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Believing out loud




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Live performance spontaneity is opposite to the intense activity and perfection of recording sessions. Finckel: 'A lot of musicians suggest trying to bring the two closer together, but it is important that our recordings sound spontaneous and they have to withstand repeated hearings. You listen to a concert once and it can be very exciting. Listen to it again and again and there might be things that would drive you nuts! We can't have that on a recording. It has to have a certain sophistication and different levels and perspectives of quality - sound, balancing of voices, ensemble, intonation, and the same excitement as the live performance. We try very hard to get all that.' Doesn't too much perfection create sterility? Drucker: 'It depends on the kind of perfectionism. Purely on a technical level it could add to sterility, but we care about it in a much broader sense, honing our perfection apiece to the 'nth' degree, taking ultimate responsibity of how we think the piece should sound.' Does this involve risk taking? 'Yes. We don't shy away as performers, but it's deeper than that if you want to do something unusual - its YOUR statement about that work.' They instance their recording of Beethoven's Op.131. Dutton: 'The last movement is one of the most strongest, energetic and ferocious that Beethoven wrote in a very difficult key for stringed instruments that doesn't easily resonate . We couldn't please the microphones and ended up doing seven complete takes and kept pushing and pushing until the last two were what we originally imagined - it was crazy, but our producer always went along with us.' Drucker: 'He's also critical, not allowing us to overstress ourselves in order to get the best possible version.' Dutton: ' It's more a creative than an interpretative process - there's so much to do and there is no more incredible quartet music than Beethoven.' Finckel: 'It's more mystical, especially in the late quartets, and there are many things where you have to sit around, trying to use your imagination to figure out what he was hearing, internally. A lot of that is 'up for grabs' before you commit it to disc.' Setzer: 'It's a different level of artistic procedure of how much experimenting we have done on the sessions. In the past we played the complete work and listened to the tape, and gone into the session pretty much trying to get a good performance, which is not a bad goal. With the Beethovens, we have done it upside down starting with the late ones and working back - as it happens we performed a lot of late Beethoven together with late Shostakovich - but the process of playing them on the sessions, going back to listen, criticise and doing them again didn't seem to happen. Instead, we came up with new ideas and inspirations, experimenting and trying different ways. It took a lot more time, like a film maker making a movie with heated discussions, while we were so much into the music. Finally we got somewhere - there is a lot in the recordings quite different to the way we performed them over many years.' Did earlier takes possess more spontaneity? Dutton: 'That , we are always looking for. In the Cavatina , we said, 'let's do another one - let it go, let it flow a little more', and we just relaxed and it just 'hit' as something special. There are certain movements like that where you let it happen - hit or miss.' Finckel: 'you have to 'plug' into some mysterious source.' Drucker and Setzer: 'Other subsequent takes were just not so good - in spite of specific things like notes being together, intonation, phrasing, more organized crescendi - they didn't have the aura of that second take which we kept coming back to.' In the Cavatina, there are few splicing opportunities, and none of the players knew just how good it was!

Similarly when recording Schubert's Quintet with Rostropovich. Setzer, again: 'We were supposed to do the first movement in the morning and the slow movement in the afternoon, with lunch in between. It was in the middle of winter, and it was too much - we had to rest. We came back at night to this church with the snow falling down, started again and got to a certain point and stopped (having made a couple of mistakes, covered already), then Slava said 'Be-Utiful! This was fantastic!!' Really? That's the take that's on the record. Finckel: 'After listening to all of them - he was right because he had the experience. He knew!'

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Copyright © 7 May 2000 Bill Newman, Edgware, Middlesex, UK



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