Most people do not know the circumstances that made the Concerto possible. Bartok had just come to this country, an impoverished musician and composer from his native war-torn Hungary in 1944. Years earlier, a close friendship had developed between his student, Fritz Reiner, while Reiner was still at the Budapest Academy. After graduation and a brief European stint, Reiner came to the U.S. to further his career as a conductor. In the intervening years, Reiner and Bartok maintained a close and regular correspondence with each other. It was during Reiner's tenure at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra that Bartok came to the U.S., financially ruined, ill, and devoid of the desire to compose. Reiner, by now well-off financially and successful, took his former teacher under his wing and helped him financially as well as spiritually. During Bartok's convalescence, Reiner and other U.S.-based musicians arranged for Bartok to receive a commission for a composition from the Boston Symphony. This was the creative spark needed to fire Bartok's compositional talents once again, and resulted in the Concerto for Orchestra. The first performance was by Kousssevitzky and the Boston Symphony in 1945; the first recording was by Reiner and Pittsburgh by Columbia Masterworks that same year.
But improvements in recording technology and music directorship of an ensemble much superior to that of Pittsburgh resulted in Reiner again committing the Concerto to tape for RCA in Chicago in 1955. The result is a performance and recording much superior to the earlier Pittsburgh one. This recording gives the Chicago first chair musicians opportunity to "strut their stuff." The later recording of "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta" is nonpareil in its own right.
Despite the Concerto having the so-called "hole-in-the-middle" that afflicted early stereo recordings, this problem had been solved by the time of the Music for Strings recording in 1958. Nevertheless, both recordings sound great for their age, and authority of performance is no way in doubt here. Buy this recording with absolute confidence and need to look no further.