1970 – BERNSTEIN’s VERDI REQUIEM – ST.PAUL’S CONCERT | 50 years later – the recovered stereo mix.

2020-08-05 0 By David Taylor

PART ONE OF TWO

By DAVID TAYLOR

CONTENTS:
BIG MUSIC IN A BIG ROOM
BERNSTEIN LEAVES A POLITICAL PROBLEM BEHIND
BERNSTEIN’S ‘INSANE SCHEDULE’
“TALE OF 3 TENORS AND A CONDUCTOR”
LWT GOES INTO ‘CO-PRODUCTION
HUMPHREY BURTON’S MEMORIES
MIKING THE ORCHESTRA
50 YEARS LATER…A LOOK AT THE PICTURES and SOUND
VIDEO EXCERPT ONE – DIES IRAE FROM THE DVD
THE 1970 PICTURES
THE 1970 SOUND
WHAT WAS SUCH AN IMPORTANT CONCERT MIXED ON?
THE SCULLY 1″ 8-TRACK
WHAT IS THE KULTUR DVD SOUND?
THE STEREO PAIR ON THE 8-TRACK
‘AUDIO RESTORED’ TO THE RESCUE
WHY ISN’T THE STEREO WIDE ENOUGH?
WIDEN THE STEREO AND RE-SYNC IT TO THE PICTURES
VIDEO EXCERPT TWO – STEREO SOUND: THE DIES IRAE AGAIN, BUT A LONGER EXCERPT
HAS ANYONE STILL GOT THAT MASTER TAPE?
THE TV CREDITS

BIG MUSIC IN A BIG ROOM

In February 1970 I’d only been with London Weekend TV for a few months when we broadcast a classical concert that affected me more than any other I had then experienced. This was Leonard Bernstein conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in the Verdi Requiem in St.Paul’s Cathedral.

Wonderful visually, but with it’s enormous reverb time, St.Paul’s was nobody’s first choice as a recording venue and CBS choose the Royal Albert Hall for their recording made at the same time.
Photo: David Taylor

As a young sound assistant, this was an amazing experience that taught me how exciting classical music recording could be. The sound of a major orchestra at both ‘full throttle’ and ‘hushed reverence’ in the setting of St.Paul’s, stirred me very strongly. The Verdi Requiem came across to me as a mix of very dramatic orchestral work with a liturgical choir and Italian Opera…all to a Catholic Latin text of course. I’d never heard anything like it at that time, not really knowing any operatic Verdi at all.

Mezzo Josephine Veasey, and Tenor Plácido Domingo with Leonard Bernstein during the camera rehearsal for the LWT recording of the Verdi Requiem in St. Paul’s on 25th February 1970. Note that the chorus is absent.
Photo: Dick Dawson LWT

BERNSTEIN LEAVES A POLITICAL PROBLEM BEHIND

Bernstein had recently dropped himself into a political storm that caused both his wife and himself an inordinate amount of grief just prior to coming to London. A renown ‘liberal’, Felicia Bernstein had organised drinks and canapes in their New York flat in support of the recently imprisoned ‘Twenty-one Black Panther’s’ in an effort to raise funds for their legal defence. About 90 people attended including some of the Black Panther’s leaders and wives, completely filling the flat that evening. Leonard ended up discussing the merits of the Black Panther’s philosophy, mainly with Donald Cox the ‘Field-Marshall’ for the Panthers. The press published the details extensively and it led to considerable outrage in the New York Jewish community, because the Panther’s had an Anti-Zionist stance. Bernstein soon suffered picketing where ever he went and even the FBI’s draconian head J.Edgar Hoover became involved, sending anonymous letters to the attendees after the event.

BERNSTEIN’S ‘INSANE SCHEDULE’

Trying to put this behind him, Bernstein got stuck into a gruelling European Tour that would take him to London, Paris, Rome, Tel Aviv and Vienna. He came to London on the 18th February for the Verdi Requiem concerts and recording with the LSO.
“It’s really an insane schedule but what I need is blessed overwork. It gives me the lift I most need and I need it now.” [1]
First off was an concert at the Royal Albert Hall, immediately followed by three days of recording the work in the same hall for CBS, with the televised St.Paul’s concert sandwiched between them.

The planned tenor soloist, Franco Corelli became ill and Bernstein hunted for a replacement as recalled by the New York Times:

LONDON, Feb. 23 — Three tenors in three days is a bit much — even for Leonard Bernstein. But that is what the conductor has faced in rehearsals, a public performance and then a recording of the Verdi Requiem here. He arrived in England last week to rehearse the London Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra’s chorus and four soloists for a sold‐out performance at the 5,600‐seat Royal Albert Hall last night. A recording for C.B.S. Records would follow and then a videotaped performance in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The announced soloists were Martina Arroyo, soprano; Josephine Veasey, mezzo‐soprano; Franco Corelli, tenor, and Ruggero Raimondi, bass. Just before the performance last night it was announced that Mr. Corelli was, as they say in music, “indisposed.” But behind this delicate term lay a hectic tale. During the exhaustive rehearsals, Mr. Corelli was, by his own admission, not singing well. He was overworked, he was tired, he was unhappy, and he developed a throat infection.
A frantic call went out for a replacement for the concert, the recording and the telecast. Present at the rehearsal was a representative of the Norman McCann agency in London who immediately proposed a client known to Mr. Bernstein, Placido Domingo, a Mexican tenor, who sings with the Metropolitan Opera and who was appearing with the Hamburg State Opera. Mr. Bernstein agreed, Mr. Domingo was reached on Saturday night, and he agreed to the recording and telecast. In the meantime, the search was pressed for someone who could rehearse Saturday night and Sunday morning for the Sunday night concert. A 30‐year‐old Welsh tenor, Robert Tear, was proposed. He had sung the requiem only twice before, he was unknown to Mr. Bernstein, but he was accepted at the last minute for his Musicianship.
This morning, the London critics, in generally enthusiastic reviews, applauded Mr. Tear as “unfailingly stylish” and as “singing with the utmost expression without the usual Italian resort to the lachrymose.”[2]

LWT GOES INTO ‘CO-PRODUCTION’

I’ll detail the CBS recording sessions for their ‘quadraphonic disc’ of Bernstein’s Verdi Requiem done at The Albert Hall, in my next part, so let’s now look at the London Weekend TV programme.

On the suggestion of his agent, Bernstein had recently set up Amberson Productions, a company to make videotapes and films of some of his concert performances and also documentaries, as Bernstein had already shown himself to be a talented performer in front of the cameras in a series of educational music programmes on US television. This decision of Bernstein’s was very forward looking, as ‘videos’ of any type were still unknown, there being only the brand new ‘Teldec video discs’ as a possible way of releasing them, with only an 8 minute running time. although the very first domestic video machines were just becoming available, at astronomical prices.
The Verdi Requiem in London became the first venture of the new company when the new Executive Producer, Schuyler Chapin negotiated a deal with London Weekend TV to record a performance in St.Paul’s, to be shown on UK TV and also become a ‘music video’. There were real problems with getting the Musician’s Union to agree to such a new concept, which also prompted it to be done in front of an invited audience and not at a fee paying concert.
Humphrey Burton, who had moved to LWT from the BBC, where he had been Head of Music and Arts got LWT to agree to co-produce the concert, in return for a UK television showing. Humphrey had worked with Bernstein before at the BBC, and this programme was the first in a very long list of collaborations that lasted over 20 years that he was to have making films and videos for Bernstein.

It was probably because of the involvement of the ‘video’ and Amberson, that the LWT Sound Supervisor, John Coombs organised a Scully 8-Track recorder to back-up his ‘live’ mix of the concert.
CBS was also recording the work on 8-Track for disc with the same performers at the Royal Albert Hall, where Bob Auger was mixing with CBS Producer Thomas Z. Shepard. The CBS sessions were on the 23rd, 24th and 26th February and sandwiched in on the 25th was the LWT St. Paul’s evening recording.

HUMPHREY BURTON’S MEMORIES

Humphrey Burton wrote about this concert in his Bernstein biography.
“There was only time for a brief sound check but the performance was an inspiring one, marred only momentarily by the awesome boom of the cathedral chimes striking ten as the soprano Martina Arroyo sang the “Libera Me”. Bernstein was his customary drained self when it was all over. “I’d give anything for for a cigarette,” he groaned as he planned the retakes.”
Humphrey continued “Retakes – impossible for a “live” telecast – are essential for a video. It’s an agonizing procedure in which the mistakes of the performance – large and small – are redone with such precision that the viewer and listener are unable to detect the editing splices in the final product. Perfection came slowly; the fifteen-minute overtime segments mounted up. The amateur chorus dwindled by half it’s size as singers had to slip off to catch the last train home. But the end result was handsome enough to confirm Amberson’s decision to invest in music videos. “Much of the splendor of a very special occasion was conveyed” reported the Times after the Good Friday telecast.”[1] The LWT broadcast was delayed a month and was transmitted on Good Friday, March 27th.

Humphrey Burton did a good job of directing the six cameras at his disposal, capturing the important visual moments in close-ups and yet still allowing plenty of wider shots which were so important, particularly in these truly grand surroundings. Humphrey knew it was rushed and under rehearsed and later described it as “One of the most reckless productions I have ever undertaken: happily there were only a few hints on the screen of the panic mood in which the performance was captured on tape.”[7]

MIKING THE ORCHESTRA

For a sound mixer, planning the miking of an orchestra in an unknown acoustic presents special difficulties when the acoustic is as enormous as St. Paul’s; knowing that anything you do with slung mics will be impossible to alter later. John Coombs was therefore calling on his experience in recording orchestras and trying to relate that to the problems that St. Paul’s would give him, with the diffuse nature of the sound in the highly reverberant surroundings. Very knowledgeable about Classical music, John had worked as an assistant to Sir John Barbirolli at sometime in his past and was LWT’s most suitable mixer for this job.

John rigged a ‘stereo pair’ of mics over and slightly behind the conductors head. These were AKG C-12A’s, which we used a lot at that time at LWT, but being a Nuvisor valve mic, it needed a separate power supply. A bracket was made to hold the pair of C-12A mics in an inverted ‘Y’ shape about 6 inches (15 cms) apart, at an angle which allowed ‘crossing’ the mics without the capsules blocking each other.
My colleague Charles Fearnley and I were given the task of rigging the mics ‘up in the gods’. Charles remembers:
“I was detailed to sling a mic (or two?) from the centre of the dome, and was taken up into the void between inner and outer domes by a St Pauls staff member. We stood on the huge cast iron grid in the centre of the inner dome watching the ants below, and duly slung the mics – very impressive.”

I likewise have a memory of the effort of rigging those mics and vividly remember the Whispering Gallery during the rig and of later being on a lighting tower on the left side looking down from above and watching and hearing the orchestra during the rehearsals.

An AKG C-12A. The special cable that linked it to the power supply, came out of the back of that ‘cornet shaped’ holder under the mic body and a threaded stand fitting was at the bottom. Beside it are the front and back views of the N12A power supply.

Not the most discrete microphone cabling unfortunately.

On the right in this photo are the slung C-12A stereo pair hanging low and slightly behind Bernstein and also visible in the above photo two of the mics we rigged for the choir. They also were C-12A’s, with a couple mounted high up on ‘Cathedral Stands’. These home-made stands languished in the Sound Store for much of the year, only to be brought out for events like this that required a particularly tall stand…. like in Cathedrals of course!
John, wary I don’t doubt of blocking the camera shots with ‘ugly mic stands’, only used two of these really tall stands, positioned extreme left and right for altos and sopranos plus two similar mics on more normal mic stands lower down angled inwards for the men.

Another mic visible during the programme was a single older model AKG C-12, positioned to reinforce just the orchestral double-basses. There were also two AKG C-28’s, one on each side, just in front of the podium for the four soloists.

50 YEARS LATER…A LOOK AT THE PICTURES and SOUND

Back in 1970 we never expected to see our programmes again after transmission but this example of one of LWT’s first colour programmes, was made by Amberson with the ‘long term in mind’ and is still available on a DVD from the US company ‘Kultur’. It’s obviously from the American NTSC ‘copy’.
The Verdi Requiem has an enormous dynamic range and this is an excerpt of the loudest…the beginning of the Dies Irae…the ‘Day Of Wrath and Doom Impeding’…..

VIDEO EXCERPT ONE – DIES IRAE FROM THE DVD:

PRESS PLAY (usually in the bottom left)

The above video is an excerpt of the ‘Dies Irae’ from the Amberson video…via a Kultur DVD (Kultur DVD D1344).

Bernstein showing his complete lack of restraint when conducting I see! I was very taken with this strong ’emotional style’ I remember back at this time….he certainly knew how to bring out every bit of feeling from the choir and players and he always showed his totally genuine, complete emotional connection to the music he conducted.
This conducting style however was frequently criticised and Bernstein’s first 1946 appearance in London with the LPO startled the press with his conducting which “which at times seemed not only to direct the orchestra but also to choreograph the music and perform an interpretative dance for the audience.” [3]
We do however hear during the Requiem one aspect of his conducting that must have frustrated his audio producers and engineers; ‘Lenny’s Leap’, captured here during the Requiem rehearsals in this well timed shot by the LWT staff photographer, Dick Dawson and hopefully no one will mind if I reproduce this image, taken from Humphrey Burton’s book….

Humphrey Burton was the perfect biographer for Bernstein, having worked with him over many years.

THE 1970 PICTURES

Let’s get back to the ‘technical bits’ and firstly, let’s look at the pictures.
Shot in February 1970, as I’ve said, when LWT had been using colour cameras for only a very short while with the first night of ITV colour transmissions being 15th November 1969, although we’d been recording in colour for some months before that.
LWT eventually bought many of the EMI 2001 cameras, which became much loved by the cameramen. In viewing this programme, I’m only able to identify a TV camera in shot in two positions; one at the right side of the orchestra on a small tracking ‘dolly’, which is an EMI 2001, however another camera sometimes sneaks into shot ‘within in the orchestra’, as it’s shooting the conductor close-ups, and I’m surprised to see that it’s a Philips PC80.

A Philips LDK3 camera hiding in ‘the orchestra’….it’s on the left, behind the clarinetist’s head!

LWT didn’t use Philips cameras but the facilities company Intertel had been recently been purchased by LWT and was equipped with Philips PC80/LDK3’s cameras.
The LWT camera crew, headed by Ken Manning and also consisted of Ian Stanley, Trevor Hampton, Chris Brown, Mike Startup and Peter Douglas. Humphrey later praised them for helping find interesting shots.
Technically, some of the pictures from the cameras have some ‘colour fringing’, a particular problem on the early TV colour cameras, but overall the 1970 images aren’t too awful. The ‘blacks’ seem to lack any detail but you soon get used to these 1970 pictures. The cameras did require a lot of light to get good pictures though…and when, after lighting the choir early in the performance some of the big lights get turned off, the racket from all those ’10K’s’ switching off is very unfortunate!
The American Theatre Designer Oliver Smith was credited as one of the two Amberson producers and Humphrey Burton explains in his book:
“Oliver Smith supervised the lighting for the telecast and designed the royal blue dais upon which Bernstein and the soloists stood.”
However it was LWT Lighting Director Teddy Shankster who would have to work out where and how to get those big lights up and his ‘sparks’ had a tough job getting them, plus all the associated mains distribution and control boxes into ‘The Gods’ at St. Paul’s to provide lighting for the ceiling fresco’s and for the orchestra, soloists and choir below.

THE 1970 SOUND

As I’ve said John Coomb’s main mics were the C-12A stereo pair, plus mics on the choir and double basses. The four soloists were so close to the ‘main pair’ that the 2 C-28 spot mics in front probably weren’t needed.
It would be his concern over the enormous 8 second reverb time that forced John to keep the main pair low over the orchestra front. His basic sound layout works well though for his mono TV mix, but there is a moment during a quiet oboe solo that he has to hunt to get the instrument up.
Here’s my sketch of the overall orchestral plan….

The orchestra is squeezed into an excessively narrow layout to be able to include the choir in the cathedral’s area. Humphrey Burton’s 6 camera positions and John Coomb’s mic positions are shown.

WHAT WAS SUCH AN IMPORTANT CONCERT MIXED ON?

What of the ‘sound mixing’? Alas, there being no suitably equipped OB scanner or even a ‘sound mobile’ in February 1970, so John was forced to set up his gear in a ‘furniture van’!
As Charles Fearnley remembered:
The “mobile” was a slightly grubby furniture van – 3 tonne or so in size – with interior bare aluminium walls, and no acoustic treatment of any kind. Even at that stage I wondered how it would sound inside… I remember a mixer, but no idea what, and have no recall of tape machines. My understanding of the technology was somewhat “limited” at that stage – but I do recall being impressed by the provision of an electric kettle!
” 
All is revealed though thanks to a photo from ex-LWT Sound Supervisor Paul Faraday, as here’s Leo Sturgess mixing a Film and TV awards show at the Palladium with David Frost presenting, just 2 weeks later on the 8th March 1970. It’s the very same grubby ‘furniture van’.

Two weeks later, the same ‘furniture van’ makes a make-shift control room at the Palladium for Leo Sturgess.
Photo: Paul Faraday

An appalling set-up for a sound mixing a major TV recording! It’s no wonder then that LWT started ‘dry-hiring’ proper sound recording mobiles, like the Rolling Stones truck, the Island or Manor Mobiles once they came started to become available about year or so later.


As can be seen from the photo though of the ‘furniture van’, John’s ‘main desk’ was made up of two Marconi B1103’s of 1965 vintage, one of the early germanium transistor sound desks. Each consisted of 12 channels, in which channels 1 to 6 routed to Group A, with 7 to 10 able to go to both Group A or B. Channels 11 and 12 only go to Group B. The two group faders go to the single Mono output.
John would have to be creative to produce the separate outputs for his 8 Track though, as there were no individual outputs from the 2 Groups, just a ‘Clean Feed’ from either one. He would have to employ the single ‘PA’ output and the ‘Foldback’ output somehow. Perhaps having the two ‘joined desks’ helped as well.
There were just two equalisers in each desk that could be plugged to a pair of channels, with 60Hz, 3KHz and 10KHz fixed frequencies
. The gain control on each mic channel had a 30dB range and the Line inputs were padded down, going into the mic amps…very old style that. [4]

Marconi B1103 12 channels into 2 groups with a mono main output. Two of these are plugged together in the LWT ‘furniture van mobile’.
Photo: Broadcast Engineering Conservation Group [6]

John Coombs however routed his stereo pair C-12A mics first of all through a much more modern 6 channel Neve desk, fitted with the Neve 1066 mic and eq modules. It was in fact a simple ‘grams mixer’ that had recently arrived in LWT’s ‘STU’ (Sound Transcription Unit) for ‘tape prep’ work. It wasn’t a stereo desk, so had no ‘pan-pots’, but it enabled John to feed his ‘stereo pair’ to 2 tracks of the Scully 8-Track and still route the output to his strictly mono Marconi desk. It turned out to be a very good decision to use the new Neve, if only for the two main mics as the new Neve designed silicon transistor circuits were so much better.

Photographed on a later date, this LWT Neve Grams mixer carried the C-12A pair and routed them to the Scully 8-Track, as well as to John’s main OB mono desk.

THE SCULLY 1″ 8-TRACK

The Scully 8-Track had probably come on hire from Dag Fellner, the US companies UK dealer. It was was possibly equipped with a set of Dolby A301 noise reduction units as well, but these were whooping 6U high devices and they took up a fair amount of space. LWT at that time had no multitrack recorders and 8 Track machines must have been quite hard to come by that February as there were only two mobile recording units that you could hire, both ‘de-rig’ units; Pye Records and Bob Auger’s Granada Recordings…..which was the one already recording the CBS disc version at the Albert Hall.

The Scully 284-8 8-Track. Not an easy beast to take ‘on location’. The amplifiers in Bob Auger’s were housed in 2 separate flight cases, but the ‘John Coombs’ one probably looked like this.
Photo: Gearslutz

In the next few months LWT did buy a Scully 8 -Track though, to equip a new ‘music studio’ and I was therefore able to play the St.Paul’s 8-Track tape not long after the event and John had put the C-12A stereo pair on 2 tracks and I remember 2 tracks being for soloists and 2 for Choir. There was no clever ‘pulse track’ for re-syncing later though…we hadn’t thought of that yet! Alas I also can’t remember if the tapes were ‘Dolbied’ or not. Newer Dolby A361 units weren’t released until September 1970, so he would have had to have at least 4 of the big Dolby A301 units, each with two channels per unit.
Unless two 8 Track recorders were in use, some form of tape changeover pause must have been planned into the concert as they could only record for 30 minutes on a reel at 15ips. The same problem possibly existed for the 2″ QUAD VTR machine, although we possibly could have been using Intertel’s VT truck on site, which had 2 QUAD’s on board.

WHAT IS THAT KULTUR DVD SOUND?

The boringly austere cover to the 1992 Kultur DVD.

We have to be very thankful that the US company Kultur wanted to preserve some of Bernstein’s video concerts after all these years. Released way back in 1992, Kultur’s DVD ‘Bernstein In London – Verdi Requiem’ is still available (try Amazon) and is an NTSC ‘Region 1’ (US) DVD so to play it in the UK, check out your DVD player for ‘all region’ compatibility.

What then of that sound from the DVD you heard in the first video clip? Billed on the DVD as ‘Dolby 2.0’, which is a generic label for lossy compressed AC3 (Dolby) encoded audio tracks, it does not necessarily mean ‘stereo’ and in fact that’s the case here….it’s definitely not stereo!
After a totally mono spoken introduction by Bernstein, the opening sounds like it might be stereo, but there is no discernible ‘left and right’ information, and it is just a ‘smeary mono’ that occupies about a half of the space between your loudspeakers. How disappointing.

It’s certainly not a complete disaster but it’s very compressed sounding….the background noises are brought up quite noticeably and there’s some 5 or 6k mid-frequency boost been added in there. It’s also a great pity they didn’t ‘mend’ the leaps in audience atmosphere audible on the DVD, which arrive badly between each of the movements. Also after the loudness of the Dies Irae, when Raimondi, the Bass starts the wonderful ‘Mors Stupebit’ with the big bass drum as accompaniment…..we can hear Humphrey Burton’s talkback instructions breaking through. Perhaps the camera ‘in the orchestra’ or the lighting crew ‘in the gods’, turned up their talkback?


So this is John’s TV mono mix, via the NTSC 525 transfer that was made with a frame converter, for Amberson, plus some fiddling with the audio to simulate stereo I guess. It had probably already gone through the process of recording on the original 2″QUAD machine, then playing off from another deck and re-recording during the VT editing, with I believe some sound relaying by the VT editor and then the NTSC conversion.

I don’t think anyone has played off a 2″ QUAD machine for a long time, but they possibly could have done in 1992 for transfer to the DVD, otherwise I guess a 1″ copy…or even a digital one by then?

It does get a bit ‘edgy’ when loud, and after all analogue tape ‘peak distortion’ was quite often heard back in the mid-60’s to early 70’s, as CD copies of Guilini’s EMI 1964 recording of the Verdi Requiem still prove. There is also some ‘modulation noise’ present on the two solo women’s voices…another hang-over from the analogue tape alas.

THE STEREO PAIR ON THE 8-TRACK

As I mentioned. LWT opened a multitrack sound studio with an 8-Track at their Wembley Studios shortly after the Verdi Concert and I was the junior of three LWT engineer’s that ‘moved over’ to operate it. I remember that John used our new ‘Intersound’ studio to make a mixdown of all, or possibly just parts of his Verdi recording. He told me that “Recording the stereo pair on the multitrack had saved the day” and I recall watching our wonderfully accomplished VT Editor, Tim Whiffin, use a Revox A77 to dub some of the programme back to the 2″ QUAD master. Tim was an electronic wizard, as well as a talented video tape editor and his modified Revox A77, was adapted to run off a 50Hz pulse track to maintain it’s stability, just like a Nagra does, but it was using up one of the two audio tracks, so it was ‘mono’ only if used like that. Clever stuff though from the man who went on to build the Audio Kinetics QLock, a hugely successful tape machine synchroniser that LWT, along with just about everyone else, ended up using for the next decade to sound dub TV shows.


I took John’s multitrack tapes out of the Library to discover some of the secrets of mixing Classical music….and to enjoy again the Verdi Requiem of course.
His ‘stereo pair’ was a direct feed to the 8-Track and had no manual compression applied at all. It was the full dynamic range of the concert, exactly as Bernstein had conducted it. John’s other feeds, the choir and soloists, were ‘post fader’ and he had applied some fader gain riding as he mixed to those. He was after all mixing very wide dynamic range music for a TV audience listening on grotty domestic 1970 TV’s, so he had to manually compress those wide dynamics.

My 1/4″ tape…well at 15ips there would be 3 of them, sat on a shelf at home until the days of owning my analogue A77 Revox weren’t justified any longer and by around 1983 I guess, I had a Sony F1 Digital Recorder, and the 1/4″ tapes got copied. Time passed and the Sony F1 also became ‘old hat’ and the tapes got copied again…to a DAT machine. The tiny little DAT tape sat in a box, suitably labelled “Copy of John Coombs Verdi Requiem Stereo Pair 1970”.

Realising that I wanted to write about this concert, I pulled out the DAT but it hadn’t been played since it was copied in perhaps 1993 and I didn’t want to wreck the little tape…so I went and found a man who knows about how to go about it…

‘AUDIO RESTORED’ TO THE RESCUE

Graham Joiner runs Audio Restored [5] and he carefully examined my DAT and reported: “During my initial check of the Requiem DAT, it was clear that there were a few white specs on the reel at the very beginning of the tape close to the clear leader tape. I teased the tape apart with my fine brush and noticed a tear start to develop. As you can see from the attached photo, a sliver of tape came off but luckily is too near the start to be a problem. However, since this is unlikely to be the only place where a tear could initiate, I propose to manually unravel the tape tomorrow to ensure there are no more catches. “

I waited to hear the next report….

“Here is your transfer of ‘Requiem’. I’m relieved that I manually unravelled the tape before transfer, as I found at least 7 places where the tape was adhering to the reel and needed teasing off with a fine brush – any one of the sticking points would, without doubt have caused a tear.”
So thanks to Graham’s knowledge and care…we still have a stereo recording of Bernstein’s St.Paul’s Verdi Requiem, probably unheard since 1970…which was very exciting…well to me at least!

But…on playing the transferred file, alas I found it wasn’t very ‘stereo’. Well it was stereo…just not very wide. Just a bit better in width that the Kultur DVD’s ‘smeared mono’ really, however you could at least tell it has proper ‘left and right’ channels. I mentioned this disappointing stereo width immediately to Graham as I started to see if I could sync it with the DVD pictures.
Graham sent back a ‘test’ he’d made using a bit of ‘stereo enhancing’ software and said ” I know it is not the purist of approaches, but it might give more satisfaction!”

WHY ISN’T THE STEREO WIDE ENOUGH?

In fact this was a very sensible approach in this instance, as I had already realised that John Coombs ‘stereo pair’ mics were never going to actually give a decent stereo image…they were too close for that very widely spaced orchestra layout.
His mics were hung just behind Leonard Bernstein on the podium and were hanging low down as well. This would have been working for John in his mono TV mix as they gave great coverage of the soloists, a decent balance on the orchestra except the more distant of the strings and he had his 4 choir mics to be able to ‘tickle in’ some more choir. Plus a mic on the Double Basses to add if required.
John though hadn’t set up any ‘stereo monitoring’ in that luxurious ‘furniture van’, so he never heard the ‘stereo’ until he got to the Intersound studio later.
I can see on the video that his C-12A’s are set to 90 degree angles. That was the way the BBC Radio guys set up a pair of ‘figure of eight’ mics as a stereo pair, as originally detailed by Blumlein of course ….but they would still have needed to be further back for full coverage because as you see in the plan above, the orchestra has such a very wide layout. A couple of mono mics at the orchestra edges, suitably panned would really have helped pull in the those ‘distant strings’ well.
John wasn’t likely to set the C-12A’s on a ‘figure-of-eight’ pattern anyway; he was fighting lots of reverb in St. Pauls, so he’d have them on ‘cardiod’ and to be honest they really needed widening to at least a 110 degree angle
to provide a good stereo spread.

WIDEN THE STEREO AND RE-SYNC IT TO THE PICTURES

In order to re-sync the stereo sound to the existing pictures I needed to use some ‘modern technology’ and in this case it was Steinberg’s Nuendo digital workstation, as alas my beloved Fairlight system went when my post production studio closed. I also needed to use Nuendo to widen that stereo and used a plugin to do that to the image. With a normal stereo recording that would have taken the image ‘out beyond the speaker edges’…but with this narrow image it ‘makes it’ to the edges on the big bass drum on the left and the brass on the right. The sound in a really ‘big’ acoustic like St Paul’s is very diffuse anyway and would not give the well defined image that even a normal concert hall produces.


The problems of re-syncing are these:
1: SPEED VARIATIONS:
To lock to an audio deck to video recorder you needed a ‘syncing pulse’ to keep them in step….which we didn’t have and the stereo pair was recorded onto a ‘wild’ (not sync locked) Scully 1″ 8-Track. It was played off a different ‘wild’ Scully 8-Track in the Intersound Studio a few months later and recorded onto a ‘wild’ Scully 1/4″ stereo tape machine also at Intersound.
It was then replayed off my own ‘wild’ Revox A77, in probably 1983, onto a Sony F1 Digital Recorder with a 16bit A+D 701 interface and I copied it to a DAT Digital machine.
So we’d had lots of ‘slight tape speed error’s’ from each of the three analogue tape decks and those Scully’s really had poor ‘mains locked’ speed stability anyway. The above combination turned out finally to be running fast and needed frequently constantly changing corrections varying around the 99 % mark to get in sync with the video.
2: VIDEO EDITING ERRORS:
In these still fairly early days of 2″ QUAD VT editing there was no timecode. Although the editors weren’t cutting the tape with a razor blade anymore, and edits were now being done ‘electronically’, it was a hit and miss technique.
It was a case of: – choose your edit point, back off both the ‘Record VT’ and the ‘Playback VT’ by the 10 secs pre-roll necessary to get them into a stable speed and rehearse ‘the join’, if it didn’t look right, adjust a little and try again. Then go and ‘do it’, hoping both decks were keeping to the same settings.
Now when syncing the stereo sound I found some edits were up to 4 or 5 frames (each frame 1/25th of a second) late or early.
That sounds a lot but most of these edits would have been cutting to the retakes, either for picture or musical reasons. I don’t know if Humphrey Burton had the luxury then of a separate VTR recording an ‘ISO camera’ feed during the concert, so that he could just drop a ‘new picture’ into the existing soundtrack, but I guess most edits were from the post concert ‘re-takes’ with both new sound and pictures.
3: ALAS…THERE ARE NO RETAKES ON MY STEREO TRACK!
Which brings me to another difficulty in re-synching….I had only copied the ‘Concert’ sound, and not any of the subsequent re-takes. So where a retake was now in the DVD pictures, I’m now relaying the original concert sound back over it, and trying very hard to avoid any noticeable picture sync errors at all if I can, be slipping or changing the speed fractionally.
It’s good then that you can discern so few ‘lip-sync’ errors in my new version, so Bernstein and the soloists must have kept the tempo accurate,; which you needed to do in any recording session of course or you couldn’t do accurate music edits at all.
It’s amazing what modern audio software let’s you do though…..but resyncing was still a labour of love! I spent hours fiddling with sync and then in removing minute digital ‘spits’, courtesy the old DAT tape, plus some analogue tape drop outs and even
that ‘directors talkback’ from the overloud cameraman’s cans. Finally I’m just left with a few impossible noises and the analogue tape hiss which I’m even considering dealing with now.

HERE’S SOME OF THE STEREO SOUND…..WITH THE PICTURES

I’ll go back to the Dies Irae, to compare with the earlier video clip and then I’ll continue playing on because it’s certainly not just ‘the orchestral fireworks’ that make this work, and it’s really wonderful to enjoy all four great soloists and the choir. It’s a very moving piece of music throughout.
Visually, apart from ‘Lenny’, you’ve got to love those ‘eye-brow’s’ of the bass Ruggiero Raimondi in his first solo in this movement! And that long dying St.Paul’s reverb is just so, so wonderful.
(Sorry by the way that the picture quality has had to drop a fraction to get this in.)

VIDEO EXCERPT TWO – STEREO SOUND: THE DIES IRAE AGAIN, BUT A LONGER EXCERPT:

PRESS PLAY (usually in the bottom left)

The above video starts at the Dies Irae again but now with the stereo sound….and runs on much longer.


50 years on and with some help of ‘modern software’, we can hear how it would….or could have sounded. As I mentioned there’s still the ‘joys of analogue peak distortion’ present of course; those generations of what were each typically 2-3% of tape distortion?
Although it’s made with only the one pair of mics, without the chorus or bass section ‘spot’ mics, it works remarkably well and I’m convinced it can be enjoyed for the sound far better than the DVD.
I’ve therefore carried on and relayed the complete work and it’s been an amazing experience to have gone through – although loving both Verdi’s music and Bernstein’s interpretation has helped me stick at it.

SOME FINAL MEMORIES FROM HUMPHREY BURTON

After I had written this piece, Humphrey Burton published his autobiography “Humphrey Burton: In My own Time” (published May 2021) [7].
In his book, after a great chapter detailing his years at LWT, there’s a short chapter just on the Bernstein Verdi Requiem. I urge you to get the book as it is a significant memoir from a major player in the ‘Television Music and Art’s’ world, and Humphrey really does write his own story so well.
Although he tells us more about the evening, I won’t quote from the new book except perhaps to mention the response to the playback the next day, when the Producers reviewed the VT tape for the first time:
“Schyler Chaplin wrote that tears came to my eyes when the house lights went up, ‘Partly from the emotion of the performance and partly from relief: for clearly we had something priceless before us.”
How far sighted of Bernstein and his Producers to do this in the days when the first domestic video machines were just becoming available, and to realise that a recording like this would be worth all the effort for preserving for future years.
The Classical Music Video was probably born with this production.

HAS ANYONE STILL GOT THAT MASTER TAPE?

Somewhere perhaps the original 2″ Master tape along with the 8-Track audio tape still resides? Did they get saved with the demise of LWT into Granada and perhaps finally get lodged in the ITV Archive in Leeds….. or was it chucked into a skip well before then when it’s ‘shelf space’ was needed? Amberson may perhaps have the 8 Track in a vault somewhere?
I’d be pleased to re-do the re-syncing to the original 2″ VT picture of the stereo of this wonderful concert if I could get a ‘better copy’. That would give us a better ‘archive’ for the future I’m sure.

THE TV CREDITS

It was nice to see that so many the crew were credited….which was not common back in 1970.

CAMERAS:
KEN MANNING
IAN STANLEY
TREVOR HAMPTON
CHRIS BROWN
MIKE STARTUP
PETER DOUGLAS
SOUND:
JOHN COOMBS
LIGHTING:
TEDDY SHANKSTER
VT EDITOR:
TIM WHIFFIN
PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR:
ALAN WOOLFSON
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS:
SCHUYLER CHAPIN
OLIVER SMITH
PRODUCER – DIRECTOR:
HUMPHREY BURTON


Apart from Charles Fearnley and myself, if you know of any other crew members, I would love to add them to this listing! Who were the PA and Vision Mixer….plus the Vision Engineers, the Riggers and Sparks perhaps?

In the meantime do go and get a copy of the Kultur video DVD1344 ‘Bernstein In London – Verdi Requiem’ if you want to see the whole of this great concert.

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References and credits:

[1]: From “Leonard Bernstein” – Biography by Humphrey Burton, Faber and Faber 1994.
I’m very pleased to see that Humphrey is wring an autobiography, out next year though
[2] Archived on the New York Times website.
[3] Quote from Paul Meyers book “Leonard Bernstein” Phaidon 1998. Paul Meyers was a Producer, involved with the CBS recording in the Albert Hall detailed in my next article.
[4]: Information on the Marconi B1103 from https://www.tvcameramuseum.org/
[5]: For Graham Joiner’s Audio Restored website: https://www.audiorestored.com/
[6] The Broadcast Engineering Conservation Group are dedicated to preserving the history of broadcasting and have a great collection of ‘retired’ OB Scanners that they are rebuilding. The Marconi illustrated came from an ex-Yorkshire scanner.
[7] “Humphrey Burton: In My own Time“, the new autobiography from Humphrey (at the age of only 90) is published by The Boydell Press 2021.