Fritz Reiner died from a heart attack in 1963, at 75, just after resigning from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra because of his deteriorating health. Istomin had great admiration for him. He was amazed by the precision and the virtuosity of his baton, and by his economy of motion. He regarded him as one the greatest conductors ever, and liked to quote Stravinsky saying that under him the Chicago Symphony was “the most precise and flexible orchestra in the world”. In an interview with Antoine Livio in 1997, Istomin added: « He was reputed to be difficult, but he was very kind to me, and to young musicians. He could be really fatherly. »
Istomin got to know Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he was teaching conducting (Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss were among his student). He conducted also the Curtis Orchestra. Istomin played for the first time under his baton in the famous series of popular concerts given by the New York Philharmonic at Lewisohn Stadium. It was on June 27 of 1949 and he played Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto.
Istomin was often invited in Chicago, where he played more than forty concerts between 1944 and 1973. There were three notable collaborations with Fritz Reiner, two of them in 1957: the Mozart Concerto K. 271 in March and the Beethoven Fourth in November (which was recorded). The third, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto in April 1961, was a triumph. Even Claudia Cassidy, the untamed critic of The Chicago Tribune, nicknamed Acidy Cassidy for having destroyed many careers in Chicago, including Kubelik’s, had to acknowledge it. She had been quite systematically bashing Istomin’s past performances and she was about to continue. In her review, she told that after a fantastic performance of Dvorak Eighth Symphony under Reiner she pitied the poor soloist who would have to “reach such heights” in the second part of the concert. But she admitted that Istomin reached them. She forgot her prejudices and gave free rein to enthusiasm. She affirmed that it was the finest performance of his Chicago career: “a most beautiful performance in the big classical style, limpid, lyrical, powerful, vital and knowledgeable. I put that knowledgeable last because it belongs there. To know the Emperor is one thing. To share it is quite another.”
1949, June 27. Lewishon Stadium. Beethoven, Concerto No. 4. New York Philharmonic.
1957, February 21, 22 & 26. Symphony Hall. Mozart, Concerto No. 9 K. 271. Chicago Symphony.
1957, March 18. Milwaukee. Mozart, Concerto No. 9 K. 271. Chicago Symphony.
1957, November 28 & 29. Symphony Hall. Beethoven, Concerto No. 4. Chicago Symphony.
1961, February 20 & 21. Symphony Hall. Beethoven, Concerto No. 5. Chicago Symphony.
Beethoven, Concerto No. 4: second and third movements. Eugene Istomin, piano. Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Fritz Reiner. Chicago Orchestra Hall, November 28 or 29, 1957.