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 southwest Michigan, Robin Kessler has been a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus since 2004. She also has sung with many of Chicago’s favorite ensembles, including Cantate, the William Ferris Chorale, the Grant Park Chorus, and several welcoming church and temple ensembles. In addition to singing, Kessler spends her time consulting on regulatory affairs for higher education.

Robin Kessler’s Favorite CSO (scroll down for recordings available for streaming via Spotify):

BATES Anthology of Fantastic Zoology
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2015 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti, conductor
“In a time when many of us may long to venture outside our current physical spaces, Mason Bates’s music can take you somewhere else. His writing is specific, visual, and interesting, and this album turns instruments into animals, bringing you into their worlds. Somehow the sounds at times even become cute!”

MAHLER Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection)
Recorded in Medinah Temple in 1980 for London
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Isobel Buchanan, soprano
Mira Zakai, mezzo-soprano
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
1981 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Classical Orchestral Recording
“The drive and energy that Sir Georg Solti and the Orchestra bring in the beginning of the beloved fifth movement holds on with urgency right from the start. I immediately feel the memory of the final notes and anticipate that upcoming flood of emotion that you can feel tight in your chest, through to the conclusion.”

TCHAIKOVSKY 1812 Overture; Suite No. 1 from The Nutcracker, Op. 71a; Romeo and Juliet
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 1986 for London
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
“I grew up listening to this piece while dancing in my favorite purple butterfly leotard in our family’s living room. The trepak—the Russian dance—was the most exciting movement, even though I never did master the perfect kicking method required to keep up! It helped develop my love for classical music at a young age, and the delight never gets old.”

VERDI Messa da Requiem
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2009 for CSO Resound
Riccardo Muti, conductor
Barbara Frittoli, soprano
Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano
Mario Zeffiri, tenor
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
2010 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance
“Admittedly, I am biased in my appreciation for this recording. I remember the powerful focus of performing and recording this work under Riccardo Muti’s baton, and I still find it just as possessive today. The Dies irae is a thrill every time, and the Libera me brings on the chills whether singing or listening.”

WILLIAMS Lincoln
Recorded in Orchestra Hall in 2012 for Sony
John Williams, conductor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, director
“The exposure of individual Orchestra members in their simplicity and ability to sustain is what I love most about this soundtrack, and many get a turn. Hearing my colleagues play beautifully with time to admire just the length and beauty of one note at time is a luxury. Most already know Abraham Lincoln’s story but may not have ever felt it, and John Williams brings us that element while the Orchestra plays exquisitely. I love soundtrack music for its ability to lead you through an active story.”

Robin Kessler’s Favorite CSO (available recordings via Spotify):

TOP: Robin Kessler | Melissa Jaen photo, 2015

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