Memories of an old Koussevitsky ’78 recording

I’ve only heard one of  Koussevitsky’s recordings and that was in the year 1939/1940.  There was an apology of sorts on the record sleeve that read, if I remember correctly,that Mr. Koussevitsky had been retired from bass playing for some time but had come out of retirement and practiced for about two weeks before making the recording.  Remember there were no cuts, splicing or major enhancement in those days and the longest take could only occupy 13 minutes or so, but, nothing daunted, our friend Koussy made a creditable job of it, considering.  Apart from the record being a bit scratchy, and although the recording of those days was primitive, I was really fascinated with it and have never forgotten it.
There was one little thing that I noticed, and that was his style of slightly swooping to a note.  Many of the old string players of those days adopted it.  I can remember Madame Suggia, the cellist, using it.  If it is done in small doses I can’t complain.

It would be interesting to find out whether there are any existing copies of this disc around.  Perhaps it has been digitally enhanced?

The Bottesini Duo for two double basses, Victor Watson and Koussevitsky #2

Victor Watson gave me the tempi that he and Koussevitsky played the Duos.  The Polacca was a little slower than I have sometimes heard it played, but it makes sense because the gut strings they used in those days were slower to respond than our modern metal strings.  I know this because I played on gut strings for many years.  Even if one fingered and executed a rapid passage sometimes it did not come off because of the blurred effect of the gut strings.  It may be my old age but tempi generally seem to be faster than years ago, but I also think this may be due to the technical improvements that have taken place in instrument manufacture as well as the improvement in string making, besides, although a  Polacca is meant to be brilliant, I don’t think the slightly slower tempi I have chosen that Victor Watson gave me have lessened the effect.

In bar 59, it is marked “a piacere,” at pleasure. You will notice on the CD that I have made a “rallentando” on that bar, and the next bar is played double the speed, this also was in the information given to me by Mr. Watson.  Koussevitsky was playing first bass.   In bar 116 I make the “glissando” from the A to D harmonic that was also recommended to me by Victor, also you will notice a complete break that is not marked in the printed part at the end of bar 129 that then leads back into the first subject.   These are only some of the many subtleties that I had the good fortune to be given.

Video Reminiscences: On Conductors

In these brief videos I discuss some of my memories of working with the great conductors.

On Conductors: Part 1 What Makes a Good Conductor – Sir Thomas Beecham, Dr. Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Victor de Sabata, and others.

On Conductors: Part 2 Walter Legge’s Conductor Competition – “The best of a bad lot.”

On Conductors: Part 3 The Truly Great – What sets the truly great conductors apart from the also-rans.

Sergey Koussevitsky

Sergey Koussevitsky, double bass soloist and noted orchestra conductor.
b.1874  Tver, Russia d.1951 Boston, USA

I met Sergey Koussevitsky in the late ‘forties when he conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, London.  It was his farewell tour and just before the concert he gave us all a red carnation to wear in his remembrance.

He was fairly tall, medium built and with thinning gray hair.  He must have been in his late seventies, but he was very energetic and alert, and was a great conductor, having a deep insight into the music and being able to draw out magical sounds from the orchestra.

Unfortunately one little mishap spoiled the programme.  In  Beethoven’s Symphony # 1. last movement,  he botched the lead in to the allegro and some of the violins came in raggedly.  He stopped and commenced again and led the orchestra to a brilliant finish, in fact, the whole concert was wonderful, except for this little slip.  Coincidentally  some time later Sir Adrian Boult conducted the same piece in the same venue and made the same mistake

When I asked him for some advice on  bass playing  all he would say was ‘ To get ze good tone you must grip bass hard’.  At the time I was not impressed with his remark but later on I found the wisdom of it.

In his solo days Koussevitsky had played the Bottesini Duets for Two Basses  with Victor Watson, principal bass of the LPO, and Victor passed on to me some valuable tips that he had gained from Koussevitsky that I have included in a CD recording I recently made accompanied by Mary Rannie, principal bass of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Canada.

After his death  Koussevitsky’s wife presented his very fine solo bass to my good friend Gary Karr, the famous double bass soloist who  played it often in public and on some of his many recordings.  I can remember the glorious sound he obtained from it when he was the soloist at concerts that I also played with the Pro Arte Orchestra and when I was principal bass of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.