Following performances in Chicago, Pierre Boulez led the Orchestra, Chorus (prepared by Margaret Hillis and singing in Hungarian), and soloists tenor John Aler and bass John Tomlinson in recording sessions for Bartók’s Cantata profana on December 16, 1991. Later that week, Boulez and the Orchestra recorded The Wooden Prince on December 20 and 21. Deutsche Grammophon paired both works and released the recording in early 1993.
“Boulez provides what is by far the best studio recording the [Cantata profana] has ever had . . . truly state-of-the-art in terms of sound,” wrote Rob Cowan in the March 1993 issue of Gramophone. “Boulez is able to command a shimmering hushed pp, yet the battle-hardy Allegro molto with its hectoring syncopations and warlike percussion, is full of grit and muscle. . . .The Chicago Symphony Chorus egg the proceedings on with tireless zeal.”
Regarding The Wooden Prince, Cowan continued: “Again, the soft music is wonderfully atmospheric: the ppp muted violins in the prelude have a ghostly pallor that is so typical of this orchestra’s quiet string playing, yet when all are enraged at full throttle, the effect is shattering. Detail is legion throughout: the basses, brass, and drums have immense presence (the Dance of the Trees issues an ominous growl), there’s plenty of percussion glitter in the chirpy Dance of the Princess with the wooden prince, and the work’s lyrical close is beautifully blended.”
On March 1, 1994, the recording was awarded four Grammy awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Orchestra’s performance of The Wooden Prince was recognized in the Best Orchestral Performance category, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was awarded Best Performance of a Choral Work for its rendering of the Cantata profana. Rainer Maillard was recognized for his work in the Best Engineered Recording–Classical category, and the entire release won for Best Classical Album.
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