PUTTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: The Auto-biography of John Culshaw by John Culshaw
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PUTTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: The Auto-biography of John Culshaw

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Culshaw, who chronicled his greatest achievement as a record producer in Ring Resounding, here tells all the rest, from Otello to Britten--in a zesty, detailed (though quite impersonal) memoir that was almost completed before his untimely death in 1980. First, however, come some engaging recollections of WW II service as a navigator, and ""six endless months"" of postwar unemployment before the self-educated, music-mad youth got his first job: as a PR assistant at London's Decca Records. And Culshaw was to stay at Decca, off and on, for some 20 years--the period when records went from 78 rpm to LP, from mono to stereo, from direct disk-cutting to sophisticated taping. All these developments, then, are covered here, as are Culshaw's near-comic struggles with the un-musical, un-foresighted Decca executives--who ""lived in the past,"" who thwarted art and progress, who ""could never understand that recording amounts to something more than stringing out microphones and switching on the equipment."" (There were, for instance, the nonsensical problems caused by management's insistence on keeping stereo a ""secret"" from the performers.) For most classical-music fans, however, the prime appeal will of course be in the parade of great artists. Georg Solti, whom Culshaw cured of compulsive talking during recording sessions. Kathleen Ferrier, with her North Country directness. Sopranos Lisa della Casa and Hilde Gueden, jostling for microphone position (""She pooshed me!""). Jussi Bjoerling and Thomas Beecham just before their deaths. Conductors Szell (""his reputation as a monster was unjustified), Monteux (""loved by his orchestras""), genuine monster yon Karajan--his power-plays and vanities. Arthur Rubinstein, whiningly manipulative; Ernest Ansermet, ""breathtakingly mean."" The anti-Semitic Vienna Philharmonic, which ""had little time for any conductors except those who were either dead, or half-dead."" And Birgit Nilsson, an Isolde who ""did not seem to mind very much who sang Tristan, even if I did."" True, Culshaw himself remains a rather faceless figure here, with no mention of a personal life. But he stints neither on technology, art, nor shrewd portraiture--and the result is must-reading for those interested in either the production or enjoyment of classical records.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1981
Publisher: Viking