Music and Vision homepage

Bob Auger - A Great Recording Engineer

Part III

<< Continued from yesterday.

During the 60s and 70s London was the centre of the recording universe, and many international firms came to London to make records, including CBS, RCA and Vanguard, all of whom wished to work with Bob. Among the major classical works recorded by him, perhaps Tippett's Child of our Time and Vision of St Augustine, Verdi's Requiem (Bernstein) and Strauss's Salome (Leinsdorf) stand out. However, he did not restrict himself to classical music only - he regarded the recording of any sound as a challenge, and his records range from the 1969 Isle of Wight Pop Festival, the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, and Frank Sinatra at the Royal Festival Hall, to Stockhausen's concert in the same hall in the mid-70s (when the composer's star was perhaps at its highest). He also recorded many popular artists for Pye, or RCA, such as The Animals (House of the Rising Sun); Duke Ellington; Sammy Davis Jr; Marlene Dietrich at her last appearance in London; Bing Crosby, and Buddy Rich at Ronnie Scott's.

As a recording engineer he was constantly inspired. There is the well-known story (I was there!) of him placing John the Baptist (in Salome) in the Gents' Toilet off-stage, to acquire the right acoustic resonance for his scene in the cell.

After I had left Bob's employ I used the experience I had gained with him to mastermind a number of recordings using Bob, with John McCabe (whom I later married) which were then placed with various companies, such as Decca, EMI and RCA. It was one such recording, of Haydn piano sonatas, which later led to the complete set of Haydn's keyboard music on Decca (now London): 12 CDs.

There were many enjoyable times, and humorous situations, during these recording sessions - too numerous to recount here. Recording is fraught with perils, especially in London, and especially in London churches, where so much classical recording takes place. I can recall so many incidents, from double-booking by unworldly vicars; demolition work next door; bird, clock and children's playground noises off. Perhaps one of the most poignant, however, occurred in the very church - often used by Bob at one period - in which his memorial service is to be held: the church of St George the Martyr, WC1. John had completed a first-time perfect take of a slow, quiet, sustained piece of his own piano music, a work virtually impossible (certainly in those days) to edit successfully. At the end he waited expectantly for Bob's congratulations, only to hear, after a short silence, the words 'I think you'd better come back here' emanate from the vestry, which was being used as the control room. John came in, to find us all torn between horror and giggles. On listening to the playback, he found that his perfect, sustained, deeply-felt performance had been overlaid by a salesman selling beers and spirits to a nearby pub over the radio from his van.

Bob Auger died suddenly in his sleep on December 12 1998, at the age of 70, leaving his wife, Monika, and two children, a son and a daughter. Monika had been his strong support throughout their marriage, entertaining artists at their house, and when Bob went freelance, helping to run the business. Although nominally retired, Bob died with his boots on, still working, recording for Opera Rara.

A Memorial Service for Robert Walter Ernest Auger will take place on April 30, at the Church of St George the Martyr, Queen Square, London WC1, at 2pm.

Copyright © Monica McCabe, April 5th 1999