Intermezzo: The Santa Barbara Sessions Page 4

Unfortunately, the squeaky soft pedal returned during the recording of the first movement. The volume level of this movement made it less of a problem, but with quieter movements coming up, it had to be fixed. The tuner had been called back in, and by 10:00pm appeared to have the problem solved. The sonata's fourth movement (the Intermezzo) was scheduled to be done next; it took us scarcely an hour to complete two virtually flawless takes and a number of minor touch-up takes.

intermezzo4.jpgDuring the retakes which followed, I took the opportunity to listen to the "real thing" in the church, abandoning for the time being my role of cassette jockey; the Nakamichi was left to run continuously while I soaked up the live ambience. There was a power and weight—majesty is not too strong a word—to the sound of the live piano in that church that was not evident to the same degree over the monitoring headphones. At the same time, the "live" reverberation seemed almost too much of a good thing; by moving only a couple of rows further back the sound went from rich and ambient to hard and echoey. The chosen microphone setup, fortunately, more nearly resembled the former.

We finished up the third movement well before 1:00am and called it a night. For the first time, it looked as if we might actually be able to wrap on Tuesday.

Tuesday night, 6:30pm. Would we finish? Would tonight's session be a repeat of the success of Monday's, or a rerun of Sunday's Poseidon Adventure? Would JA be able to get back to Santa Fe in time to put out the next issue? Would technology serve mankind, or mankind serve technology? (Sorry, I got a bit carried away.) By 7pm, with the piano retuned (footnote 5) and Bob Silverman warming up, things were looking very promising. The first run-through of the Andante (movement 2) sounded terrific, but Bob was being distracted by a squeak—not in the soft pedal this time, but in the piano bench! After damping the squeak with, I believe, the piano cover, we continued. We nearly lost one very good take when, during recording, someone from the church staff entered the rear service area, jangling enough keys to reopen Alcatraz and slamming doors with abandon. Miraculously, none of it seemed to get through to the microphones. Some traffic noise occasionally intruded, but it was easy enough to cover for it in subsequent takes.

Though it seemed late when we finally wrapped up the Sonata (to everyone's relief and yet another chorus of "Moon River" from our Meistersinger), the Three Intermezzi—all relatively short pieces—were completed in record time. By 1:10am we were finished, though a celebratory mini wine-tasting in the parlor of the Simpson House kept us all up until at least 2:30. But this time, no one minded.

I dropped Robert Silverman off at the Santa Barbara airport on my way back to Los Angeles on the morning after the last session. When I told him that I had enjoyed it, I meant it. Truth be known, I have always been a rather neutral observer of the classical piano repertoire—neither a fan nor a detractor. But Bob's playing had left me with a new appreciation of the instrument in general, and of the Brahms works we recorded in particular. I can't think of a better compliment.

The sessions are now history; the recording, entitled Intermezzo, is available both on LP and CD. It can be purchased from the secure "Recordings" page on this website.

Footnote 5: It never occurred to me, before this experience, just how quickly a piano can slip out of tune. Not badly, but enough to be significant for a recording. As a precaution, it was readjusted prior to each session.—TJN