchestra. Fritz Reiner had conducted the RCA release. That same evening, the Orchestra’s recording of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto—also on RCA and with Erich Leinsdorf conducting—earned the award for Best Classical Performance–Concerto or Instrumental Soloist for Sviatoslav Richter. These were the first two Grammy awards earned for recordings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Reiner’s commitment to the music of Bartók—one of his teachers at the Liszt Academy in Budapest—was “unmatched by any other contemporary composer, for Reiner had an understanding and devotion of Bartók’s music that no other conductor of his time equaled,” according to Philip Hart in Fritz Reiner: A Biography. He and the Orchestra had first recorded music by Bartók on October 22, 1955: the Concerto for Orchestra. Along with the composer’s Hungarian Sketches, Reiner and the Orchestra recorded the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta at Orchestra Hall on December 28 and 29, 1958.
Richter made his U.S. debut with the Orchestra on October 15, 1960, in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, and the work was recorded in Orchestra Hall two days later with Leinsdorf conducting. Reiner originally was scheduled to lead both the concert and recording; however, he suffered a heart attack in early October, forcing the cancellation of several concerts and recording sessions (including MacDowell’s Second Piano Concerto and Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with Van Cliburn, also for RCA and ultimately led by associate conductor Walter Hendl). Reiner returned to the podium in January 1961.
Image above: Album covers for Bartók’s Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta and Hungarian Sketches along with Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto
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