The EMI Recordings- 1987-1997|Part Four
The year 1989
By the beginning of the year 1989, the Oslo Philharmonic and Mariss Jansons had finished six recordings for EMI. This averaged out to three recordings per season. The year 1989 was to be a little different. It would turn out that we would make two recordings for EMI that year instead of three. The first sessions were scheduled just before our tour to Switzerland, Germany and Austria in February, and the second set of sessions were scheduled for August, just after our appearance at the BBC Proms. Since 1989 was the year of the Oslo Philharmonic’s 70th anniversary, the period in November in which we would have recorded a third album for EMI was reserved for the anniversary concerts and the recording of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, which was released on Chandos Records. (I have written about this in other posts). I was of course interested to see what was in store for us recording-wise, and I was just about bursting at the seams to see what the powers that be would come up with.
A Potpourri and DvorakThe result of discussions between EMI and Mariss and the administration was that we would make two recordings – the first would be sort of a musical Italian-French potpourri – music of Ottorino Respighi, Maurice Ravel, and Paul Dukas. The second would be devoted exclusively to the music of Antonin Dvorak. As I mentioned earlier, the first sessions were scheduled for the period just before our tour to Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Despite it being a “potpourri” disc, it was not your usual mix. Ottorino Respighi was represented by his enormous “Festa Romanae” (Roman Fesitvals); Maurice Ravel by his “Daphnis et Chloe” (Second Suite); and Paul Dukas by his “L’Apprenti sorcier”(Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Not bad, I thought. I was particularly excited to record the Respighi, which has an interesting timpani part. In fact, all three works have good parts for the timpani, and I worked myself into my usual state of enthused excitement.
For the second series of sessions, which would take place in late August, Dvorak was on the cards, and not just your usual Dvorak. We had already recorded the “New World” Symphony the previous November. It would have made sense to me to do the 7th and 8th Symphonies at this time, but Mariss and EMI chose the 5th Symphony, Op. 76 as well as the Overture “Othello”, Op. 93 and the “Scherzo Capriccioso”. I found this most interesting as I thought it might herald a Dvorak cycle.
Respighi, Ravel, and Dukas
I had played all three works before. I played the Respighi with the Owensboro Symphony; the Ravel I played in Evansville, and I was thoroughly familiar with the Dukas, although I can’t recall where I actually first encountered it. Each work is magnificent in its own unique way, and each has their challenges. There is not an “easy” work among them.
I had my instruments all ready to go. I used the Hinger timpani (with the 32 inch Light Continental chain drum as an extra low drum for the Respighi. My mallets were all in good shape. I used the customary mixture of Hingers, Feldmans and some mallets crafted by my former student and colleague Harry Teahan, who later in the year would move to Trondheim and to the position of timpanist with the Trondheim Symphony.
Both the Respighi and Ravel required large percussion sections. The Respighi required nine percussionists, and the Ravel requires seven. I remember that even though Christian Berg had not yet been appointed to the position of principal percussionist, the upcoming concerts and tour were his audition, and these included the recordings, so he was on hand. Nine percussionists! Along with me and my timpani, they filled the back row of the orchestra. I had not up to that time played with such a big group of percussionists. The section included Christian Berg, Tryge Wefring, Per Erik Thorsen, Bjørn Løken, Einar Fjærvall; Joakim Nordim; Hans-Kristian Kjos-Sorenson; Elisabeth Watne and possibly Morten Belstad.
The Respighi and Ravel were scheduled to be rehearsed and “played in” during the course of the concert week, and if memory serves correctly, we rehearsed the Dukas separately as it was not part of one of the concert programs. Recording sessions took place on the Friday and Saturday mornings of that concert week. There may have been an extra session on the Wednesday. Again, nearly thirty years have elapsed and memories can be unreliable at times. Nonetheless, both concerts and recording sessions went very well. Just before the sessions I received a pair of special mallets crafted for me by Harry Teahan. They were of 5/8 inch bamboo shafts and had strips of surgical tubing as the playing end. We were both curious to see if this would work in articulations. In the first movement of Respighi’s “Festa Romanae, “Circenses”, there are sixteenth-note triplets between the low F and E, and we were particularly keen on seeing if these would come out in the recording with these mallets. I remember trying them in concert and being fairly satisfied, but I think I hedged my bets and used Feldman blues. I did use them later on with varying degrees of satisfaction. The most satisfying of the three works was the Respighi, as it has the greatest variety of effects for the timpanist. I remember enjoying with pleasure the crescendo rolls and triplets of “Circenses”; using the timpani to imitate great bells in “Jubileo”, and the helter-skelter of the final movement, “L’Befana”. A wild ride indeed.
The Second Suite from Maurice Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe is tricky in itself. I find French music in general to be wonderfully elusive, in that not everything is four-square and straightforward, as in the Austro-Germanic canon. Atmosphere is extremely important in performing this music well. The long crescendo at the beginning of the suite has to be gauged just so in order to climax at the right moment. Then there are the rapid crescendos from nothing to mezzo-forte in less than a second later on in the suite. And one must never forget the “Danse Generale” with its relentless 5/4 pattern. For this work we used a seven-man section which the work requires. The Hinger drums stood me in good stead. I was very fortunate to have new Kalfo heads on the drums at this time. I replaced the other set after the November 1988 recording sessions. They were of good quality and went on the drums without any mishap at all. As far as mallets went, I remember three pairs that stick out in memory – a pair of hard red-flet mallets with a 5/8 inch shaft, and a couple of pairs of Harry Teahan medium-generals. I even tried the surgical tube ended mallets for the very end – it could very well be that is what I used for what wound up on the recording. All I know is the mallets produced a very big sound, perfect the fortissimo interjections at the end of the suite. It is also a wild ride, in my estimation. As my former band director from high school used to say, “You must count like sixty!” Always good advice. I thoroughly enjoyed myself recording these works. On to “LApprenti sorcier.” This work by Paul Dukas has become iconic to those of us familiar with the 1940 film “Fantasia”, in which Mickey Mouse plays the role of the apprentice, accompanied by the music of Dukas as played by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. I had known this work as a kid, from the movie and later from recordings. As with most French music, it is loaded with atmosphere and is extremely pictorial in the depiction of the apprentice and his mishaps. From a standpoint of the timpanist, for recording purposes only medium hard and hard pairs of mallets are required. My Feldmans stood me I good stead here. The main thing here was to keep my wits about me and count, count, count! This in addition to dynamics, tone color, accents in the right place. The recording sessions for all three pieces went very well, and I was satisfied with the results.
The sad thing about this recording is that after about five or six years, it went out of print. Only the Respighi is still available – as part of the Roman Trilogy recording we did in 1995. We recorded the Pines and the Fountains, and EMI used this 1989 Festa Romanae to complete the trilogy. It’s a pity, because the Ravel and Dukas were well done and deserve to be re-released.
The second series of EMI recording sessions took place in late August and early September of 1989 and were devoted entirely to the music of Antonin Dvorak. As I noted earlier I this post, I had figured that since we had recorded the “New World” Symphony, that maybe we would be recording the Seventh and 8th symphonies, which to my mind would have been a logical follow-up, but apparently the powers-that be felt otherwise. We would record Dvorak’s 5th Symphony, Op. 76, plus the Overture “Othello”, Op. 93, and the joyful “Scherzo Capriccioso, Op. 66. The Fifth Symphony is not often played, and “Othello” gets only an occasional performance, whereas the “Scherzo Capriccioso” is performed more frequently.
For this recording, I used the Hingers and they behaved beautifully, the heads continuing to hold their own. The Symphony was an experiment for me as I threw caution to the winds and used medium hard mallets for most f the work, and for the finale, I used the specialized surgical tube-tipped mallets for the finale. At the time, I was curious to see how they would perform, and remember thinking that they did only fairly well. Listening to the recording again after twenty-eight years, it hold up remarkably well, and the drums in the finale (using the special mallets) sound big, round and articulate. This brings to mind something Dan Hinger said to me early on in my Oslo Philharmonic tenure. He said “Andy, you’re going to hate the sound of your recordings when you first hear them. Twenty years later, you’ll love the sound of them.” That was his experience, and it sure s mine. I was fussy and picky at the time….too close to the event to appreciate what was good. Today, with a couple of exceptions, I enjoy hearing my recordings more than I did back when they were released. This particularly recording was much more straightforward and went on tape relatively easy. The compilation is still available on EMI/Angel.
Here is a link to the a recording of the finale of the 5th Symphony from our EMI recording. Enjoy!