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Those were the days when highly stimulating recordings joined forces with exciting live events to thrill record collectors and concertgoers alike. Schedules were tight and budgets quickly escalated if arrangements were suddenly disrupted. On one occasion, Doráti needed to audition his new LSO recording of Dvorák's G major Symphony and Carnival Overture. EMI didn't have a playback room available, so he agreed to listen on a portable new Capitol RS101 machine in my bedsitter in Upper Berkeley Street! But before turning my attention to recordings, I should register my slight chagrin at the fact that his second stereo version of Stravinsky's Le sacre du Printemps made in Minneapolis used the composer's old tempo-metronome markings. Doráti's LSO live RFH performance on 14 November 1960 incorporated Stravinsky's revised thoughts, and to this day has never been equalled.

Apart from Stravinsky, his specialities were Bartók and Kodály. Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra (every single reading revealing subtle differences), Music for strings, percussion and celeste, Violin Concerto No 2 (notably with Menuhin) all became high watermarks. And, Kodály's complete Háry János in Doráti's arrangement. But the Russian romantics -- Tchaikovsky (the Symphonies) Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov (orchestral showpieces) always brought the house down and encouraged the exploration of important 20th century masterworks by Walton, Britten, Nielsen, Mahler and Skalkottas. A notebook was sometimes produced for my perusal containing a mass of material, but with past American orchestral connections and future international commitments composers like Piston, Schuman, Copland, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Prokofiev and Shostakovich all received the authentic treatment. And Berlioz, with his Grand messe des morts on 7 April 1961, and the complete Benvenuto Cellini at London's Camden Theatre with the gorgeous Teresa Stich-Randall, Alexander Young and David Ward on 26 June 1960.

The many Mercury recording sessions I attended showed a rather different, more intense Doráti than the musician on the concert circuit. Wilma Cozart Fine, Robert C Fine, Harold Lawrence and Fine's No 2 -- 'Red' Eberenz were the regular foursome in constant attendance, complete with a recording truck that housed the tape controls and console that at a future stage would change over to recording film -- a much more complicated and expensive procedure. Doráti always claimed that he loved recording and the continuous involvement in music making, but the inevitable complications occurred when, on one occasion the favourite Watford location became unavailable and Wembley was substituted at the final moment. There, the large space to accommodate the orchestra was seen to have a cork surround that absorbed all treble response, and this delayed the first day's recording while Bob Fine constructed a special chamber to rectify the problem. Meanwhile, Doráti was boiling up ready to erupt. It happened after the start of Bartók's Music for strings, percussion and celeste, not then part of the LSO's repertory. Questions of overall style, phrasing, nuance, expression -- I still possess the conductor's specially marked up full score -- were not being observed and the playing was simply not together. Pianist Harold Lester was physically removed from his piano stool, Doráti demonstrating how he wished the part to be played. The orchestra thereupon downed instruments, brought out their newspapers instead and yelled encouragement to their fallen colleague. Inside the control room one clearly heard the conductor's baton reverberate against one Altec-Lancing loudspeaker and bounce off the other -- then sudden silence ... Doráti was missing for about half an hour; when he reappeared he was greeted by a long, prepared speech from Hugh Maguire about how the orchestra benefitted by his discipline, pleading for his patience. Recording producer and editor Harold Lawrence began the long job of piecing it all together following the eventual completion. The Royal Festival Hall live performance following on was a major triumph. American Pianist Byron Janis was also booked to record Tchaikovsky's First Concerto, but the change of itinerary showed that Doráti would be unavailable and Herbert Menges substituted. Subsequently Janis and Doráti made a magnificent Rachmaninov Third at Watford.

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Copyright © 9 April 2006 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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