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There are no doubts in my mind that these Watford-based recordings are musically the finest and technically most supreme ever produced and engineered. Wilma Cozart Fine's responsibility as Recording Director and husband Bob Fine's genius for perfecting Mercury's microphone settings for superb, natural balance make them very special. I have since read Richard Morrison's book on the LSO where he quotes carping comments by key orchestral players. Quite a few personalities are brought into the argument, and 'over-editing' in order to obtain perfect ensemble -- minus wrong notes, is also discussed. Cozart Fine and Doráti both understood exactly how to achieve overall excellence while creating musically stimulating interpretations at the same time! The rest is professional jeolousy.

During my time at EMI, I released almost the complete Mercury 'Living Presence' catalogue of long play records on the British market. Following their takeover by the Philips Record Division, they reappeared on compact disc and a complete catalogue should still be available from Universal on request. Of added interest are some of the pointers and incidents experienced during actual sessions:

The 1960 recording of the complete Stravinsky Firebird Ballet contains a fiendishly tricky arpeggio passage on the octave for solo oboe. Doráti calmly coaxed Roger Lord to breathe easily before he brought it off perfectly at the fifth attempt.

Doráti perfected the LSO's mastery of Aaron Copland's difficult cross rhythms, off-beat accents, ensemble, correct dynamics and overall style. We also know that Copland distrusted his champion Koussevitsky's ability to cope with changes of metre, and subsequently the composer himself parted company with the LSO in favour of the Philharmonia Orchestra for similar reasons. Bernstein and Tilson Thomas would both redress and correct this inbalance.

While recording Beethoven and Brahms for Mercury, Doráti favoured the Toscanini approach. Gradually, this would change in later years.

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Copyright © 9 April 2006 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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