The seemingly impossible was made possible by the heroic, Herculean efforts of pianist Mary Dullea, and sound engineer and producer, Alex Van Inghen. We accomplished what each of us considered would be pushing the boundaries of what was achievable in terms of recording, given the limited time we had.
2 days. 48 pieces.
Alex, travelling from Surrey, arrived late to a dark, desolate, isolated, sub- zero Wyastone. He set up his extensive recording equipment so that an early, prompt start could be made the following morning. He duly arrived at our lodgings at l.00am. We had a whispered catch-up. By this time Mary was long abed with her hot water bottle for company, doubtless dreaming of Non Presciptive music.
The night was extremely cold. I wore 2 pairs of socks and commandered the blankets from the adjoining bed. Alex slept in his clothes. Hypothermia threatened. Mary was the warm, snug, clever one. The forecasters had predicted snow, gales, rain and low temperatures. Well, they got one correct.
So, on a cold, grey morning we set off early to Wyastone concert hall to find that the ever efficient Paula had ensured that the spacious auditorium was heated. She had also thoughtfully provided additional heaters which we were only too eager to employ. Thank you Paula. One heater was positioned close to Mary (and the mics). Thankfully it did not have a fan. The other we situated in our control room. The reliable Philip Kennedy had already visited and given the magnificent Steinway Model D its first of four tunings.
Mary with her calisthenics, the loosening of her (thankfully warm) fingers, becoming reacquainted with the weighting of the action, the three pedals, arranging the scores. Alex making final sound checks, adjusting levels, tweaking, preparing spread sheets, attending to much fine detail. Headsets made it possible to communicate with Mary 60 or 70 metres distant. Everything set, positioned, a collective silence and we commenced. Only 48 pieces lay ahead of us.
We were always aware that we had to maintain a quite daunting schedule which equated to approximately one piece every fifteen minutes. Hence the title to this post. The key! to our success lay with Mary’s meticulous preparation. Each of her scores was overlaid with a network of lines, arrows, directions, notes to herself, annotations. She had arrived at the recording with a knowing intent.
We broke for short intervals for hot drinks, calories and carbs. Mary favouring salads, fruit, florentines, biscuits. Alex drank oceans of industrial strength black tea, the consistency of which left concentric rings around the insides of the cup. A longer break for lunch,a plenary session, an analytical review of things done, whilst Philip went about finessing the tuning again.
Then a long, long period of sustained effort through to the evening. One piece every fifteen minutes. Again, again and yet again. Mary and Alex maintained inexorable progress. Our schedule demanded that at the end of the first day we should have nailed 24 pieces. We, in fact, made it to 25.
If all this sounds somewhat grim, this is far from the truth. We generated humour, laughs. Alex and I were quite silly. Coruscating it was not, but Mary smiled a lot and laughed at our foolishness.
Back to our lodgings in Monmouth. We dined on ready meals and a welcome bottle of Shiraz, Mary’s favourite. The second night was infinitesimally warmer. Mary and Alex slept well. I, again, woke at 3.30am.
Much the same pattern for the second day. Another early start on a cold, bright, sunny morning made it possible for us to maintain our exacting, daunting schedule. Take after take after take. Laughs, smiles, breaks, teas, calories, carbs, the piano whisperer, lollypops for Alex (it’s become a sort of tradition). The in-tray tantalisingly, encouragingly becoming slowly depleted.
Six or seven pieces remaining. We were in our Wyastone bubble. Isolated, focused with one exclusive intent. Our goal beckoned, drew us on and piece number 48 was completed. Fittingly Mary’s realisations of this portrayed a triumphant flourish. A celebration of the completion of our task.
Sadly, time did not allow for any last group discussion.No pattings of backs.No fist bumps. Mary had a train to catch from Abergavenny, 20 miles distant. We packed quickly, bade Alex a hasty farewell and left. Left Alex in the night to dismantle and stow all his gear and close down Wyastone. He returned to resume the same recording that he had left two days ago. Prokofiev I think.
There remains much to be done. Peter Vodden has already submitted his image to be displayed in the jewel case to Stephen Sutton. Scott McLaughlin has commenced his sleeve notes which cannot be completed until he is in receipt of early edits from Alex. Alex will also send Mary the 243 takes which were generated during the recording. She has the difficult task of deciding which of the several takes for each of the pieces will be selected for the final mastering. Finally, Stephen Sutton, CEO of Divine Art Records, will collate all the parts and will, as always, produce an excellent end product.
Release date? With so much to be done, it’s not possible to be precise but I am hoping for April, May. Springtime would please.
I will keep you informed of our progress.