Mozart at St John’s Smith Square, Sunday 29 August

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Head of Development, Liz Brinsdon, shares her experience of a recording session.

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Musicians were all assembled as I entered the main space at St John’s Smith Square along with a number of donors who had joined us for the afternoon. The orchestra – a large one by AAM standards, with 23 strings and 9 wind and brass – was spread out across the checkerboard floor of the hall with Robert Levin and the fortepiano in the middle. There was a sense of anticipation in the air, with ten minutes to go until the start of the final recording session of the week.

Robert Levin had flown in from the US the previous weekend, ready to resume our landmark project to record all of Mozart’s Piano Concertos, begun back in 1993 under the direction of Christopher Hogwood. Richard Egarr has now picked up the baton as AAM looks to complete the cycle. 

The fortepiano also arrived over the weekend, to enable it to settle in the space and allow practice time for Robert. The instrument had been carefully chosen for the works being recorded – a replica of a piano by Anton Walter, similar to one Mozart bought in 1782, shortly before he composed Concerto No 21 in 1785. The instrument was supplied by a company called Maene, headquartered in Belgium.

The first recording ‘patch’ began on the Wednesday and started with Piano Concerto No 21, K467, perhaps one of the best known of all Mozart’s works. The orchestra went on to record the first and third movements of No 24, K491, before focusing for this final ‘tutti’ session on the slow movement, the Larghetto from K491. In the evening, Robert would have the opportunity to focus solely on cadenzas for the fast movements.

A recording session is somewhat different from a live performance. I found it amusing hearing the disembodied voice of the producer coming through a speaker as he discussed particular elements with Richard, Robert and other members of the orchestra. There were also times when key musicians disappeared to the control room downstairs to hear the results and identify any areas that could be improved.  The fortepiano technician was on hand to check the tuning whenever he had the opportunity. Of course, we had to contend with occasional extraneous sounds from outside too, with helicopters being the most intrusive. 

When recording, the aim is always to get the balance between the spontaneity of performing live and the opportunity to capture the best versions of each section. From what I’ve heard of the rough cuts, I believe we have achieved that. I hope when the albums are released, you will agree!

We will continue to record the remaining works – 13 in all – over the next 12 months with an aim of releasing albums in the lead-up to and across our 50th anniversary season in 2023.

Liz Brinsdon, August 2021

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