Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with David Wilson-Johnson, Part 2

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

A Conversation with David Wilson-Johnson, Part 2

Article excerpt

We had been discussing Britten's War Requiem as my conversation with David Wilson-Johnson continues.

Leslie Holmes: Did you ever hear Ben Luxon do the War Requiem?

David Wilson-Johnson: Yes, I have.

LH: You never forget it, if you have.

DWJ: No, it is absolutely astonishing: "I am the enemy you killed, my friend." It is one of those moments. It was at The Three Choirs that I heard him do it, in England. Wonderful. Wonderful. Bob Tear sang it with him.

LH: He [Luxon] stayed overnight with us when he was at Tanglewood and flying out of Boston. We drove back to our home together. That was after his hearing was a problem. He was driving and his good ear was on the left. It's scary. Any of us could wake up some morning and not be able to hear.

DWJ: I always wonder if it happened because his singing was so right, in the front of the face. Tom Allen is another one I slightly worry about, because his voice is so bright, in the front of his face. It's great to have that, because that's what gets over an orchestra.

LH: If a soprano does not have that quality, her voice doesn't carry.

DWJ: But she doesn't have to be a huge voice, because you can hear it well over the orchestra.

LH: Phyllis Curtin was amazing. She had such focus.

DWJ: Jessye [Norman] ... it was like seeing a launch at Cape Canaveral. There was an awful lot of smoke to start with and, then, gradually it came into focus.

LH: You did a lot of recordings with David Owen Norris.

DWJ: Yes. We've done ...

LH: Finzi...

DWJ: Yes. We've done all of that. I think the best recording is the Quilter one, which we did for Hyperion. No, there was another one which we did first, which I think was the best one I've ever done on disk, again for Hyperion. Stupidly, the guy running Hyperion, at the time, wouldn't record it digitally. He said, "Oh no, we'll master it digitally afterwards. We'll do it analogue." And so, we did it analogue. I don't know how many copies he sold, in analogue. He emptied the shelves of this recording. It had a fantastic reception and did extremely well. I was very proud of it. He was, eventually, persuaded to remaster it. He sent it away to be done, but hadn't kept a duplicate copy and it got lost, along with four or five other things that he also sent to be remastered. Wonderful, wonderful recordings. He never had the guts to tell me that he lost it.

LH: What did he think you were going to say when it didn't show up?

DWJ: I thought it would show up. The next thing I knew, John Mark Ainsley had done a recording of Quilter songs-also for Hyperion-of more or less the same repertoire. I thought that was a little weird and wondered what had happened to mine. I then made inquiries about it. He said, "Oh, Jumbo, didn't I tell you? Sorry. We lost it." That was that, really. I rather lost patience with the recording industry at that stage. I'm still doing recordings-still cranking them out. They're not for the big recording companies, now, because they've all dissolved through incompetence, or whatever.

LH: Well, you know, you go back and listen to something on vinyl and it's better.

DWJ: Oh, yes. It's the best stuff there is. Luckily, I've still got one, because one of my students made a habit of buying all of my vinyl LPs, when they came out. He then put them on cassette and kept the vinyl. When I said that I wished I'd kept a copy [of the Quilter], he said he had one that had only been played once.

LH: Couldn't that be mastered into something?

DWJ: Yes.

LH: Is it available now?

DWJ: Yes. It's part of a thing that I'm doing at the moment. As I've reached my dotage, I am digging up quite a lot of the recordings that I've got. My dad, who died a couple of years ago, recorded everything I did on the BBC, when it went out. There's an awful lot of stuff- partly that the BBC lost and partly that is there-that I'm spending time going through. I have all these endless recitals that I've done. …

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