Everest Strikes Again, Sightings of Quincy, and Other Matters

Richard S. Ginell - From Out of the The WestBy Richard S. Ginell: From Out of the West

At one time, it would have never occurred to me that Everest was considered to be an audiophile label.  The Everest that I knew should have been called Neverest – a label that put out of some of the shoddiest, noisiest, tinny-sounding pressings in the classical record field, with bad “electronic” (fake) stereo disfiguring all mono issues.  You could find Everests polluting the budget bins of college bookstores or close-out emporiums – and I found myself passing up performances that I would have been very curious to hear simply because the covers bore the stamp of that label.

What I didn’t know then is that in the beginning of its run, roughly from 1958 to 1960, Everest indeed was conceived as a label for sound buffs, with its perfectionist founder Harry Belock and engineer Bert Whyte running the show. Everest signed up veteran conductors and composers who didn’t have contracts with the major labels at the time – Leopold Stokowski, Adrian Boult, Malcolm Sargent, Aaron Copland, Josef Krips, Eugene Goossens, Heitor Villa-Lobos. They put out deluxe editions with imposing silver-colored wooden dowels going down the spine of the inner slipcases. They recorded in 3-channel stereo on 35mm film instead of ordinary recording tape.  And those original pressings sounded pretty good – unlike the ones that were made after Everest’s board of directors got rid of Belock, who then sold his share of the label and sat on the sidelines as it turned into a bargain-basement graveyard for reissues.

First recording of the Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 9, one of the Everest label’s biggest scoops.

The real potential of the Everest catalogue wasn’t revealed until well into the CD era when Omega and other labels reissued a few titles in the 1990s. And just last week, the first 12 of a projected 50 Everest albums were recirculated as downloads for the “mastered for iTunes” section of iTunes.  I got to hear some of them in an advance stream  – and even given the cramped capabilities of my computer speakers, the sound was clearer, airier, and easier to listen to than any of those wretched LP pressings of memory.

Whether the performances themselves stand up to the current competition, though, is a mixed-bag of a question.  By the time he was recording for Everest, Goossens was said to be a broken man – having just been run out of Australia by a bizarre sex scandal – and his performances of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements and The Rite of Spring have a lumbering, plodding, almost demoralized feeling (his recordings of two hot-blooded Ginastera ballet suites Estancia and Panambi do have more life and vigor). Likewise, Sargent is mismatched with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9; his account is leisurely, genial, too gentlemanly for this dangerously cheeky romp.

But there are some historically valuable things here – like Copland leading his Third Symphony (one of his first recordings as a conductor), now sounding far more spacious than on the post-Belock pressing I acquired somehow and stashed in a closet.  Or one of Everest’s earliest coups, the world premiere recording of Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 9, a session which the composer was supposed to attend but he died that very morning (the download thankfully retains Boult’s short speech of dedication that was included on the original LP).

It’s been a long time coming, but at last some of us can satisfy our curiosity about recordings from a label that no longer deserves the bad rap it once had. Now, how about making some high-quality LP pressings to erase the old rap once and for all.

I had a memorable encounter with the great Quincy Jones, my first, in his hilltop home in Bel-Air in February.  I was writing the lead story for an 80th birthday tribute special section in Daily Variety – which shortly thereafter ceased to be a Daily.  The interview was scheduled to run for an hour, maybe several minutes more, but we ended up chatting for five hours about everything under the sun and moon.  The sheer scope and range of the man’s activities is staggering – even at 80 – which brings to mind one of his optimistic aphorisms, “Once you go over the hill, you really pick up some speed.”

This wouldn’t be the last encounter, either. Quincy showed up just two weeks later at the annual Playboy Jazz Festival press conference at the Playboy Mansion; the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra will be playing several of his big band arrangements at the festival as a belated birthday present June 16.

Then just last weekend (Apr. 19), Q turned up in a totally different milieu, the Edye (a black-box theatre within the Broad Stage complex in Santa Monica), introducing a pair of world music acts – the Israeli singer/songwriter Noa, and the Iranian singer Mamak Khadem. Mamak draws her inspiration from ancient Persian sources, and she mesmerized a packed house with two long sets of what has been described as “world trance music.”  All of this ties in with Quincy’s Global Gumbo Group that is busy nurturing new talent from the Middle East and North Africa  and exposing it to the West.

This being my introduction to this brand of music, I’m not an authority on it, but I did enjoy it, grooved to the rhythms of her expert percussionist, and realized that Quincy had done it again, calling attention to a corner of the vast music world that I otherwise might have passed by.

Other memorable musical moments in Southern California of late:

– A wonderful encore performance of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde at the downtown Cathedral Apr. 20, again led by the peripatetic James Conlon and featuring striking new video projections;

– Cameron Carpenter’s dazzling hands and feet at the Walt Disney Concert Hall pipe organ Apr. 21; among other things, he played Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” on the pedals (!) and a fantastic, virtually note-for-note transcription of the Scherzo from Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony.

– Enrique Arturo Diemecke and his not-perfect, but plenty-game Long Beach Symphony catching fire in Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 Apr. 27, proving that you can do fresh things with a piece that even the Berlin Philharmonic is caught playing routinely nowadays.