1995 – 1997
The last three years of the Oslo Philharmonic/Mariss Jansons/EMI contract went very quickly. As a matter of fact, there really were only two years in which we recorded, as there were only two more recordings left in the contract. In 1995, we were scheduled to record the other two parts of Ottorino Respighi’s “Roman Trilogy” – “Pini di Roma” (The Pines of Rome) and Fontane di Roma (The Fountains of Rome). We had already recorded the other part of the Trilogy, Feste Romane (Roman Festivals) back in January and February of 1989 and it was originally released on a disc with music of Dukas and Ravel.
The sessions for recording both “Pines” and “Fountains” were scheduled for October of 1995 and we “played them in” in concert as was our usual practice. I believe Beethoven’s Second Symphony preceded them on the program, and the recording sessions took place within the same week.
I used the Hingers for this recording, and added the 32 inch Light Continental Chain to the set for the low E in “Fountains”. The drums all had calfskin on them, and they sounded great! By this time, I had changed my mallet preferences. On our USA tour in the late fall of 1994, we played a concert in Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During the sound check rehearsal, I found a pair of Ron Carlisle Profession # 7 mallets on the timpani, and a note from Ron introducing himself and his product. He was not able to attend the concert, and we missed each other (I was off stage when he visited) at the rehearsal, so this had to do as an introduction. He left his contact information song in the note. I began using the mallets almost immediately, and found them just right. They felt good in the hands and were perfectly balanced. Needless to say, I got in touch with Ron and by early 1995, both my assistant and I had nearly complete sets of the Carlisle Professional series to use. I used these mallets for these sessions, and I have been using them to this day. For those you interested, I refer you to Ron’s website : http://carlislepercussion.com/.
Mariss Jansons really took to the music of Respighi. Both pieces were well rehearsed and played in concert, and carried over well into the sessions. John Fraser again was the producer and Michael Sheady was the balance engineer. For the Roman Festivals back in 1989, Mike Clements was the engineer.
It is a pity that there are no YouTube videos at present so you can experience the results. I loved his version of “Pines of Rome”, impressively conducted and well recorded. Also, his handling of the final movement “Pines of The Appian Way” was incredible. He held back on the fortissimos until the last possible moment when he let us loose in the last few moments which felt so right! By the way, I doubled on this recording, playing ratchet in the first movement “Pines of The Villa Borghese”. Not just any old ratchet, a hand-crank version made by Kolberg Percussion GMBH. It was mounted on a stand and did it really cut through the orchestral sound!
The recording sessions went well for “Fountains” as well. There is less for timpani and percussion than in the other two works, but what there is is challenging and just plain fun! Listening to the recording after all these years makes me think how amazing it was that we got as good as sound out of that problematic hall of ours at the time. The recording sounds very well. I just wish there were some You-Tube videos to put up so that you could share. However, it is available on Amazon.com on CD.
1996 was a miss as far as recording was concerned. There were discussions between Mariss and the orchestra and EMI about the acoustics of our hall, and it was decided that we would travel to a church outside the downtown area which had excellent acoustics and do one recording session as a test. The recording was to be of a series of pieces which we played as encores over the past few years. I remember it being a very busy period for us as this took place in April of 1996, just before we were to play a semi-staged version of Puccini’s “La Boheme” under Mariss’ direction the following week.. Mariss had set his heart on performing the opera and was in “overdrive” mode during this period. The session went well, but it led nowhere, as the events of the next week put any further consideration of using the venue, or even recording, out of the question for quite some time.
Mariss prepared the opera, and one of my timpani heroes and a mentor, Sal Rabbio, (then timpanist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra) who was in Oslo for a series of master classes, happened to attend the dress rehearsal. He had seen Mariss conduct the Oslo Philharmonic back in 1987 during our visit to Detroit, and was impressed then. Watching this dress rehearsal, he became a bit concerned and felt that while he admired Jansons’ passion and commitment, he was afraid that he was in such a state that he would work himself into a heart attack. He said as much to me after the rehearsal, and sadly, he proved prophetic. The next day, eight minutes before the end of the first performance, Mariss sagged and had to be carried off the stage. The concert master and an associate helped him off the stage. Turned out it was a very serious heart attack. Luckily, Mariss recovered, but it was long process. (Klaus Weise stepped in to conduct the second performance the next day.)
It was not until the late fall that Mariss returned to the orchestra and then it was to lead us on a Far Eastern tour – this time with Bjarte Engeset as associate conductor. More about this in another post. In any case, 1996 was a wash as far as recording, but thank the Lord that Mariss recovered to give us many more memorable experiences.
Plans to record the album that became “World Encores” were shelved in 1996 due to Mariss’s health issues, but once he returned to work, it turned out that the the album would be recorded in Oslo in May of 1997. These sessions would be the last for the Jansons/OPO team for EMI. A series of twenty short works, many of which we played as encores over the past decade were on the docket. Starting with Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and concluding with the Finale to Theodakis’ ballet Zorba, it was an ambitious undertaking. Included in the list were Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 15; Johann Strauss II’s Unter Donner und Blitzen Polka; Dinicu’s Hora Staccato; The Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and Gade’s Jealousy Tango, to name a few.
Any plans to record outside the Oslo Concert Hall had been shelved as it was deemed the logistics were not worth the effort. It is shame that we did not follow up as the concert hall remains a problematic venue. I think that Mariss’s health issues had a lot to do with the decision to remain at the Concert Hall. It reduced the strain on Mariss’s health and that had to be paramount, plus the timing was just not right given the circumstances. It would have been interesting if things had turned out differently.
Again, for our last EMI recording, I used the Hinger timpani with calfskin and Carlisle mallets. This was a combination that by this time I was getting used to.
It was fun to record these pieces, and as an “Encore” album, an apt conclusion to the contract. John Fraser produced ( he even arranged the Elegy by the South Korean composer Lyung Joon Kim, which is second on the program) and Mike Hatch was the engineer. There was only one work from earlier sessions: Sibelius’ Valse Triste from 1992, so we didn’t record it in 1997 – the 1992 recording was added to the playlist.
I enjoyed the recording when it was released in my last season, which was 1998 and still listen to it from time to time. An apt conclusion to the contract, yes, but oh, it would have been fun to complete the Sibelius symphony cycle. Below is the concluding work on this recording. The finale from the ballet, Zorba! Oopah!