The year 1992 – Part One
Another Banner Year for Recording
1992 was a very active year when it came to recording. We made four recordings
for EMI that year. I say four because although one of them was initially
released on the Virgin label, it was EMI that provided the recording personnel
and owned the Virgin label. Two of the recordings were to be devoted to the
music of Antonin Dvorak. The first was to be a recording of the Seventh and Eighth
symphonies, two of my personal favorites of the music of Dvorak. We had
recorded the Ninth (“From the New World”) back in 1988 and the 5thsymphony
in F major the following year. Whether or not this was to be a continuation of
a complete cycle was a matter for some conjecture at the time, but in the end,
these turned out to be the last Dvorak symphonies we were to record. It was a
pity, as I felt Mariss and the orchestra was on a roll so to speak, but the
times were against us. With the development of digital technology and the
re-mastering of legacy recordings of the great conductors of earlier eras, it
became more difficult to make a case economically for a complete cycle. The
second Dvorak recording was to be of the Cello Concerto with Truls Mørk as the soloist. This was to be
coupled with the “Rococo Variations” of Peter Tchaikovsky. As there is no
timpani part for this work, it would not require my participation. I was
however excited to be recording the symphonies and the Cello Concerto as each
of them has an excellent timpani part.
The first of the Dvorak recordings were scheduled for January 1992. These were the Seventh and Eight Symphonies. The Dvorak Cello Concerto was to be recorded in May of 1992. The recording team for both sets of sessions was Producer John Fraser, with Mark Vigars as Balance Engineer. Also scheduled for May 1992 was a recording of the music of Jean Sibelius. This was his Second Symphony accompanied by “The Swan of Tuonela”, “Valse Triste” and a rarely played short piece for strings and timpani, “Andante Festivo”. Our produce for these sessions was to be John Fraser, but Michael Sheedy would be balance engineer. There was to be one more recording in 1992, and that was scheduled for November. The music of Stravinsky was to be featured, with two of his greatest orchestral ballets to be recorded. These were “Le Sacre du Printemps” and “Petrouchka” – the latter in the 1947 version. (NB: To give each composer their due, and to keep the blog posts from getting too long, I am going to devote this one to Dvorak, and write about the Sibelius and Stravinsky recordings in a subsequent post.) So, as I noted in the heading, 1992 was to be another banner year for the orchestra with regard to recordings, and for me as a timpanist personally as all of the recordings featured the timpani in a prominent way.
Dvorak – January
mentioned above, we were set to record the Seventh and Eighth symphonies in
January. Both of these symphonies are among my personal favorites, with the
Seventh having a slight edge in my affections over the Eighth. Needless to say,
I was very excited to being a part of these sessions.
For these recording sessions (as in all of our previous recordings), we were on stage at the Oslo Konserthus. I used the Hinger timpani which were equipped with Kalfo calfskin heads. The winter season seemed to me to be the “sweet spot” in the season for calfskin, as the heads responded well and there were no accidents. For mallets, I used a mix – mostly general purpose and medium hard Teahan bamboo mallets with a 5/8 inch shafts. For the scherzo I used my Feldman blue and red (medium-hard and hard) mallets. Those were good mallets – half-inch thick shafts – I wish sometimes I still had them.
Symphony No. 7
The Seventh Symphony was first on the agenda. It is in D minor, which, along with D major, lies in the “sweet” range of the timpani. The first movement utilizes three drums – F, A, and d, with a change to B flat on the 28 inch three bars after letter F (returning to A again at H.) The recording of the first movement went very well, except for a musical decision that I advertently made on the sixth, seventh and eighth bars after G. On the sixth beat of each measure, Dvorak has written a sixteenth note triplet – which gives more of a thrust to the downbeat of the following measure. The horns have three sixteenths (no triplet) on that beat, and I played that beat without the triplet – preferring to be together with the horns. It was clean enough, and Mariss accepted it, but two years later, when we took it on tour, he pointed out that section and asked for the sixteenth note triplet as it gave a slightly more aggressive thrust to the following downbeat. He was right, and I was wrong. I should have let Dvorak have his way in the first place. It is a case of one’s ear (that should read memory) getting the better one of one’s judgment.
It was a
lesson that none of us is infallible, although in retrospect I was lucky as it
did not disturb the musical flow! I was forever after careful to stick to the
That first movement is fun to play, and Dvorak is a great one for throwing some “tricks” at one – the scherzo is a good case in point. More on that later. The first movement has a richness of texture that was perfect for the mallets that I used. They were weighty and articulate enough to satisfy the requirements of the score (and conductor), the recording engineers and my own taste, something that does not occur too frequently. It’s like having a conjunction of the planets!
The second movement is gorgeous, and I have to admit that I wallowed in it a bit – loved those low Fs and Cs –it was a lot of fun.
Now, to the Scherzo. Dvorak must have enjoyed writing his third movements – those of the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth symphonies are chock full of rhythmic energy. Six has a furiant; Seven has a scherzo, Eight has an allegretto grazioso, and Nine has a scherzo. One must always be one’s guard with these as are full of what I call “fireworks” – cross rhythms and articulations….all sorts of fun places in which one can get into trouble if one is not paying attention.
The scherzo for the seventh symphony has, like most Dvorak scherzi, a dance like feeling, albeit in the minor key. Despite the dance-like feeling, which persists throughout the movement, the minor key gives it an alternating sense of sadness and resolution. It is not at all a happy scherzo. Medium-hard mallets are called for, as the articulations need to be executed perfectly.
The scherzo sets the stage for the resolute finale, which to my mind is one of the composer’s finest. The mood throughout is one of foreboding and the energy in this movement is tremendous. Medium hard mallets should be used throughout, which is what I did. Also, as with all Dvorak, rhythm, rhythm!!
Symphony No. 8 in G major
While the Seventh and Eighth symphonies are rhythmically vital, they are worlds apart when it comes to mood. While the Seventh is brooding and almost fierce in places, the Eighth is genial and upbeat. I would call this his happiest symphony. The outer movements are rhythmically propulsive, while the second movement, the Adagio, is lyrical, while the third movement, the Allegretto grazioso is waltz-like in character. All four movements are fun to play.
The first movement, the Allegro con brio can be played with general to medium hard mallets, although for recordings, I would advise going with the medium hard mallets for most of it. There are a lot of articulations that need to come out, particularly the sixteenth-note triplets at letter M. This is what I did in the recordings. I used my Feldman medium-hard mallets pretty much throughout. With this movement, it is articulation and sensitivity. The symphony as a whole (speaking from the viewpoint of a timpanist) is very well written. The only awkward moment (if I can even call it that) in the piece comes in the first movement at letter K, where the composer indicates 4 eighth notes on d, repeated in the two subsequent bars. Here I changed the note to C as it indicated in the edition that we used for the recording. Note: It is not indicated in the timpani part, but in the score. Interesting. The pedal D roll sixteen bars before Rehearsal L is no problem as there is an immediate diminuendo after the first bar and is marked piano for most of it until two before L, when there is a written crescendo two bars before L. All in all, a fun movement to play. Just remember to watch the articulation and play with energy!
The second movement requires the utmost sensitivity. I played this movement on the two larger Hingers as the G and c were the “sweet spots” on those respective drums. I used a pair of Teahan-Hinger knockoffs for the articulations and a pair of Duff 7s for the soft rolls and triplets at the beginning. Hearing the recording again after twenty-seven years convinces me that the choice was a good one. This is perhaps my favorite movement.
The third movement, marked allegretto grazioso, is another movement that requires one to be on the alert for good articulation. This was a difficult movement to get down on tape, particularly the section from Rehearsal D through G. In this case, our conductor felt that there was a little too much reverb from the 25 inch timpani (the d), so he had me play it semi-coperto – I had a muffler part way on the head to take out some of the reverb. It worked to a degree, but it took out a little too much, in my opinion. However, he was happy.
The finale is a great romp – very much full of energy and brio. I took a page out of the Szell/Duff book and added a third drum – the C on the 28 inch for the passages between Rehearsal C and D and R and S as it made (and makes) a lot of musical sense to play it that way.
Overall, the recording of both these symphonies went well and were a great learning experience for me.
Here is a link to the first movement of Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70.
In May 1992, we again took to the recording studio for a recording of The Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104. The soloist was Truls Mørk, and while EMI provided the producer and engineer (John Fraser and Mark Vigars), it would be released on the Virgin Classics label. It would be coupled with the Rococco Variations of Tchaikovsky.
For this recording I used three timpani – the Light Metropolitan Bs – 26” and 29” and the 31 inch Continental Chain. The Chain drum was equipped with calfskin and the Mets had Remo hazy heads.
The part is not overly difficult, but it has its challenges – a solo passage together with the winds on the note e in the first movement, and a rhythmic passage on B together with the solo cello towards the end of the concerto.
The mallets I used were some thin-shafted Teahan-Hinger knock-offs and Hinger-wood-shafted generals and medium hards.
The recording went smoothly and I was generally happy with the results. So far, 1992 was proving to be a good year for recording and gaining experience. In my next post, we’ll talk Sibelius and Stravinsky.