1970 – BERNSTEIN’s VERDI REQUIEM | BOB AUGER’S CBS RECORDING AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL
PART TWO OF TWO:
(Do start with my previous post, about the St.Paul’s concert: HERE)
By DAVID TAYLOR
Leonard Bernstein certainly packed in as much as he could when he went ‘abroad’. Arriving in London on the 18th February, he scheduled the rehearsals and then on the 22nd did the public Albert Hall concert for the Verdi Requiem and went straight into recording sessions on the 23rd, 24th and 26th. On the 25th he had the LWT St.Paul’s video recording, as detailed in my last post.
I headed off to the Royal Albert Hall after recovering from the late de-rig from the St.Paul’s Concert to visit the last day of the CBS recordings. The musicians had already done pairs of 3 hour sessions on the afternoon and evening on the 23rd and 24th, followed by the afternoon camera rehearsal and evening St.Paul’s concert and although most probably worn out but were now counting up the overtime that the TV re-takes had run into! The Musician’s Union only allowed 20 minutes of recording to take place in any 3 hour recording session like this CBS one and the TV recording would have been a bonus for the LSO players as well.
CBS DO A ‘CLASSICAL QUADRAPHONIC’ RECORDING
This recording was to be a ‘first’ for CBS…for a quadraphonic release.
In 1970 quadraphonic recordings of both Classical and Pop were about to be ‘the next big thing’ and required a suitable disc pickup and special ‘matrix’ amplifier system or a 4-channel tape deck….oh and the four loudspeakers were obviously necessary as well.
There were up to four competing disc matrix systems, the main contenders being Sansui with the ‘QS’ system and Sony who confusingly named their system the ‘SQ’. It was the ‘SQ’ which had been adopted by the record company involved here, CBS.
I won’t delve anymore into this…better go and get confused over at Wikipedia I guess!
CBS’s classical recording in the UK had previously been in EMI Studio 1 but in order to accomodate the CBS desire to make this Verdi Requiem in Quad, Bob Auger’s ‘Granada Recordings’ were hired to undertake the recording. Presumably the ‘spacious venue’ of the Royal Albert Hall was important for the ‘ambience’ as well.
It is important to point out that the only ‘Quadraphonic’ part of this recording though was to be the ‘rear ambience’…no panning the soloists into the rear speakers etc. It should be just like ‘being in the hall’ surely.
BOB AUGER – EXPERIENCED ENGINEER
Bob had started in sound at the Nova Studios in Bryanston Street and he moved on to Pye in 1956 to look after their classical recordings and immediately worked for two weeks with the American Engineer Bob Fine recording The Halle Orchestra with Sir John Barbirolli in 1956. Fine did many classical recordings, mainly for Mercury although he also owned three New York sound studios and Auger was extremely influenced by Fine’s strict three mic method of stereo recording an orchestra. Auger then went on to use the same technique on Pye classical records until in 1960 he moved to become Head-of-Sound at Granada TV in Manchester.
TV wasn’t ‘his thing’ though and two years later he went back to Pye to set up their new studios inside ATV House in Great Cumberland Place as the chief engineer recording a variety of artists from Sammy Davis Jr. to The Kinks and started the original Pye Mobile de-rig unit.
Through his connection with Granada TV, however, he then started in 1969 the independent ‘de-rig mobile’ Granada Recordings which he was running from it’s base above the Granada Rehearsal Rooms at The Oval….rehearsal rooms that we at LWT soon knew well for ‘outside rehearsals’.
I was already familiar with Bob Auger and on hearing that he was undertaking this one I made sure to go along after the St.Paul’s TV recording ‘late night’ (see last post) and got to the RAH and discovered that David Kirk of Studio Sound magazine was also visiting to write about this new thing ‘Quadraphonic Recording’.
THE CBS PRODUCTION TEAM
Bernstein usually worked with John McClure, a CBS Producer with a history going back to the Bruno Walter days with the New York Phil. However McClure wasn’t available and in his place was Thomas Z. Shepard, along with the CBS London Office Producer Paul Myers.
Shepard mainly in the past specialised in recording Broadway Shows and Paul Myers went on to record quite a few discs, some for quadraphonic release with Bob Auger over the next few years.
THE CONTROL ROOM SET-UP
The Quadraphonic requirement pushed Auger into recording on 8-Track…he usually used a 4-Track Scully.
Here’s his control room set up, as detailed by ‘Studio Sound’ in their profile of the Bernstein Verdi Requiem sessions:
Auger and his colleagues set up the temporary control room in converted bar back stage at the Royal Albert Hall, as the drawing above and a photo of the consoles illustrates.
The equipment Auger had to set up for the Verdi Requiem ‘control room’ and in the ‘studio’ was considerable….but this was how a big classical de-rig recording was done.
His large Neve desks were stripped of their modules which travelled in separate foam boxes.
However getting the desk frames and all this kit into the ‘control room’ would have been hard work:
1: Neve 16 into 4 Group Output console for the mics.
2: Neve 8 into 4 Monitor Output console for monitoring the 8 Tracks.
3: Scully 284-8 8-Track recorder-amps in 2 flight cases.
4: 3M-Mincom 56 8-Track recorder-amps in 2 flight cases (possibly Pye Records machine).
5: 8x Dolby 301 NR units-the first heavy A-Type 6U version made.
6: Scully 284-4 4-Track recorder. Possibly just as a back-up machine…or a stand for the large TV!
7: 21″ TV for CCU from camera on stage.
8: A Pair of Lockwood monitors with Tannoy Red speakers
9: Quad 303 Amp for Lockwoods
10: A pair of small Sinclair Q10 speakers for ‘Quadraphonic Ambience’.
11: Intercom unit, telephone and Cue Lights to Conductor.
12: Cabling for Desks/Dolbies/2x 8 Tracks/Speakers and amps/CCTV/TB etc to hall.
13: Many reels of 1″ Scotch 202 tape for both multitracks.
THE ORCHESTRA AND MIC LAYOUT
Let’s have a look at how the orchestra and choir were set up and the mic positioning. Here’s my tatty sketch:
The orchestra are on the ‘floor’ of the hall, with the choir at the back of the stage in the seating.
1: 5x Very large boom stands for the main orchestra U-87’s.
2: 2x Very Tall stands for the 2x M-49 ambience mics.
3: 3x Normal boom stands for Tymps/Cellos and Double Basses U-87’s
4: 4x Tall stands for Choir M-49’s
5: Lockwood speaker and amp for ‘talkback’
6: Telephone and Cue Light units.
7: 4x Normal boom stands for Soloists AKG D-224E mics.
8: Rank CCTV Camera and stand on stage.
9: Multicores and XLR cabling to mics/TB/Speaker
10: Neumann power supplies for M-49 valve mics plus power cables
Get’s to be a ton of gear doesn’t it!
The four soloists, layed out ‘left to right’ – differently to St.Paul’s, were positioned right behind Bernstein, facing the orchestra and were closely miked with an AKG D-224E dynamic mic each. This is the only time I ever saw such ‘non-condenser mics’ being used on a professional classical recording.
Details of all the mics are:
1: 1st Violins – front desks: Neumann U-87 on large boom stand.
2: 1st Violins – rear desks: Neumann U-87 on large boom stand.
3: 2nd Violins – Neumann U-87 on large boom stand.
4: Violas (and Brass) – Neumann U-87 on large boom stand.
5: Cellos – Neumann U-87 on large boom stand.
6: Double Basses – Neumann U-87 on normal boom stand.
7: Woodwinds (and Horns) – Neumann U-87 on large boom stand.
8: Tymps and biggest Bass Drum – Neumann U-87 on normal boom stand.
9: Sopranos Choir – Neumann U-49 on tall stand.
10: Tenors Choir – Neumann U-49 on tall stand.
11: Basses Choir – Neumann U-49 on tall stand.
12: Altos Choir – Neumann U-49 on tall stand.
13: Bass Ruggiero Raimundi – AKG D-224E on mid height stand.
14: Tenor Placido Domingo – AKG D-224E on mid height stand.
15: Mezzo Josephine Veasey – AKG D-224E on mid height stand.
16: Soprano Martina Arroya – AKG D-224E on mid height stand.
That lot filled up the Neve 16 channel, plus two mics fed through separate mic amps direct to a pair on the 8-Track:
17: Ambience left for Quadraphonic mix – M49 facing angled up on very tall stand.
18: Ambience left for Quadraphonic mix – M49 facing angled up on very tall stand.
BOB AUGER’S NEVE CONSOLES
Bob’s 16 Channel Neve, built in 1969, was fitted with the 1066 mic amp and Eq modules.
Note that his console only has 4 Output Groups though….a bit of an oversight as Bob hadn’t been running Granada Recordings for more than about a year…he should have seen that 4 Track wasn’t going to be the ‘Classical Recording’ standard for very long. However, as any engineer who used these Neve desks would have noticed, the Echo and Foldback switching, immediately beneath the Group switches easily allowed another 4 outputs, as the circuitry was just as high quality.
Bob had squeezed 4 more VU meters to his desks upstand…so recording to 8 outputs was easy…loudspeaker monitoring of them a bit more complicated. He overcame that by bringing along an 8 Group into 4 output Neve, just to monitor the 8-Track outputs to his two Lockwood main speakers and his little Sinclairs for the rear.
REFLECTIONS ON THE ORCHESTRA, CHOIR and SOLOISTS LAYOUT
Let’s start with a look at the positioning of the four soloists?
In a concert setting they would be beside and slightly in front of the conductor, but sometimes in recording they are ‘on-stage’ in front of the choir…usually though that would be an opera recording, particularly where they move around to give a stereo ‘theatrical effect’.
Somebody, presumably Thomas Shepard in this recording has them just behind Bernstein and facing into the orchestra. Bob Auger might have liked that…it would give the most separation with the orchestra, but somehow though I don’t think he would as those very close mics are surely going to give a somewhat different sound to the pickup on the orchestra overall?
And the ‘Quadraphonic ambience mics’…the soloists are now ‘back on’ to them. How do you give the four classical singers on their close D-224 mics any reasonable acoustic, since the orchestral mics are all ‘cardiod’ and looking away from them, without resorting to adding a ‘chamber’? Strange!
The choir is a very long way back, as the normal Albert Hall orchestral stage is in front of them, with just the percussion section in residence there. That’s OK if Bernstein can keep them in time…but they are a long way from those ambience mics so lifting the ‘ambience pair’, even in a ‘stereo mix’ will produce more ‘reverb’ on the orchestra compared with the choir wouldn’t it? The distance from the overall orchestral mics will also limit the width of ‘stereo spread’ that can be achieved with their 4 panned M-49 mics.
GETTING THE LEVELS RIGHT
Having the Dolby A301’s onto the 8-Track should give Bob Auger a ‘head start’ in beating the big dynamics of the ‘Verdi Requiem’.
At that time an un-dolbied professional tape deck running at 15ips could get a maximum dynamic range of about 65dB if you were prepared to really push the tape to take a much higher level than the old standard 32mM/mm recording level. High output Agfa, Scotch and EMI tapes were frequently being recorded to levels of up to 56mM/mm or even 65mM/mm…however they would be producing 3% Peak distortion at that level. The Dolby A system would give a dynamic range of 77dB at those levels, so the record level could happily be dropped and the recording still would have a great dynamic range. For instance dropping the level back to just over the 32Mm/mm level would give a 70dB range at around 1% distortion. Ray Dolby really did produce ‘the thing’ that really made multitrack possible!
Bob Auger used VU’s and I could see that they were going into the ‘red’, but his mix sounds cleaner than the St.Paul’s concert tapes, and the CBS recording in the stereo version would be mastered from another Dolbied 1/4″ mixdown tape. That’s a real win in tape generations over what we we were hearing on the St.Paul’s version.
He was recording onto ‘shiny black’ Scotch 202. It was one of the new ‘low-noise’ Scotch tapes and was on a 1.5mil polyester base.
LET’S HAVE A LISTEN THEN
I don’t have the LP any longer, but the CD re-issue (M2K 77231), which carries no re-issue date on it at all. However it appears to be essentially the LP stereo version (there was an SQ Quad LP in 1972).
Let’s start with the really sublime opening the the whole work, the ‘Requiem Aeternam’. I’ll illustrate, whilst it plays, by taking a look at it in my Nuendo DAW and then we can see the overall levels, using the current ‘ITU-R BS.1770-2 True Peak Meter’ (what a mouthful!) and I can throw in some rude comments ‘on the time line’:
PRESS PLAY FOR 1ST EXCERPT:
As I said earlier, Bob Auger was heavily influenced by Bob Fine…well for sometime he at least carried on recording orchestra’s in the way Fine did, using only 3 mics over the orchestra. Fine insisted it was conductors job to ‘balance’ the orchestra not the engineers! And Fine ended up using Neumann U-47’s onto 3-track recorders; Ampex 350’s and on some Mercury Records even big and expensive 35mm film recorders because of their greater dynamic range. The ‘centre channel’ was usually ‘dropped’ a little but gave a more defined image. Bob Auger had been recording onto 4-Track Scully’s but still only laying the orchestra across 3-tracks…but in this 8-Track session it would only have made sense to have gone for 2 tracks orchestra, 2 tracks choir, 2 tracks soloists and 2 tracks ambience. Well that’s what I wrote on my notes at the time…although I later crossed it out and wrote ‘3 tracks orchestra?’…wonder why I did that?
Anyway…the point is the mix is ‘locked down’ across each of those pairs. You can’t change the balance of the orchestra for instance, just bring up the soloists say or the choir in the overall mix.
So why do the soloists seem to move ‘in and out’ in the recording. After Bob handed over the tapes, the ‘senior producer’, well the one who gets the ‘credit’ on the sleeve, Thomas Z. Shepard went back to the Columbia Studios and then edited and re-mixed.
At the Columbia Records Studios in New York, the engineering jobs were segmented into Balance Engineers, Editors and Re-Mix Engineers, so after editing Shepard then sat down with his Re-Mix Engineer, John Gurriere and re-balanced the final mix. The SQ release didn’t come out immediately, so I guess they dived into this stereo for the LP.
Let’s hear some more…
PRESS PLAY FOR 2ND EXCERPT:
Yes how did that appalling edit get through…it has an atmos hole and the ‘mors’ that Raimundi then delivers is closer with no ambience at all..then back to normal.
David Kirk had put a question about editing to the producers at the time:
“l should think so‘ Myers replied when l commented that l had heard the occasional splice in commercial recordings. ‘Most discs contain quite a lot. lf they didn‘t, and we allowed through a wrong note-which you will hear every time you play the disc, remember- we would go down in history as the company that issued so-and-so with a ﬂat.”
Well this disc has a few more recognisable edits that also ‘got through’!
It is a ‘clean’ recording though….regarding distortion I mean…well for an analogue recording from 1970 it is. Those Dolby’s really helped I guess.
Bob’s orchestra mix pleases me, all except his slight favouring of the tymps. He did it on a number of his discs (Horestein Mahler 3 for instance) and I believe he was proud of the way he miked that instrument!
Another quote from the David Kirk piece explains rather a lot I feel:
“It is a reﬂection on the unsuitability of close microphones for classical singing, perhaps, that difficulties were experienced in capturing the soloist tone that Shepard desired. This might account for his complaint over the talkback, on Thursday aftenoon: ‘We want a more open sound‘. Bemstein, interpreting this as a comment on the performance, retorted with an understandable ‘What do you mean?‘. ‘lt sounded pinched.‘
The soloist attempted to ‘unpinch‘ his singing but became confused as to what was required. Bernstein promptly accused the Producer: ‘Now you’ve given him a complex’.
Only then did Shepard move the soloist back from his D224.”
PRESS PLAY FOR 3RD EXCERPT:
Here’s some more from that Studio Sound article:
“Mezzo Josephine Veasey failed to satisfy the Producer at one point and, in anticipation of an unsatisfactory balance during a re-take, Bob Auger was instructed to ease up Miss Veasey‘s channel. He did, but the soloist also made an extra effort—moving forward slightly as she sang—with the result that her voice nearly drowned the orchestra. Josephine looked somewhat anguished during the corresponding replay but was assured that the balance would be sorted out during the ﬁnal mix.”
“A similar problem occurred in the evening. Martina Arroya was moved further and further back from her microphone, without achieving the desired recorded tone. At Tom Shepard‘s suggestion, she was placed near one of the four M49 microphones covering the choir. By virtue of its height, this provided precisely the required combination of voice and natural reverberation. Bernstein’s reaction, when the tape was replayed in the Control Room. was to delight in the cathedral-like quality of the voice. Why, he asked, couldn‘t the entire work be recorded that way?”
That’s something that should have been obvious to the Producer’s at the beginning surely.
PRESS PLAY FOR 4TH EXCERPT:
I think that the layout organised by Thomas Shepard was based on his experience of recording Broadway shows, for which he won a number of ‘Grammy’s’. He was used to using Columbia Records superb 30th Street studio in New York. A converted Greek Orthodox Church, which apart from being a wonderful ‘live’ recording space, the 30th Street Studio had a renown ‘echo chamber’ in the basement.
Shepard’s Columbia engineers, Harold Chapman, Frank Laico and Fred Plaut were brilliant at making the big acoustic work and in adding that ‘chamber’ to both vocals and closely miked instruments when required.
Bob Auger gave a Shepard a good orchestral mix and relied on him to give a consistent sound on the choir and those too closely-miked soloists. Alas Shepard and his re-mix engineer John Gurriere just didn’t manage it!
I’m sure Bob Auger had little to be pleased about when he finally heard the finished LP.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO ‘RE-VISIT’ AND CORRECT THESE DEFECTS?
Since ‘great recordings from the past’ are frequently being re-visited by the record companies and often re-edited from the original tapes, could CBS (ie Sony now) re-visit this one? Well with regards to the mix they could certainly easily make it consistent throughout…however the ‘re-positioning’ of Arroyo from the close mic to the distant one…no that would stand-out a mile still!
FINALLY – A REVIEWERS TAKE ON BOTH THE 1970 VERDI REQUIEM RELEASES
Here’s what the New York Times reviewer Raymond Ericson made of the two Verdi Requiem recordings. Bernstein’s and Barbirolli’s that were released in October of that year:
“The late Sir John Barbirolli conducts the New Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus for Angel (two disks, SB 3757); Montserrat Caballe, Fiorenza Cossotto, Jon Vickers and Ruggero Raimondi are the soloists. Leonard Bernstein leads the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for Columbia (two disks, M2–30060). Singing with him are Martina Arroyo, Josephine Veasey; Placido Domingo and Raimondi.
The new issues are both very fine. Taken as a whole, either stands up well against any other recording barring, perhaps, Reiner’s out‐of‐print version for RCA. The orchestra, choruses and soloists here are fairly evenly matched.
Yet Barbirolli and Bernstein put their distinctive imprints on the score. Sir John keeps the music flowing along in a mellower and more measured way. It is dramatic enough and there is no lack of impetus, but it sometimes misses the bite and the hard, clean edge that Bernstein brings to the music. The latter’s reading is always forceful. It has urgency, although it is not driven too hard. Bernstein is much more conscious of orchestral color, of the richness of texture provided by clarity of detail, of the drama possible in accent and phrasing.
A few comparative details: Sir John’s opening chords in the “Dies irae” resonate just a fraction of a second longer than do Bernstein’s whacking thunderclaps. Bernstein asks for less serene singing from his tenor in the “Ingemisco.” His very fast and light “Sanctus” strikingly suggests a fluttering angelic host.
For all the brilliance and excitement of Bernstein’s reading, it is possible to prefer the kind of elderly wisdom the 69‐year‐old (at the time of the recording) Barbirolli instills in his version. The wisdom is in seeing the drama of the Requiem in perspective, expressed musically by avoiding too much immediacy of detail, maintaining an over‐all mood by evening out tempos and dynamics. When Bernstein’s performance subsides into its quiet passages, it never loses energy; in Barbirolli’s case the music becomes gentle and movingly compassionate.
As to the soloists: Arroyo has the big, warm resplendent soprano, which rises spectacularly to the climaxes. Cabelle can sing longer phrases, more beautiful high pianissimos, be more dramatic at the opening of the “Libera me,” in which movement she is superb. Veasey has the warm mezzo to match Arroyo, as Cossotto has the steady tone and clean line to match Caballe’s. Vickers is a slightly more sensitive tenor than Domingo with a slightly less brilliant voice. Raimondi sounds the same in the two recordings, naturally, but Bernstein gets from him a slightly more musicianly performance — less scooping, more vital phrasing.”
Bob Auger did his best within the possibly difficult constrains that his Producer had laid out. However Thomas Shepard didn’t ‘mend it in the mix’ and the CBS disc should have represented Bernstein’s 1970 Verdi Requiem performance much better than it did.
Whilst it would have been nice to have a perfect sounding version by Bernstein, this disc isn’t it and as Humphrey Burton and his team did a good job of the capturing the St.Paul’s Concert, that’s the performance I will return to particularly as you get the wonderful ‘visual performance’ of Bernstein working so hard to get the best from his performers!
That complete performance called ‘Bernstein In London: Verdi Requiem’ is on the Region 1 (US) Kultur DVD (D1344).
References and credits
: David Kirk’s write up on these sessions from Studio Sound ‘QuadraVerdi’ – May 1970
(Available as a pdf., along with many other issues at https://worldradiohistory.com/Archive-All-Audio/Studio-Sound.htm )
I visited Bob at the Granada Recordings’ Oval base….seriously hoping to get a job with his ‘classical recording unit’. He was very likeable and approachable and really nice to me…and I wasn’t even sure if there was any job to be had. However I didn’t get one but did manage to meet Bob a few times again in the next few years…and I finally get ‘mixing’…back at London Weekend TV!