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During the recording of Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle, soprano Olga Szönyi's stature and vocal strength did not match her partner, the veteran Mihály Székely. Fine decided therefore to mount her on a chair in order that both singers were in close proximity to the microphones. Szönyi was placed directly in front of Doráti on the podium, and he had a superb view. The whole control room and performers spent the next ten minutes laughing their heads off during the playback.

Cellist Janos Starker, a close friend of Doráti was recording Bruch's Kol nidrei, where at the close the final notes on the octave are played arco. Starker, a great artist-innovator, decided to substitute harmonics -- a charming touch which was welcomed by all and incorporated into the master tape.

After the start of Smetana's Vltava, Doráti decided to take liberties making an enormous ritardando at the end of the phrase, which is repeated a moment later. Although a slight rubato is perfectly acceptable, I remarked on his exaggeration. 'I suddenly had the desire to do it differently (over and above his earlier recordings for Philips), but having done it now, I will not do it again!'

Somehow, I couldn't bring myself to argue with him, but certain orchestral personnel remarked on his podium style, like Neville Marriner who described him as 'someone fighting to get out of a sack!' From the back view, the right arm holding the baton shot forward to give force to the drama on the downbeat, while the left would retract frequently, hand and fingers quietening the responses while curving and shaping the phrases. His legs and feet, for a fairly stocky man were slightly apart to take the weight of the body. Hunched -- but never obviously so like André Previn -- his powers of concentration aimed at total control of rhythmic pulses with particular emphasis on the bass line and clarity of the inner parts. In concert, this was greatly simplified. Generally seen upright and relaxed he had this enormous ability to generate a power and sweep to presto passages, say in Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Bartók, but the job of careful rehearsing always allowed for this. Musicians would also argue otherwise about the conducting setbacks of Beecham, Furtwängler and Reiner. Likewise, the inability to beat five measures in the bar -- Beecham -- again, Koussevitsky, Arvid Jansons, and now -- after all this time, Doráti, by courtesy of an ageing string member of the old Minneapolis Orchestra insisting that concert master Rafael Druian gave the cues. All of this has no bearing on the genius of interpretation.

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Copyright © 9 April 2006 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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