classic producer

Watching last night’s BBC Four documentary about Georg Solti, there were so many good things to enjoy, it’s difficult to know what to pick out.

‘I came late to opera’ is a phrase often used by guests on editions of ‘Desert Island Discs,’ and in my case, it’s still to happen, despite my advancing years.

But watching clips of Solti recording the entire Ring cycle by Wagner for Decca over an 8-year period, it struck me that here might be the ideal way to grasp this nettle – and also acquire a desirable Christmas present.

The programme highlighted the partnership Solti had with Decca producer John Culshaw (1924-1980), who oversaw the recordings and you can see chemistry between the two in the clip below.

Record producers are often singled out for hero worship in articles about rock and pop – George Martin, Phil Spector, Tony Visconti, Daniel Lanois et al – so why not classical producers?

Culshaw, of course, produced the legendary Decca recording of Britten’s ‘War Requiem,’ and mention of his name reminded me of a very rock ‘n roll story from that recording.

Unbeknownst to Britten, Culshaw rigged up a microphone which captured the composer’s instructions to and conversations with the performers whilst conducting over several days of recording.

On Britten’s 50th birthday, Culshaw sent him a vinyl record of those snippets, edited together as a souvenir of the occasion.

Britten was not amused, appalled that his privacy had been breached in a way he deemed unacceptable.

Fortunately the recording re-emerged years later, having lain unlistened to in a drawer in Britten’s desk.

It now forms part of the Decca box set of ‘War Requiem,’ and of course captures the composer’s exact wishes.

So thank our lucky stars that creative people like John Culshaw are there to help the musical geniuses realise their visions.

The Death of Siegfried – The Ring recording/Solti – documentary clip


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