Author Topic: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings  (Read 6062 times)

Offline James Meckley

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Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« on: September 06, 2011, 07:26:02 PM »
In his blog, Jay Friedman, principal trombone with the Chicago Symphony, has some interesting things to say about the sound that London/Decca achieved on its recordings of his orchestra during the Solti era:

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"I would like to finish this column with some comments about the recordings we made with the CSO and London records with Georg Solti in the 1970s and 1980s. In my opinion, these recordings are a poor way to judge the sound of the CSO, especially the CSO brass section. London Records was never interested in capturing the natural sound of the CSO. They had a pre-conceived sound which they were determined to force on the orchestra that focused on hard, edgy sonics in a boomy, over reverberant space. Most of those recordings were made in Medinah Temple, which was never designed for music, but more for circuses.

"I remember the horn section was placed 50 feet or more from the trumpets and trombones in order to get a gimmicky stereo effect. The results of these sessions produced a raucous, rough, hard-edged sound that in no way represents the CSO, especially the brass section. Solti was a great conductor, but was unable or unwilling to get the people at London/Decca to give an accurate sound picture of a great orchestra. However, I do remember his unhappiness with the sound of the first Mahler 5th recording. He wanted to cancel the recording, but it was too late.

"In latter years, many times we in the brass section would complain about the reproduction of our sound when London/Decca recorded us, but Solti would always say "Listen to the latest recording, I think you will be very happy." Needless to say, we weren't. To get a true picture of the CSO brass sound, one must go back to pre-London/Decca recordings or better yet listen to live recordings of concerts.

"One of my favorite CSO recordings, which is now out of print, is the Nielsen 2nd Symphony with Morton Gould conducting on RCA. This may be the most exciting record we ever made. It features some very fine low brass parts, played by Mr. Kleinhammer and Mr. Jacobs."

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The Nielsen recording Mr. Friedman mentioned is still available on an RCA Red Seal "Classic Library" CD, for anyone interested.

James
"We cannot see how any of his music can long survive him."
Henry Krehbiel, New York Tribune obituary of Gustav Mahler

Offline waderice

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2011, 12:36:17 AM »
Thanks for posting this, James.  This means that we have to look back to the Martinon and Reiner days to really get an idea of how the CSO sounds.  Maybe other conductors on non-Decca recordings during the Solti era gave a more accurate perspective on how the CSO really sounded during that time.  Too bad Mr. Friedman didn't comment about that aspect of CSO recordings.  For a discussion starter, maybe we might want to consider M9 with Giulini?

Wade

Offline Russ Smiley

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2011, 02:39:01 AM »
Thanks for posting this, James.  ...  Maybe other conductors on non-Decca recordings during the Solti era gave a more accurate perspective on how the CSO really sounded during that time.  Too bad Mr. Friedman didn't comment about that aspect of CSO recordings.  For a discussion starter, maybe we might want to consider M9 with Giulini?

Wade

Don't stop with the Giulini M9 (the recording that started it all for me), but add the Levine M3, too.

Friedman's article confirms what I had suspected from listening long ago to the Strauss recording (among some others) but didn't know from first hand experience.  The audio wizards had an agenda, and 'fidelity' was subject to their crafting.  (Even the Giulini recording changed three times to my ears, from the LP that was my conversion experience, to the disturbing Galleria version, to the last mastering that I now own.)  Regarding the Levine M3, I had always liked the orchestral sound, finding it more "mainstream" than the more brittle London recordings. The CSO has a long-established reputation for great brass section leaders (Herseth, Clevenger, Farkas, Jacobs), but a stellar soloist does not a great section make (unless you are an English horn player ;)), and spotlight miking simply polarizes further.
Russ Smiley

Offline James Meckley

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2011, 04:40:17 AM »
Speaking of James Levine, the following press release came out yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon from the Metropolitan Opera:

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I regret to inform you that James Levine suffered a new injury last week to his back that has required emergency surgery. As a result, he will now miss the first half of the season, although he hopes to recover in time to return for Götterdämmerung in January. Although Jim will continue as music director, Fabio Luisi will become principal conductor, effective immediately. Fabio is canceling engagements elsewhere in order to step in to replace Jim for the new productions of Don Giovanni and Siegfried, and for the Carnegie Hall concert in October.

Please join me in wishing Jim a full recovery and in congratulating Fabio on his new appointment. Thanks.

Peter Gelb

*  *  *

James
"We cannot see how any of his music can long survive him."
Henry Krehbiel, New York Tribune obituary of Gustav Mahler

Offline Russell

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #4 on: September 07, 2011, 06:38:18 PM »
Thanks for the informative posts, James.  I have to admit that those Decca/London recordings with Solti made for some impressive-sounding LPs in their day, but on CD they sounded positively cringe-worthy.  I hardly have any of those recordings in my CD collection now.  It's good to have confirmation from an insider that this was due to Decca's exaggerated and unnatural recording techniques.  (But I'm sure Solti's overly hyper performances didn't help, either!)

BTW, if it's OK with you, I'd like to re-post Friedman's comments on the Audio Asylum music forum, where I suspect I'll get some interesting responses.

Russell

Offline James Meckley

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2011, 07:00:51 PM »
BTW, if it's OK with you, I'd like to re-post Friedman's comments on the Audio Asylum music forum, where I suspect I'll get some interesting responses.


Russell,

By all means, post away. I quoted them based on my understanding of the fair-use doctrine, and you're welcome to do the same.

James
"We cannot see how any of his music can long survive him."
Henry Krehbiel, New York Tribune obituary of Gustav Mahler

Offline waderice

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #6 on: September 07, 2011, 08:35:09 PM »
I'll bet that not only Reiner would have despised recording his CSO in the unnatural Decca method, but that RCA producer Richard Mohr and recording engineer Lewis Layton would have hated doing recordings this way.  At least for Mahler and Reiner/CSO, we have M4 and DLvdE.  Incidentally, ALL of Reiner's CSO recordings were recorded in pre-renovation Orchestra Hall in Chicago (the hall underwent a renovation in 1966, which subsequently ruined its acoustic properties for recording until another renovation was done in I believe, the 1980's, if I'm not mistaken).

Wade

Offline barry guerrero

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2011, 12:36:50 AM »
Yes, another renovation was done in the latter '80s. While better, I still don't feel that the hall sounds nearly as good as it did prior to 1966. IMHO, the hall - along with Solti - has had a lot to do with why the brass section got completely out of control. I think Mr. Friedman - a man who I greatly respect - should reconsider his putting the blame exclusively on Decca. I heard Solti/CSO do Mahler 5 in Davies Hall in the '80s, and they sounded exactly as they do on those recordings. Even worse, actually. The entire orchestra sounded as though it were at war with itself. It just simply got to a point where the trumpets and trombones made little or no distinction (particularly the trumpets) between mezzo-forte, forte and fortissimo. It was all equally loud, and the horns and tuba could barely keep up. Clevenger sounded awful that night, and I think it was simply due to the brass section pushing their dynamic levels all of the time. Anyway, that's my two cents on the topic. They always seem to control themselves for Boulez (without sounding wimpy).

I later heard three concerts of the CSO under Barenboim at Carnegie Hall, and they sounded significantly better. I still don't think that they have anywhere near the best strings, woodwinds or percussion though.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2011, 06:32:39 AM by barry guerrero »

Offline Roland Flessner

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2011, 05:17:37 AM »
As a Chicagoan I have a lot to say on this subject, and I hardly know where to start. I attended CSO concerts sporadically through the '90s but have listened regularly in the last decade.

Before the 1966 renovation, the seats were not padded. Years ago someone told me that before '66, the musicians had trouble hearing each other. That was improved with the remodel, but introduced complications for recording as the sound of the empty hall changed considerably, less so for live concerts. I have no idea if that's true.

The next big renovation occurred in the late '90s (not '80s as previously suggested). An acoustic reflector made of curved plastic panels now dangles over the stage. This has proved to be a double-edged sword: The sound toward the rear of the hall is now brighter where it was previously foggy, but to my ears it is quite unnatural. The reflector acts as a giant microphone, and when the orchestra plays pianissimo, what reaches the audience goes no lower than mezzo forte. Woodwinds in particular sound exaggeratedly loud and even scratchy, while string tone remains dull and muffled. Toward the front of the hall, the brass sections sound rough, but this is not as bad if you're sitting farther back.

Since the second renovation coincided with the collapse of commercial studio recordings, few if any recordings have been made since then without an audience. I find the CSO Resound issues that I've heard, such as M3 and M6, overly bright an lacking in a natural perspective.

RCA engineers didn't seem to be happy with the results of the 1966 renovation. Checking the Martinon CDs of Ravel and Bartok/Hindemith/Varese, only the second suite of Daphnis and Chloe was recorded in Orchestra Hall, in 1964. Everything else was recorded at Medinah Temple. The Nielsen disc does not identify the recording venue.

I heard one concert at Medinah Temple with an excellent community orchestra, and found the acoustics not only superb but vastly superior to anything I've heard at Orchestra Hall. It is sad that only the facade remains, and even more melancholy to consider that circuses enjoyed better sound in this town that one of the greatest orchestras on earth.

Most good halls are shoeboxes. Orchestra Hall is unusual in that it is egg shaped. I think it's obvious by now that this venue is acoustically hopeless. My private theory is that it's just too small. An orchestra that can play as loudly as the CSO just needs more cubic feet of air. If only they could play just down the street in Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Theater.

Solti recorded M7 at the Foellinger Great Hall at the Krannert Center in Urbana, to my ears a good-sounding recording of a performance that's well above average for Solti, at least until the wheels fall off the bus in the finale. I have heard the CSO as well as U of I ensembles there; it is a terrific hall.

Eventually, engineers came to terms with the post-'66 Orchestra Hall. I have a strong antipathy to Daniel Barenboim's conducting, but his Alpine Symphony is a good (if clininal and uninvolved) performance captured in fine sound. I'd even say that if you really want to hear what the CSO sounds like, this is as good an example as any.

Having said all those nasty things about Orchestra Hall, I'll cheerfully point out the that the conductor really matters. I heard a horrible M9 with Barenboim; in the tuttis, the sound was a grey industrial sludge. But with Haitink on the podium, the orchestra sounds clear and transparent.

An intriguing prospect would be that the Harris Theater in Millennium Park could have been made larger and might have been a spectacular new home for the CSO. The acoustics are superb for ensembles up to medium size.

OK, I've poured out my soul. Anybody care to comment on the acoustics at Severance Hall in Cleveland or Symphony Hall in Boston?

Offline waderice

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #9 on: September 10, 2011, 11:21:08 AM »
Very good assessment of the acoustical history of Orchestra Hall, rf318.  Hopefully, some other individuals will be able to give as thorough an assessment on the acoustic history of Severance and Symphony Halls.  From what I've read, Symphony Hall probably has the best acoustic history of the three.  The one city's orchestra that's had a mish-mash of various venues in which to record has been the Philadelphia Orchestra, with the Academy of Music as their concert venue, and nowadays, the Kimmel Center.

Years ago, I saw a reference book (boy, would I have liked to stash that in my book bag and take it home!  ;D ) in a library published by the acoustic firm of Boult, Beranek, and Newman that assessed the acoustics of the major concert halls of the world.  I cannot remember where Orchestra Hall placed, but I do remember that Symphony Hall placed no. 1, the Musikvereinsal in Vienna was no. 2, and I can't exactly remember what no. 3 was.  Does anyone happen to have that book in their library?

Wade

Offline Roland Flessner

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #10 on: September 10, 2011, 02:44:26 PM »
Rumor has it that Severance is dry. I spot checked a few Szell CDs, and where Sony has bothered to mention location, it's been Severance. Decca seems to prefer Masonic Auditorium (Ashkenazy, Dohnanyi, Maazel). Symphony Hall in Boston is legendary. I'd like to hear both, Cleveland being an easy trip and Boston a bit more involved.

In '08 I drove to Dallas and heard Jaap von Zweden in M5, his first subscription concert as music director. The performance was excellent and the acoustics at the Meyerson Center every bit as good as its sterling reputation. A big orchestra can play at full blast in that hall and still sound completely musical.

Once or twice a year I go to Minneapolis. The Minnesota Orchestra is a fine ensemble, and while I'd put the hall a couple notches behind Dallas it's light years beyond OH Chicago. I've heard some interesting programs, too, led by Stanislav Skrowaczewski and Jan Pascal Tortelier. It's definitely worth the 800-mile round trip, though I take the scenic route and make it 1000.

I note that many of the Ormandy/Columbia sessions were captured at Town Hall, but Googling around doesn't turn up anything about this location. Many of those reissues are unusually good for their era. I have great respect for Ormandy but usally prefer Szell's crisp style, but it's a pity that the old Szell recordings are not in the league of Ormandy or Reiner.

Schmoozing with a couple guys at the Symphony Store, we agreed than many of the Reiner recordings have never been surpassed. I think some of the Solti/Decca recordings sound quite good, but the performances are uninteresting. Regardless of repertoire, I don't see Solti recordings making many people's short lists these days. As for Barenboim, the less said the better, but even so it's hard to imagine collectors years from now cherishing his recordings. (I'm curious to hear his Brahms symphonies but I wouldn't pay a dime for them.)

Offline barry guerrero

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #11 on: September 10, 2011, 04:51:48 PM »
"Solti recorded M7 at the Foellinger Great Hall at the Krannert Center in Urbana, to my ears a good-sounding recording of a performance that's well above average for Solti, at least until the wheels fall off the bus in the finale"

I agree 100%. This has to be one of the very best sounding CSO/Decca recordings, but the finale is a complete train wreck. The timpanist couldn't play his rolls in the opening flourish at Solti's fast tempo, and it's just down-hill from there.


"the acoustics at the Meyerson Center every bit as good as its sterling reputation. A big orchestra can play at full blast in that hall and still sound completely musical."

I saw Litton conduct Mahler 8 there on two consecutive nights, and everything sounded completely musical - just as you suggest. Only the tenor, Gary Lakes, was anything near a disappointment. I keep hoping that Delos will one day issue it.

By the way, the Mahler 7 that I heard Barenboim/CSO do in Carnegie Hall was very good, while the Bruckner 7 was excellent.

By the way way: I think the Solti/CSO "DLvdE" sounds pretty good too. Principal percussionist Gordon Peters used Fred Beckman's private living room tam-tam on that recording, which is also a 100cm Wuhan.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2011, 05:01:37 AM by barry guerrero »

Offline Russell

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2011, 08:24:54 PM »
I note that many of the Ormandy/Columbia sessions were captured at Town Hall, but Googling around doesn't turn up anything about this location. Many of those reissues are unusually good for their era. I have great respect for Ormandy but usally prefer Szell's crisp style, but it's a pity that the old Szell recordings are not in the league of Ormandy or Reiner.

The name of Town Hall was changed to the Scottish Rite Cathedral some years back.  It was the last venue that Columbia used to record Philly before the orchestra changed allegiances to RCA in 1968.  RCA tried to make a go of it in the orchestra's home, the Academy of Music, initially but were unsuccessful.  I remember reading an article in 'High Fidelity' magazine about those 1968 recording sessions, and it hinted at the possibility that RCA tried to overcome the Academy's natural deadness by adding "reverberation" during the sessions by projecting the microphone pickup through strategically placed speakers in the hall itself.  (Indeed, if you take a look at the original LP covers of those recordings, you can see several bookshelf-sized speakers at several points in the side balconies.)  The results were nothing short of disastrous (you can hear this obviously unnatural reverberation in the 1968 Tchaikovsky 6th, among others of that time) and RCA ultimately reverted to the Scottish Rite Cathedral for their Philly recordings.

Russell

Russell

Offline waderice

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #13 on: September 12, 2011, 11:14:19 PM »
Russell, thank you for your comments on Ormandy/Philly and Town Hall/Scottish Rite Cathedral.

On to the subject of Boston Symphony Hall.

During the RCA era, the first BSO stereo recordings were made directly on the stage of Symphony Hall.  According to my readings into the BSO's recordings, it wasn't until they recorded their famous reading of the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony that they decided to remove the first several rows of seats in Symphony Hall and place the orchestra on the floor, which helped the resonance of the BSO's recordings thereafter.  It is a logical assumption that Leinsdorf's later recordings of M3, M5, and M6 were done in the same fashion.  I only have the CD of Leinsdorf's M3, but cannot comment on the M5 and M6 recordings because I don't have them.

Any comment on what DG and Philips did with their recordings with Ozawa and other conductors in Symphony Hall?

Wade

Offline Roland Flessner

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Re: Jay Friedman on the CSO London/Decca Recordings
« Reply #14 on: September 14, 2011, 04:48:43 AM »
Russell, thanks for solving that mystery!

If memory serves, the Tchaikovsky 6 may have been the first recording issued when the RCA recording contract began. I never heard it, but I remember High Fidelity complaining about how the violins "screech and yowl."

Over the weekend I bought a used copy of the RCA "High Performance" issue of "The Fabulous Philadelphians," It was recorded in '71 and '72 at Scottish Rite, and sounds very good, though a little bass shy.

 

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