Fifty Years of Everest and Some Reminiscences

Fifty Years of Everest and Some Reminiscences

Bert Whyte’s first forays into recording in stereo whose results we can hear today consisted of recording a concert Stokowski gave in Detroit in November 1952, and recording at least part of Smetana’s Ma Vlast while Mercury was busy recording Kubelik and the Chicago SO. The Smetana sounds particularly fine, quite a different recorded sound to Mercury’s, and the CD on Music & Arts CD-1190 is well worth seeking out. Just prior to this, in 1951, he took his Magnecord equipment to Chicago jazz clubs to make recordings. Stokowski, for a long time interested in the technology of sound recording, and an early enthusiast of stereo since recording thus in the 1930s for Bell, and in “Fantasound” for the film Fantasia, became a friend of Whyte.

Later, Whyte heard the results of Robert Fine’s three channel stereo recordings and was greatly impressed. Whyte’s business, “House of Hi-Fi” in Long Island, sold this sort of equipment, and a certain customer who bought an Ampex three channel recorder in 1957 was Harry Belock. So taken with the results he was persuaded to start his own recording company and so Everest was born, Belock providing the financing with Whyte as senior producer.

Harry Belock admitted setting up Everest had cost about a million dollars; this becomes unsurprising when the price of Westrex 35mm film recorders is known, $25 000 each. By the Spring of 1958, the London Symphony and London Philharmonic orchestras had been approached, and repertoire thought out; on 10 August 1958 Sir Adrian Boult started on the first recording for Everest with the LPO, and on 15 August Walter Susskind led the LSO with theirs, both sessions taking place in the excellent acoustics of Walthamstow Assembly Hall.

Further sessions took place through 1959; in addition to recording in London, Everest recorded music by Boulanger under Markevitch in France, and recorded in Rochester, New York and Houston. Whyte’s recording of Stokowski’s Detroit concert in 1952 resulted in Everest’s persuading him to make nine recordings for them in Houston and New York, the NYPO appearing as the NewYork Stadium Symphony Orchestra. Stokowski’s recording of Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet and Francesca da Rimini are probably the most highly regarded recordings in the Everest catalogue. In addition to about a hundred orchestral recordings, Everest recorded some light and popular music and some instrumental ones with Jorge Bolet and Dohnanyi.

In January 1960, Josef Krips completed his recording of Beethoven’s symphonies which turned out to be the last of Everest’s London recordings, and March 1960 the last of the American ones was made in Houston with Stokowski.

It is the orchestral recordings for which the Everest label is still much loved today, the extraordinarily high quality and natural sound wearing its years very lightly indeed. In the two and a half years of its existence Everest produced an enviable number of gems.

Unfortunately, the business did not produce the anticipated profits, and after Whyte’s departure, Belock sold some of the equipment to Robert Fine, one of the machines actually used quite recently by Wilma Cozart for remastering some of the Mercury recordings for three-channel SACD release. In the meantime, the Everest label survived under Bernard Solomon, who bought the masters from Belock in 1961, and became a budget label, producing some low quality pressings and including some dubious source material. The label once known for its fine stereo recordings now issued mono recordings as well supplied from Cetra and Supraphon among others; even the Everest original stereo ones were mastered from quarter-inch tape copies.

Everest recordings had to wait until 1993 for Seymour Solomon (no relation of Bernard) of Omega and Vanguard to resurrect the label with its former devotion to producing the highest quality sound. Expertly transferred from the original three track half-inch masters and 35mm film, these issues won many new friends for the label. Just the one SACD was issued and this has become a highly collectible item selling for as much as $300: VILLA-LOBOS: The Little Train of the Caipiria, ANTILL: Corroboree, GINASTERA: Estancia, Panambi London Symphony Orchestra/Eugene Goossens (3-channel though credited as Multichannel).  The label disappeared again after Seymour Solomon’s death in 2002, until Harkit Records in the UK very recently licensed the material from its current owners and issued its first fifteen titles in 2008. Some of these are very short measure indeed, a couple under a half hour.

In addition Classic Records has been issuing Everest recordings in two disc sets, a standard CD and a DVD with DVD-A and DVD-V programmes including the original three channel recordings. These consist of some of the most stunning sounds to date, though a couple do betray the film stock deterioration with occasional small patches of wow. Nonetheless, it is to be hoped that further issues will continue to appear. [But it looks like the original 35mm film stock is on its last legs and this may be it…Ed.]

The repertoire of the orchestral recordings was adventurous, as was the choice of conductor. Composers were sought out to conduct their own music, so we have records of Chavez, Arnold, Copland, Benjamin, Grofé and Villa-Lobos conducting. It was hoped Vaughan Williams would attend and supervise the premiere recording of his Ninth Symphony but it was not to be as VW died just before the first session and the recording was issued with a spoken tribute from Sir Adrian. Vaughan Williams’ Job was recorded in the Albert Hall, taking advantage of its organ; the acoustic was even more unwieldy then than it is now!
Peter Katin recorded several concertos for Everest and I am most grateful to him for providing some insights into recording these for the label, and for a comparison, his experience of recording the Mendelssohn concertos for Decca.

The first sessions were for the Schumann Piano Concerto and Franck’s Variations Symphoniques, currently available in Europe on EVERCD010, with the LSO under Sir Eugene Goossens. These took place in the Walthamstow Assembly Hall. Peter Katin writes: “My first impression of Everest rather dismayed me, as two people were removing the piano lid and told me that this was how they recorded. I don’t think I’d had to perform on a lidless piano; most pianists agree with me that the lid acts as a reflector and gives the sound a definite direction, whereas without the lid the sound doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I was adamant, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been, because the result was (as one critic put it) a recording of the Schumann concerto that could have been made in a large and luxurious swimming pool. Unfortunately this wasn’t the end of it and whoever did the editing hadn’t a clue about it. However, the Franck Variations didn’t suffer from either bad microphone placing or bad editing. Of course, the Schumann edits weren’t so noticeable in the various reissues on LP, but when they were transferred to CD not only were the edits even more obvious, but there were equally obvious changes in level. Apart from the recording, I only worked with Goossens on a couple of occasions. He didn’t have a very positive personality but he was absolutely reliable.”

The next recording, also in Walthamstow, was much more successful. Peter Katin was engaged to record Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto, this time with Hugo Rignold conducting the LSO, a recording issued in Classic Records’ series HDAD 2027-PLUS. “I was very impressed to learn about the 35mm technique, my only concern was that I like to do complete takes, and this tape would only run for eleven minutes. However, it was much to be preferred to the five-minute bits that seem only too common these days – it’s a question of becoming involved, and it’s probably more difficult than in a live concert. I went back to make the Khachaturian and the team asked me if at least I’d try the piano without its lid, and I have to say that the results were splendid.

There had been no problem musically about the Schumann but the various opinions expressed by the LSO and Hugo Rignold about the Khachaturian were really quite amusing. Basically, nobody seemed to like it. This was odd, because at that time there were seven or eight recordings of it, and it turned up in a lot of programmes; I played it a lot. Two snags were (1) that it was hard to find a bass clarinet capable of the lowest notes in the second movement, which were taken instead by the bassoon, and (2) it was even harder to find a flexatone, or rather, anyone who could play it. Again, the part was usually taken by a glockenspiel. I wanted what the composer had intended it for, and they somehow found someone who could play it, and the bass clarinet. The rest of the orchestra voiced their opinions in somewhat ripe language, and even Hugo, who, true to form, had arrived wearing an ostentatious astrakhan overcoat a couple of sizes too big for him, muttered to me “Couldn’t we record some music?” It suddenly won everybody over and we did a run-through with some enthusiasm. We were subsequently driven to hysteria on finding that the flexatone was totally inaudible. As the bass clarinet didn’t fare much better, the engineer placed them about two feet from my back! – well, they could then be heard.”

For a comparison with Everest’s recording technique I asked Peter Katin about his recording Mendelssohn’s Piano Concertos. This was an early stereo recording for Decca, made in the Kingsway Hall in 1956, with an extraordinary layout for piano and orchestra.

“You mention my recording of the Mendelssohn Concertos. I’m rather proud that in over fifty years they have never been out of the catalogue. A recent surprise has meant that they’re available in either mono or stereo. At the time I recorded them, Decca recorded everything in both forms. They were issued in mono, but Tony Collins and I were invited to the studios to hear what we were told were experimental stereo tapes. We liked what we heard but Decca decided they weren’t good enough, and that was that until 1972 when I was asked if I minded a reissue in electronic stereo on Decca’s Eclipse label. I pointed out that they had stereo tapes, the intelligent response being “Are you sure?” However, some weeks later they had found the stereo tapes and issued them. It was quite a surprise to be told recently that a mono version from Archipel was available, leaving me to wonder about the claim that it was “the first time on CD”!  However, it is, and the only error is that I recorded them in 1956 and not 1953. And I must say that in fact the mono version has a greater clarity. I noticed differences like this – the Rachmaninov No.1 had more atmosphere in the mono version than in the stereo issue.

The business of putting the piano on the stage with the orchestra in the body of the hall was hardly a good idea. This meant that the piano was not only well above the conductor’s head but also quite a distance from him. This in turn produced a problem with chords and chordal passages – they simply weren’t together without taking far more rehearsal time than we needed. I just don’t know what Decca thought they’d achieve; I have recorded in the same hall since, with the piano where it ought to be.

Anthony Collins was very painstaking, and it was a pleasure to record with him. There was no sign of fatigue; he worked his way through all problems. It’s a pity I didn’t record anything else with him.”

It’s to be hoped that more of Everest’s recordings will appear in the near future, expertly remastered for new collectors to experience that lively feel to the acoustic and excellent stereo imaging which Bert Whyte was so keen to achieve.

Many thanks to Peter Katin for his memories of the recording sessions, and yet again to David Patmore for his details of Everest’s history published in Classic Record Collector.

Happy 50th Birthday, Everest!

 — Peter Joelson

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