John’s striving for “The Hollywood Sound” may be a new thing for his popular audience in England, but over here it’s been part of our musical history since before the Second World War. In 1939 when violinist Felix Slatkin and his wife, cellist Eleanor Aller Slatkin, founded the Hollywood String Quartet. Their uniquely American style of playing strings quickly won the HSQ recognition and praise from critics around the world when they essayed works from the classical repertoire.
Every member of the HSQ was also a member of one of the studio orchestras. Besides Slatkin, who was the concertmaster of the 20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra, Eleanor was first cellist with the Warner Bros Studio Orchestra; violinist Paul Shure was also assistant concertmaster at 20th Century Fox; Paul Robyn was also principal violist at Warner Bros; Alvin Dinkin was also violist with the 20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra; and Victor Aller, Eleanor’s brother, pianist, was also manager of the Warner Bros Studio Orchestra.
Said the Gramophone Classical Music Guide of their 1951 recording of Arnold Schoenberg‘s piece: “This was the first ever recording of ‘Verklärte Nacht‘ in its original sextet form and it remains unsurpassed.”
In the liner notes of one of their other recordings, Paul Shure remembered: “Dynamics were a very big part of our work. Our discussions were always about dynamics and a little bit about tempi, and nothing else. We played with vibrato except where there was a particular effect to be had—no dead left hands were allowed.” This sounds so similar to what JWO concertmaster John Mills said in the web series Sarah’s Music (above): “John asks us, the strings, to play with so much vibrato that people’s family photos should fall off the TV sets. We’re effectively trying to recreate the sound of the studio orchestra.”