Thursday, August 9, 2012

Right Turn

As evidenced by yesterday's item about Franz Liszt mysteriously appearing on the cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray, I get a kick out of strange little mistakes. I wrote about this at some length in a 2011 blog post which begins with a story about a missed shift in Dvorak's Dumky Trio. As it happens, the great Dumky has entered my life again this summer since my cellist wife, violinist daughter, and I are learning it for an upcoming recital. A lovely little collateral surprise is that my other daughter, who's seven, has taken a liking to the Dvorak, especially its last movement. I'll admit this might have something to do with my pointing out that Dvorak ends his wonderfully Slavic journey with the theme from E.T. Listen to how the cello morphs into John Williams at about 10 seconds in.

But that's not a mistake and I haven't come here to accuse Mr. Williams of plagiarism. (I might accidentally plagiarize someone else if I go down that path!) However, there is a quirky mistake connected with a recording of this trio. I have a Suk Trio CD that I've been playing in our family van for the past few weeks, but I recently downloaded the Kim/Ma/Ax recording which I first purchased years ago on LP. I put the new downloads on CD only to realize that the break between the last two movements is tracked incorrectly. The next-to-last movement has a kind of false ending, which apparently fooled the person who edited this CD. (I'm not sure if the LP features the same mistake.) Thus, the music fades gracefully away, and here endeth the penultimate movement according to these downloads:

...which means Dvorak's surprise ending becomes a surprise beginning for the finale:

[By the way, the roots of that "E.T." theme are right there in the piano tune that opens the last movement proper, eight seconds into the sample above.]

What makes this quirky mistake all the more amusing is that Younger Daughter of MMmusing will often request "the last movement of the Dumky" in the car, which means we begin with that manic ending. I'm not really bothered by this quirk though. First of all, I've made my share of editing mistakes (the worst of which was letting Tex tremendae slip into the program for a big performance of the Mozart Requiem with Robert Levin giving a pre-concert talk and everything - I didn't type "Tex," but he did get past me), and second of all, it's just kind of funny. (I may or may not have looped the first few seconds of that track multiple times just for fun - don't ask my kids.)

But that's not all! No, I've got another little recording quirk encountered in another trio. This one I discovered listening to an LP of the Ravel Trio in A Minor in my piano teacher's studio, a long time ago in an undergraduate school far, far away. The Beaux Arts Trio was doing the honors when I noticed a pretty obvious page-flip during the Scherzo. I remember first assuming that this must be a piano turn since piano pages fly by in a fast-paced piece like this with all three parts taking up space in the score. So, I pulled out the score (handily available in the same studio; maybe I was using it already?) and discovered the flip didn't align with a piano turn. However, it turned out quite clearly to fall during three precious bars of rest in the cello part.

For some reason this delighted me no end, both doing the detective work and to think that the great Bernard Greenhouse was put on the spot this way, having to execute his turn as if he were playing the whip in Sleigh Ride. You can watch him do this bit of choreography (quietly) at the 1:53 mark below.

But whoever produced their studio recording left a very obvious turning sound in, for whatever reason. I can't imagine it wasn't noticed, but it seems like something that could've been edited out. Maybe it was just decided that it adds excitement to the already jumpy texture, with offbeat pizzicato snaps all over the place. Well, I like it this way. In the video below, you can "think along with Bernie" as the page turn approaches. Imagine how quickly he had to fly the bow back to the strings, ready to execute a delicate staccato passage on page 6.

At that point in my life, musicians of Beaux Arts Trio caliber were nothing less than legends to me - I suppose they still are, but I have a better understanding now that they're also just regular musicians who make mistakes. Back then, I just assumed these recordings were made under ideal conditions with page-turners sprinting noiselessly around like Wimbledon ball boys if necessary. The truth is, Greenhouse probably had some old, well-worn part that he liked, and he probably was so used to making the turn himself that it didn't really bother him.

An opera director friend has told the story many times of an accompanist for a big-time singer (Janet Baker?) who replaced a tattered score of O Had I Jubal's Lyre with a brand-new copy before a recital. Ms. Baker (or whoever) ended up getting lost and having to restart twice during the recital, to her great embarrassment; only later did they realize that the old score demanded an audible page flip from the pianist that the singer had grown used to hearing. When it wasn't there (due to a differently formatted edition), it tossed her memory for a loop. Whether true or not, it's a great story.

Perhaps the Beaux Arts Trio needed Greenhouse's whip to keep them on track...

No comments: