BACH Prelude & Fugue No. 8 in E flat minor (arr. Villa-Lobos) [notes]
*Marni Nixon, soprano
Concert Arts Cello Ensemble conducted byFelix Slatkin Recorded 10-11 January 1959, Capitol Tower, Studio B
Issued as Capitol Stereo LP SP8484
*MILHAUD Concerto for Percussion and Small Orchestra [notes]
*Hal Reese, percussion Concert Arts Orchestra & Percussionists conducted by Felix Slatkin Mono recordings presented in Ambient Stereo, made at Capitol Records, Melrose Studio
4: Recorded 17 October 1954
5: Recorded 10 January 1955
Issued as Capitol Mono LP P-8299
"Near the end of the month I was informed about a release of a CD, containing music by Delius that was conducted by my father. In his fledgling days as a conductor, he recorded several albums with a pick-up orchestra called the Concert Arts Orchestra. These performances stem from the early fifties and back then had a devoted following in the record-buying community. A company called Pristine Classics [sic], based out of the UK [sic], re-mastered a couple of my Dad’s recordings and I have to say that they have done an incredible job. Hopefully, they will get around to issuing the remaining albums...."
Following a generally favourable response to our release in 2009 of Felix Slatkin's Delius, Saint-Saëns and Ibert recordings we decided to delve deeper into the back catalogue and, thanks to the hard work of Edward Johnson, put together the present double-CD-length release, which aims to cover even more eclectically the kind of music Slatkin was recording in the mid to late 1950s.
The musical scope here in without doubt broad, and yet despite bringing together the recordings from four very different LP releases it seems to work well as a single collection. Dohnanyi's Variations on a Nursery Theme is sheer brilliance from start to finish, and the performance here captures brilliantly the multi-faceted nature of this remarkable work, based on the tune Twinkle, twinkle little star (or, if you prefer, Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman).
In some ways the piece sets the tone for the rest of this album as it moves from one musical style to another, with Dohnanyi encompassing (as the notes state) the musical styles of "nearly every composer his audience of 1914 would have been familiar with". Victor Aller's performance sparkles and, yes, twinkles throughout, and is really not to be missed.
The Khachaturian is altogether a weightier work - a proper piano concerto to Dohnanyi's piece labeled "for orchestra and piano concertante" - and Pennario delivers it well. He had taken it into his repertoire in the mid-50s following the death of his great friend William Kapell, who had given the US premiere in 1943 and later recorded the work with Koussevitzky. Pennario's performances at the time work huge critical acclaim.
Britten's much-loved Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra brings us back, in a sense, to the world of the Dohnanyi - a set of variations on a theme, in this case by Purcell, which takes the listener on a rich and varied musical journey, with humour and grandeur. Slatkin's brilliant orchestra rises to the challenge, and the recording captures the fine brilliance of the performance with astonishing clarity, thanks in no small measure to the early use of stereo to steer us around the orchestra's instrumental sections.
Disc two brings greater variations, if you like. Taken from two LPs, the first entitled "The Cello Galaxy", the second simply "Percussion!", we find two often-neglected sections of Slatkin's orchestra brought to centre stage. Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras are scored for eight celli and are among his most popular and successful works. The addition of a solo soprano to the fifth adds a further dimension to these brilliantly scored works. Meanwhile the Bach arrangement calls for a cello 'orchestra' - in this recording no less than 26 cellists were arranged in what the sleevenotes described as "a shallow semi-circular row... in four groups with eight players in the first and six players in each of the others". It makes for a quite uniquely rich and sonorous interpretation of one of Bach's great works.
In the works for percussion we slip back to the mono era - which is something of a shame as this music is perhaps particularly suited to a stereophonic treatment. Nevertheless again the performances and recordings are more than worthwhile. A newcomer to Carlos Chavez's Toccata might baulk at a three movement work for percussion alone, but fear not - it's a captivating piece of music brilliantly played. Despite the apparent absence of melody and harmony (though of course these are present in instruments such as the glockenspiel, xylophone, chimes and - to a lesser extent - tuned drums), somehow the composer manages to weave together a convincing and expressive musical narrative.
Milhaud, on the other hand, presents the percussionist with an orchestral backdrop, which provides the main musical ideas of the piece and allows the soloist the scope for exotic coloration. Both of these 1954 recordings have had Ambient Stereo treatment to add a sense of space around the instruments whilst maintaining the central, mono imagery of the originals. It's a testament to the excellence of performers and recordings that both capture and hold the imagination of the listener throughout.
Working from LPs in generally immaculate condition I was able to produce some quite excellent remastered recordings using Pristine's acclaimed XR processing. However, something remained to be addressed. Reviews of the first release tended to dwell, momentarily at least, on the exceptionally dry acoustic of the sound - writing at MusicWeb International, Jonathan Woolf complained that despite my efforts with XR remastering, "it seems not to have been able to ameliorate the chilly acoustic", whilst Lewis Foreman, writing for the Delius Society Review, also noted: "The actual orchestral playing is very good, but the enterprise is compromised to some degree by the acoustic which has no natural resonance to it; it’s just flat." (It's perhaps worth being reminded at this point that these are both highly experienced and esteemed critics, well-used to the drier acoustics of many older recordings.)
Felix Slatkin conducting the Concert Arts Orchestra (photo courtesy Frederick Zlotkin)
The reason for this is almost certainly the same thing which dogged a number of the present recordings - the recording location, Samuel Goldwyn Studios Stage Seven in Hollywood, CA. This is in every sense not a concert hall, and from all the evidence here it sounds as if it was designed to be particularly acoustically dead. This is not flattering to a musical performance, though it certainly has its uses in the realm of film sound production, even more so now that it would have done in the 1950s.
A dead, dry sound can be processed in such a way as to appear to "be" somewhere else. Traditionally this would have been done using various echo chambers, reverberation plates and equalisation, much as I learned when first working on radio drama productions at the BBC, where it's highly desireable to have a single studio space which can be made to sound like almost any generic venue a dramatist wants it to be - outdoors, in a small or large room, a cavern or, indeed, some alien world.
What we can also do now, however, is effectively "relocate" an acoustically dry recording to a specific venue, using a process called "convolution reverberation". An impulse recording, made in a particular place, can be used as a precise multi-dimensional acoustic model to recreate the echoes and reverberant acoustic of that location in another recording - and if it's a bone-dry echo-free recording, it can relocate that recording in an astoundingly-convincing manner. If we input the dry sound of the Concert Arts Orchestra to this system, it is possible to hear that Orchestra as if one was sitting hearing that same performance from the concert stage, whilst of course sitting in the best seat in the house, at any number of the world's finest concert halls and auditoriums.
It's a tremendously powerful and soncially seductive tool - and one of classical recordings dirty secrets is that digital reverberation gets used far more than is ever admitted on modern recordings - but should one really consider applying it to these 1950s recordings? I have to admit I was exceptionally wary - until I heard the result for myself.
I discussed these thoughts in an e-mail exchange with Felix Slatkin's son, the cellist Frederick Zlotkin, during the preparation of this release, explaining my aims, hopes and intentions. He commented thus, and I took his words very much into account:
"Re. the "dry" acoustic, I would only ask that any reverb be added quite "gently." As a big fan of 78s and early LPs I enjoy the simple fact that these recordings really tell you what the musicians actually sounded like, without "hiding" in the echo. In the case of the Hollywood crew, you had some of the greatest musicians of all time, and their playing stands up to this kind of scrutiny magnificently. I know you will be careful."
My aim therefore was clear - to retain the finest details of the dry recording whlst give it just enough acoustic "air" to allow it to breathe. I cycled through literally dozens of combinations of concert venues and possible microphone placements until I found the locations I felt were most sympathetic to the recordings, and then used their acoustics as sparingly and sympathetically as possible. Curiously, although all three Stage Seven recordings seemed most "at home" in the concert halls of Santa Cecllia, Rome, the Dohnanyi and Britten seemed immediately best-suited to the medium-sized Sala Sinopoli, whilst a different microphone placement used for the Khachaturian recording made it more comfortable in the larger (and thus slightly longer in its reverberance) Sala Santa Cecilia.
Learning about this kind of manipulation can be emotive for many listeners. Many do not like the sound of any artificial reverberation or echo, and for very good reason. Even the very best synthetically-generated acoustic tends to have an artificial sound to it., and outside of the popular music sphere can often sound very inappropriate. This, however, is my first foray into this relatively new technique, and it's only recently that we have acquired the raw computing power to be able to use this kind of processing in everyday applications.
As with our use of Ambient Stereo and XR remastering techniques, a great deal of careful and critical listening has taken place before the decision was made to go ahead with its use here. These are particular recordings in case, and it's not a technique which needs regular use with historic recordings. But I do believe it will both address the acoustic shortcomings picked up on by reviewers of our earlier release and find a sympathetic response in listeners more generally.
My own response to the technique, once fully optimised for these particular recordings, was one of utter astonishment and delight. For the first time in 25 years of listening to these kind of effects in studio environments I heard something which was truly convincing - and which in myriad subtle ways managed to enhance the recording without adding any sense of artificiality. To me it seemed to sit perfectly alongside my aims in XR remastering of overcoming genuine shortcomings in older recordings using the most highly advanced modern digital remastering methods in as sympathetic a way possible to the originals.
To allow you to more fully test these perhaps bold assertions for yourself, I've prepared an extra-long (nearly 20 minute) sample from this release, which comprises 4/5ths of the opening piece, Dohnanyi's Variations on a Nursery Themeand encoded it at the very highest, 320kbps rate as an MP3. This can be heard using our online player - or you can download the recording and try it for yourself on your hi-fi speakers, on headphones, or wherever you prefer. I think you'll be impressed both by the performance and the exceptional quality of this 1956 sound:
To download the MP3 sample (320kbps stereo, dur: 19'16") , CLICK HERE.
Felix Slatkin with the Concert Arts Orchestra (photo courtesy Frederick Zlotkin)
FELIX SLATKIN (1915 - 1963) was an arranger, conductor and violinist. He was active in Hollywood during the 40's, 50's and early 60's. During his career he won wide acclaim and respect for his innovative and inspired contributions to many recordings.
In the 40's, Slatkin was the concertmaster of the 20th Century Fox studio orchestra. He later conducted the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra and also formed the Concert Arts Orchestra, recording with both ensembles. He was Frank Sinatra's concertmaster and conductor of choice during the Capitol years of the 50's. Also during the 50's, Slatkin produced and conducted two outstanding albums of military music on the Capitol label. He later recorded several albums for Liberty leading the "Fantastic Strings" at the height of the "Stereo Action" period. Like many studio musicians, he was also virtuoso performer in his own right. He recorded as a classical violinist, and he and his wife, cellist Eleanor Aller -- also a studio regular for whom John Williams wrote a prominent part in the score of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"-- founded a legendary American classical group, the Hollywood String Quartet.
Felix Slatkin and Eleanor Aller had two sons.
Leonard Slatkin is Music Director (2008) of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Conductor Laureate of the St.Louis Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra.
Frederick Zlotkin (Fred uses the original Russian spelling of the family name) is cellist for the New York Philharmonic, Principal Cellist for the New York City Ballet and cellist for the Lyric Piano Quartet.
Aller had family and professional ties to the quartet. His sister, Eleanor Aller, was its cellist, and her husband, Felix Slatkin, was its first violinist. They and the other quartet members were all musicians with the Hollywood studios of the era, and Victor Aller was the orchestra manager at Warner Bros. during the 1940s; by 1949, his hourly earnings amounted to $19.95 according to company records.
Aller's musical heritage lives on with relatives in succeeding generations. His daughter is concert violinist Judith Aller, a student of Jascha Heifetz; his nephew, son of Felix Slatkin and Eleanor Aller, is noted American orchestra conductor Leonard Slatkin.
He was born in Buffalo, New York, and grew up in Los Angeles, remaining there for his entire career. He first came to notice when he performed Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto at age 12, with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The scheduled performer had fallen ill, and Pennario's piano playing had come to the attention of the conductor Eugene Goossens, who recommended him as the soloist after being assured by Pennario that he knew the work. In fact, he had never seen the music or even heard it, but he learned it in a week.
Pennario retired from active performance and recording in the 1990s. He wrote some pieces of his own, such as Midnight on the Cliffs, March of the Lunatics, and a 4-hand arrangement of Chopin's Minute Waltz.
He was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in October 2007.
As well as being well represented in music encyclopedias, he was a life master in tournament bridge, and was listed in The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge. He was once part of a celebrity foursome with Don Adams, Les Brown and Jack Benny's daughter Joan Benny.
Marni Nixon (born February 22, 1930) is an American soprano renowned for dubbing the singing voices of featured actresses in well known movie musicals. This has earned her the sobriquet "The Ghostess with the Mostess", and also "The Voice of Hollywood". She has also spent much of her career performing in concerts with major symphony orchestras around the world and in operas and musicals throughout the United States.
Born Margaret McEathron in Altadena, California, Nixon began singing at an early age in choruses. At the age of 14, she became part of the newly formed Los Angeles Concert Youth Chorus – whose other members included a 13-year-old Marilyn Horne and a 19-year-old Paul Salamunovich, among many others – under famed conductor Roger Wagner; this choir evolved into the Roger Wagner Chorale in 1948, and later into the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 1964.
Dubbing Deborah Kerr's singing voice again in An Affair to Remember, one year after dubbing her in The King and I
The singing voice for Natalie Wood as Maria in West Side Story (1961). Nixon also sang some parts of the score of Anita played by Rita Moreno, sharing the load with co-dubber Betty Wand and Moreno herself. In parts of the quintet setting of the song "Tonight", she sings both Maria and Anita's lines, according to her autobiography.
Except for Dementia, in which she received on-screen credit as "Featured Voice", the credits for her many dubbing roles did not appear on the titles of any of the films, and Nixon did not begin to be fully credited or widely acknowledged until the movies' subsequent release on VHS decades later.
My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music
Ms. Nixon gained much notoriety for My Fair Lady, as news-eager journalists ripped apart the customary veil of secrecy. Industry buzz has said this to have been the cause of Hepburn's failing even to get nominated for an Academy Award for the demanding role. Interestingly, Deborah Kerr was nominated for the same award in 1956 when Nixon dubbed her in The King and I.
Nixon finally appeared on screen singing for herself as Sister Sophia in the film The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews, the star of the film of The Sound of Music, had played Eliza Doolittle in the stage version of My Fair Lady, but had lost the film role to Audrey Hepburn. Andrews greeted Nixon with a hearty handshake and said, "I really love your work!" In fact, the two had already worked on the same song in a previous film: Nixon voiced one — or more — of the trio of geese in the animated "Jolly Holiday" sequence of Mary Poppins (1964). Nixon also sang the role of Mary Poppins herself on a collection of songs from the film released on Disneyland records in 1964, in new arrangements that were considerably different from the ones used in the film.
When Hollywood musicals gave her less work, she started to perform on stage, as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she hosted a children's television show in Seattle on KOMO-TV channel 4 called Boomerang. In 2001, she replaced Joan Roberts as Heidi Schiller in the Broadwayrevival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies. In 2003, she returned to Broadway as a replacement in role of Guido's mother in the revival of Nine.
In the 1998 Disney film Mulan, Nixon sang the role of Grandmother Fa.
In March 2007 she was involved in a concert version of My Fair Lady, in which she performed the non-singing role of Mrs. Higgins, Professor Higgins's mother.
On June 18, 2007, Marni joined a group of volunteers who were inspired by the documentary film "Tocar y Luchar." They are trying to bring more music education to all children.
One of her three husbands, Ernest Gold, composed the theme song to the movie Exodus. They had three children together, one of whom is the singer and songwriter Andrew Gold ("Lonely Boy" and "Thank You For Being a Friend").
On October 27, 2008, Marni Nixon was presented with the Singer Symposium's Distinguished Artist Award in New York City.
Born in New York City, she was the daughter of cellist Gregory Aller (né Grisha Altschuler), a Jewish emigre from the Russian Empire. Eleanor Aller became principal cellist in the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra in 1939, of which her brother, pianist Victor Aller, was orchestra manager and in which their father also played for a time. The same year she met and married Felix Slatkin. Shortly after their marriage, the couple founded the Hollywood String Quartet. Aller also continued working as a Hollywood studio musician. After Slatkin's death in 1963, in addition to her work with orchestras for movies, Aller played in orchestras for recordings done by Frank Sinatra, who had become a family friend over the years.