1992 – Sibelius
As I wrote in Part Seven of the EMI Recordings blogposts, the year 1992 was a banner year for the Oslo Philharmonic and Mariss Jansons in terms of recording. In January of that year, we recorded the Symphonies No. 7 and 8 of Antonin Dvorak and in early May we laid down the Cello Concerto with Truls Mork (coupled with the Rococco Variations of Tchaikovsky). I have already wrote about these recordings and am now picking up where I left off. Just after we finshed recording the above-mentioned Cello Concerto and Rococco Variations (later released on Virgin Records), it was time to record the Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43, and as a fillers for the recording, “The Swan of Tuonela” from “Lemminkainen” plus the ‘Valse Triste” and “Andante Festivo”. I was particular keen to record these, as Jean Sibelius was then (and still remains) one of my favorite composers.
His writing for the timpani requires great technique as well as musicianship, particularly with regards to rolls. The First Symphony in E minor, Op. 39 which we recorded in 1990 was a lot of fun but was also a technical challenge, but the Second Symphony was and is a notch higher in regard to technique. The Swan of Tuonela was not super-technical, but requires good listening and sense of ensemble, while the Andante Festivo and Valse Triste were relatively easy, although with Mariss Jansons, one needed to be on one’s toes with regard to nuance.
For the sessions, I used the Light Meropolitan Bs. I had played the symphony many times before using the Hingers, but I was experimenting with the Lights and had chosen them for the sessions. (I played the symphony using the Lights on our 1988 tour to Japan and was quite happy with them. I had put calf on them in 1989 and had used them with calf for a couple of seasons and it worked quite well, but with all the touring and moving about, I discovered that I needed one set with plastic heads, and so the insert ring Remos went back on. I was lucky in that the drums almost always sounded good with plastic or calf, a tribute to the much lamented American Drum Manufacturing Company and the skills of Marshall Light and company. (It still pains me to this day that they were sort of forced out of business.) In any case, they were the drums I used for this recording. Mallet choice was pretty much the usual of mixture of Hinger wood-shafted generals, medium hards and Feldman mallets.
Each movement of the symphony presents challenges to the player. For me, the first movement was a challenge of several areas – intonation, articulation and ensemble. Rolling was a challenge – particularly fourteen bars after rehearsal K – with the articulate tremolo on the note d. This is just one of the many surprises Sibelius has in store for the player. (Notice three bars before rehearsal N – another articulated tremolo going into two eighth notes and a tremolo the bar before N.)
The second movement is a tour de force for the timpanist in terms of rolling technique, intonation and tone painting. By this last, I mean mallet choices – in concert and recording one must use the right mallet to produce the intensity (or lack thereof) and Sibelius has given us timpanists a great challenge. Add to the fact that Mariss nuanced this movement quite a lot, so there were some changes to the part (not major – more of an addition).
The third movement is another one of Sibelius’ surprises – marked Vivaccisimo -it is in 6/8, but more of a one-in-a-bar, and one must be on the ball at all times. Dynamics are nuanced – in particular the solo B flats before rehearsal E! That’s all you, and it is soft and gets almost inaudible, but not quite. (Also don’t forget rehearsal F, where the timpani comes in like a ton of bricks with that rhythmic passage. Believe it or not, in concert I actually used wood sticks on calfskin, which worked beautifully, although for this recording I used my hard red Feldman mallets as I was using plastic heads. This worked well in the event.
The third movement transitions into the finale and right off the bat you have that rythmic figure – a tremolo on an eighth note tied to an eight note and followedby three more and a quarter note. Time signature is three/two – and you are together with the trombones. It is tricky – not impossible, just tricky! Players beware! The middle of the movement requires great sensitivity. Rolling is the big challenge after the opening and endurance (at least in concert) as the last few lines are quite loud. The thing here is to save one’s self and energy for the last three bars, although in concert, conductors always ask for more. My advice: Just pace oneself! Save something for those last three bars!
The recording sessions (at the Oslo Konserthus) went quite well and the finished result was more than satisfactory. The three short fillers were quickly put on tape, and we were done. In closing, I really enjoyed doing the symphony as I always treated each rehearsal/session and concert as a learning experience. Sibelius is a great teacher as well as composer,
Also, as I close this blog, I am listening to our recording of “Valse Triste”, and it brings back memories of Mariss, who we lost last December 1st at the age of 76. Again I say to you, Mariss, “Thanks so much for memories and for the inspiration!
Below are links to the Second Symphony and Valse Triste!
And the fourth movement!
And the Valse Triste!
Enjoy! Next blog post in this series will cover the music of Stravinsky, which closed out the year 1992.