The EMI Recordings 1987 – 1997| Part Eleven

1993 – 1994

At the end of the last blog post in this series about the EMI recordings of the Oslo Philharmonic and Mariss Jansons, I noted that 1992 was the last of the “banner years” of recordings in which more than one or two recording was put on tape. Prior to and including 1992, we had two or more recordings on the docket and in some years as many as three or four. After 1992, (with the exception of 1994 ) we were down to one recording until the contract was up in 1997.There were several reasons for this. One reason was repertoire selection. While Mariss made his repertoire selection known to EMI, it was they who had the final say. Mariss’s career had taken off and he was doing a lot of guest conducting with other ensembles, and EMI wanted him to record with those orchestras as well as the Oslo Philharmonic. Mariss had ties to the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and had been guest conducting with the London Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, just to name a few.
Another reason was that a lot of older recordings that were on vinyl (recordings made by great conductors such as Karajan, Klemperer, Furtwaengler, Boult, Beecham, Barbirolli, etc. were being reissued on CD, and these saturated the market. There wasn’t as big a market for newer recordings, so it was thought proper to scale back a bit.Since the contract called for fourteen recordings, by 1992 we had already done ten of them, so there were only four left. The decision was taken to do one record a year until 1996, which would be the last year of the contract. As things turned out, the end of the contract had to be delayed a year due to Mariss’ health issues in April 1996. (More on that in a later post.)

NB! I forgot that in 1994, we recorded twice – Saint-Saens in the early part of 1994, and Sibelius in August!

1993 – Honegger
For 1993, it was decided that we would record the music of Arthur Honegger; specifically his Second and Third Symphonies and his musical depiction of a steam locomotive, known as “Pacific 231”. The Third Symphony is known as the “Liturgique”, and is the only one of the above-mentioned works to include timpani. The Second Symphony is scored for strings only, and “Pacific 231” is scored for everything but timpani. So, I had much free time on my hands, except for the sessions in which we recorded the Third Symphony.
We had played the symphony in concerts and I was familiar with it. It is not a difficult part, but the work makes an enormous impact, especially in the last movement, the coda of which resolves the issues of the preceding music.
For the recording sessions, I used the Hinger timpani with my Feldman and Hinger mallets. I will not dwell much on these sessions, as everything was straight-forward and the recording was “in the can” quite quickly. When the recording was released the following year, I was quite pleased with it.

Saint-Saens – January 1994

This was the first of two recordings we would make in 1994, and incidentally, the last year we would record more than once for EMI. This was an unsettling period for the orchestra, as Mariss was under the weather (I think he had some issues with his hands, so he had to limit his conducting. He was scheduled to conduct and record both the Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, and the Saint-Saens Syymphony No. 3 in C minor, “Organ” with Wayne Marshall. The Violin Concerto was to be recorded, but not played in concert, and the Symphony was scheduled to be played in concert. Mariss was able to conduct the recording sessions for both works, but had to stand down from the concert in which the Organ Symphony was played. Leif Segerstam stepped in and conducted in his place. So we recorded the symphony with Mariss, but “played it in” with Leif Segerstam. Interesting situation, but it worked out as things turned out.
The Violin Concerto has nothing super difficult, sort of a standard part, so nothing insurmountable there. Like all French music (indeed all music), one needs to be on their toes and count and be musically sensitive.. The Symphony is another matter. In addition to being musically aware and sensitive, one needs to watch the rhythm at all times. Particularly at the beginning of the second section (the scherzo), one needs to beware of the rhythmic displacement (for lack of a better term – I can’t think of a better term at the moment) and not come in to early with the solo interjections. That whole scherzo is full of them. Of course there is the grandiose finale, which is fun to play, but watch the time signatures! It’s not difficult, but ones needs to take care.
Our soloists were excellent. Frank Peter Zimmerman was superb, as you can hear on the recording, and Wayne Marshall was great in concert, performing on the Oslo Concert Hall’s 85-rank Ott pipe organ. However, he wasn’t present when we recorded the symphony. EMI and Mariss agreed to have Wayne Marshall record the organ part on the Cavaille-Coll organ of the Church of St. Ouen in Rouen, France in March of that year. It was strange playing it without organ – even stranger actually recording it without the organist present. The organist did indeed record it in Rouen in March, and it was dubbed in. (Incidentally, Rouen was one of favorite concert cities in the late eighties, and I visited that church on many occasions.)
For these recordings, I used the Hinger timpani with calfskin mounted, and my Hinger generals and Feldman medium hards (particularly for the symphony). For the opening of the scherzo, I used my Feldman reds, as it needed to be precise and articulate.
David Groves replaced John Frazier for this recording, with Michael Sheady as engineer. As I recall, the sessions went quite well, despite the problems with Mariss’s hands. The first movement of the symphony presented the only time that Mariss and I had a slight difference of opinion as to how it should be played. He was always concerned with balance, and always kept a close rein on the the brass and percussion on occasion. This was one of those times when he felt that the timpani were a bit loud. It was at the climax of the first movement, when everything was unbuttoned and full-voiced. I do remember him asking if I could take it down a notch, but as I felt that the passage in question needed “joie de vivre” so to speak, I spoke up and explained my reasoning. Mariss thought it over and let me have my way on this, as I felt that he understood where I was coming from. We discussed it in a gentlemanly manner, and I think we were both satisfied with the end result. That was the measure of the man. If you had something to say, he would always listen, consider it and then make his judgement. In this case, we both won!
The recording was issued in 1995, and overall it is a good disc. The violin concerto is superb, and the symphony is very good as well. My only complaint at the time of release was with the sound of the organ. The Cavaille- Coll organ at St. Ouen is set in a cathedral-like acoustic (it is an abbey church of cathedral – like proportions) and the reverberation is considerable. That and the sound of the reed stops is quite startling. One has to get used to it. It is a darker sound than we in America are used to. The reviewer didn’t like it, but the more I listen to it, the more I appreciate it. It is different. Again, I was grateful for experience.

August 1994 – Sibelius

I was delighted to see that EMI agreed with Mariss’ decision to record more Sibelius. The works chosen were the Symphonies No. 3 in C major and 5 in E flat major. At the time, we believed that this was to lead to a full Sibelius symphony cycle, as we had already recorded the first two symphonies plus some of his orchestral works. The Symphony No. 3in C major was not a work that we played often. As far as I can recall, I had never played the work before, and I cannot recall the orchestra playing it until we prepared it in concert in August of 1994, just before we recorded it. The work is in three movements: Allegro moderato; Andantino con moto, quasi allegretto; and Moderato – Allegro(ma non tanto). The Fifth Symphony was far more familiar, as I had first encountered it in 1983 during my trial period. Ken Nakseki was the conductor. I had since played it under Esa-Pekka Salonen and Paavo Berglund, and we had played it on tour under Mariss Jansons earlier in 1994.
For this recording, I used mainly the Hinger timpani, although with a twist. In 1992, we purchased a pair of Hinger timpani from John Wyre. This was the inside drums – 25 inch and 28 inch, and we’d use these with the 32 inch Light chain serving as the outside large timpano. I put calf on them, and used this combination for the recording session and concerts for the Third Symphony. For the 5th, I used our regular Hingers, also with calfskin.
I had a great time recording these symphonies. As I mentioned earlier, I was (and still am) a great fan of Sibelius’ music. (As a matter of fact, as I type this blog entry, I am listening to our recording of the 5th.)
For mallets, I was getting a bit bolder….I was using more of the Teahan -Hinger knockoffs for rolling and going for a rounder sound. The Third Symphony was a good vehicle for this, especially the last movement. The Fifth requires more articulation, so for that I stuck to my traditional mix of Feldman medium hards and Hinger wood-shaft mediums for that one.
John Frazier was the producer for this recording, and Michael Sheady was the engineer.(For the Honegger, David Murray (our first EMI producer) was in charge of the sessions, and Michael Sheady was engineer.)
Both symphonies are typical of Sibelius’ writing for the timpani as they feature many technical challenges, such as rolling and articulation. Then there is the famous ending of the first movement of the fifth with the double stops on B flat and e-flat at break-neck speed. I have to say I reveled in these recordings, and was grateful for the opportunity to record them. Upon hearing them again after all this time, I feel that they are both well recorded. The Third has the timpani a little more prominent, and the Fifth is a little more distant overall.

Author’s Note:

When I started writing this blog post, I had forgotten that we’d recorded twice in 1994 and had to insert the section on the Saint-Saens. In the meantime, here are some excerpts of the recordings we made in 1993 and 1994.Click on the YouTube links!!