I see (and hear) your point. I think Decca and in many cases (at leat in the "golden age") RCA and
Columbia also were able to coax great, exciting note-perfect records out of their artists. I do
think that musicians may "clinch up" in a studio, so using a performance venue probably works best
for classical recording. In the case of Mercury, oftentimes recording sessions would take place in
conjunction with concerts, so the material was fresh and front-of-mind to everyone. Definitely in
Moscow, I think sometimes in London, and a few times in the US, recording would take place at night
just after a concert, so the orchestra had everything really fresh in their minds, and thus only had
to control their "adrenalin come-down" after the performance. A good conductor like Dorati and
Kondrashin could keep the excitement flowing. But what about a soloist? I marvel at Byron Janis
playing that Prokofiev/Rachmaninoff performance in Moscow, to a standing ovation, then an encore,
and then spending all night recording the two pieces to his high level of artistry.
The other tack is to make a recording a special occasion. I've heard complete session tapes of Paray
and Hanson, and they made clear to the orchestra that they expected "your best, on every take" and
then treated the whole occasion is a special way to "set the record straight" or indeed "create the
draft of history." Fennell, also having heard complete sessions, was always upbeat and insistent, it
took a lot to get him to be negative or harsh with his band. Dorati would blow a fuse easily, but
his musicians expected that. What he was great at was getting everyone excited and paying very close
attention, by getting them out of their comfort zone. I would guess fellow Hungarians Reiner and
Szell worked the same way, but I bet Dorati blew more fuses. Hanson would take more of a "oh that's
just not working" or "that was great" approach, knowing what he needed to get on each take and not
stopping until he got it. Paray was the same way, but there was a filter because he didn't speak
English so everything had to be translated to the non-French-speaking members of the orchestra.
Fennell probably blew a few fuses over years, but I think he took more of a teacher role and more
insisted than screamed. He seemed willing to explain what he wanted in great detail, so as not to
put his musicians in a Catch-22 situation.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Don Cox" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, June 08, 2012 4:42 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Who needs vinyl?
> On 03/06/2012, Tom Fine wrote:
>> Jazz is inherently improvised music, and there's a very valid argument
>> that some of the best improvising goes on in a live-performance
>> setting. So I agree with you very much about jazz.
> I think it was Alfred Brendel who remarked on how much improvisation
> there was in a Fischer-Dieskau lieder performance.
> Certainly in small-group and chamber classical music, there is the same
> instantaneous response between the players as in jazz. The notes are of
> course the same each time, but the phrasing is not.
>> There was a time
>> when rock was the same, except usually the musical skill wasn't all
>> that good. Nowadays, a typical popular pop or rock artists's live show
>> is a scripted/automated/computerized light and sound and multimedia
>> thing, with little room to go off on an interesting improv. Not
>> universal, but typical. Like these stage-show extravaganzas, classical
>> music is "scripted" (scored), so a good conductor and orchestra should
>> be able to deliver a note-perfect and exciting performance to the
>> recording mics, using retakes to patch up less than perfect sections.
>> In a live setting, sometimes the script goes awry due to human
>> imperfections and/or poor conducting. A live audience rarely notices
>> the mistakes unless they are terrible.
> Better a live performance that has a few mistakes and is exciting than a
> note-perfect studio performance that is dutiful.
> Check out (for example) the Marlboro Festival series on Sony, the Kagan
> performances with Richter and others on the German "Live Classics"
> label, Britten's performances at the Aldeburgh Festival (best "Fingal's
> Cave overture I have ever heard), the 1943 Horowitz-Toscanini
> Tchaikovsky concerto, any recording by Sokolov (who will not record in
> the studio).
> Many of the Mercury recordings succeed in getting the same intensity in
> a studio recording, perhaps by making the session a special occasion.
> But a great many studio recordings are just tidy.
> Don Cox
> [log in to unmask]