Borletti-Buitoni Trust
23 March 2009

A car, a plane, a whistle… and seven last words

by Navarra Quartet

In this Haydn celebration year we are planning to launch our CD on the 31st of May (Haydn’s actual death day 200 years ago) when we are performing the Seven Last Words at the RNCM in Manchester. We are on a very tight schedule! We recorded the piece in January and the first edit was sent to us on the 10th of March. We were doing an ‘Around the Country’ tour with the Sacconi Quartet with concerts on the 12th and 13th which left us only the 10th, 11th and the morning of the 12th to listen to it. John Fraser, our recording producer, had already made clear to us that we should regard this edit as the second edit, as there would be very little time to get a second edit. That meant that we couldn’t be too picky on intonation issues, but had to listen out in particular for noises on the background, like creaky chairs, traffic noises etc.

We decided to first listen to it individually and write down all our comments. Then we would listen to it together and discuss all the things we had written down. When Xander and I received the first edit by email (just before midnight… David Hinitt must have been working on it all evening!) the downloading of the movements seemed to take forever as we were getting more nervous by the minute… it took some courage to press the ‘play’ button, but when we finally did and we listened to the beginning, Xander’s first reaction was ‘WOW’!

On the 10th we all listened to it but made sure we didn’t say too much to each other as it would be interesting to see whether we would be bothered by the same things. Naturally, you listen out for your own part (even subconsiously) , especially since the recording sessions were still fresh in our minds. The difficulty was to get in the right frame of mind and listen to it objectively. As we couldn’t be too picky on intonation it made everything considerably easier but fortunately there were only very few intonation issues we were bothered by.

Navarra Quartet in recording (photo by John Ferro Sims)

Xander, Simone and Marije had written down only a few things – a few traffic noises, a few intonation issues that we thought we should mention and on one or two occasions we weren’t happy with the direction of a phrase. Nathaniel however had a very good stereo and head phones and came up with a big list of external noises! At one point you could actually hear a plane during several bars and there were also lots of creaky chair noises, without a doubt from Simone or Marije who move quite a lot when they play! When we all listened to it together, we were often in hysterics as we could hear quite a few silly pizzicato noises (it’s an a! No it’s a b flat! It’s you! No it can’t be me! etc) or at one point a very peculiar high pitched noise that sounded like someone whistling and we of course had to find out who did it (we still don’t know)… the few intonation issues that we all had written down individually were mainly to do with our individual playing, often unnoticed by the others. On these occasions we had to fight for our cause (but were also secretly pleased when the others hadn’t noticed of course…). If we all agreed it was important, then we would ‘tick’ the comment we had written down. Sometimes we wouldn’t agree on something, e.g. if we liked the take, but one of us really wasn’t happy about his/her playing. In that case we decided to mention the problem, but also say that we really like the take so we would leave it up to the editor to decide what to do with it. In the end we put all the comments together in one email; Nathaniel wrote down his, and then forwarded the email to Simone, who would add hers etc. When everyone had added her/his comments to the email we sent it off!