At one time, Cleveland was by far the largest city in Ohio, with Cincinnati second, and the state capital of Columbus a distant third. By the time this 50th anniversary concert was given by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York, Columbus had long been the largest city in Ohio -- while its legendary orchestras had managed to maintain a world-class status, the other Ohio cities had declined in population owing to loss of industry and suburban "flight." In relation to the symphony orchestras in Cincinnati and Cleveland, however, Columbus had a lot of catching up to do. Founded as a "little" symphony in 1951, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra played concerts in high school gymnasiums and VFW halls for 20 years before gaining a home in the historic Ohio Theater; however, by the mid-'70s it was even producing operatic performances. From the 1980s, there was a concerted effort to raise the status of the Columbus Symphony to something resembling what its sister cities in Ohio had long enjoyed, and judging from this CSO Classics disc, Columbus Symphony Orchestra: 50th Anniversary Concert Live in New York, the process was largely complete by 2001. It was achieved through aggressive community outreach; the engagement of top talent from outside Columbus, such as conductor Alessandro Siciliani who leads the orchestra here; and through the pursuit of exploratory and somewhat risky programming choices.
This anniversary disc, recorded live at Carnegie Hall on April 18, 2001, does showcase many of the elements that make the Columbus Symphony Orchestra so successful. The disc opens with an interesting choice for a concert performance, the Prologue to Arrigo Boito's opera Mefistofele, minus its attendant opera, though it does highlight the Columbus Symphony's longtime commitment to operatic music, now fulfilled through its participation in Opera Columbus. This also gives the Columbus Symphony a chance to show off its 100-voice chorus and children's chorus -- both of these units are superb and function quite effectively with the orchestra. The Boito is the highlight of the disc; although Siciliani's interpretation of the Brahms' Symphony No. 2 in D is warm, sensitive, and carefully paced, after the Boito it almost feels like dessert. The recording quality is excellent, and overall, CSO Classics' Columbus Symphony Orchestra: Fiftieth Anniversary Concert Live in New York is a cut above the usual disc issued by a symphony orchestra.