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Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral"
Symphony No. 7
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
Willem Mengelberg conductor
Recorded in May 1940
Transfers and XR remastering by Andrew Rose
"Another welcome installment in Pristine's live Mengelberg series. Once again, Andrew Rose's XR remastering procedure has opened out the sound very impressively, easily surpassing previous transfers on Philips and Music & Arts.
Mengelberg's "Pastoral" was an incredibly radical conception for its time: light, lean, stripped-down, sharply focused...
Mengelberg's approach to the Seventh was equally original. The first movement is played for precision and weight at a moderate, flexible tempo. His Allegretto is like no one else's in its heavily stylized clarity of legato/staccato articulation, and the contrasting major-mode section is a miracle of coloristic subtlety...."
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PASC 280 - Mengelberg
MENGELBERG'S BEETHOVEN 6 & 7
By Boyd Pomeroy
"Once again, Andrew Rose's XR remastering procedure has opened out the sound very impressively, easily surpassing previous transfers on Philips and Music & Arts"
Another welcome installment in Pristine's live Mengelberg series. Once again, Andrew Rose's XR remastering procedure has opened out the sound very impressively, easily surpassing previous transfers on Philips and Music & Arts.
Mengelberg's "Pastoral" was an incredibly radical conception for its time: light, lean, stripped-down, sharply focused. As always with Mengelberg (or nearly always), there's a cogent musical rationale for the seeming eccentricities. If his way with the opening at first strikes us as dangerously indulgent, his point is precisely to detach the first four bars as a "frame" for the movement proper, before pouncing on bar 5 with up-tempo zest (Pletnev recently attempted the same thing, not very convincingly, in his erratic cycle with the Russian National Orchestra; among Mengelberg's contemporaries, Mitropoulos was the only one to share his conception of the basic tempo, in his Minneapolis recording from the same year). Clarity and airiness are the watchwords-hear his radically detaché articulation of the second theme, and the incredible definition of the string figures in the closing section. The "Scene by the Brook" is taken as a real four-in-the-bar Andante, with a fluid flexibility of pace and vibrant fullness that he shared with Furtwängler, though accomplished within a faster basic pulse. More controversial is his eccentric rewriting of the rhythm in the main theme, resulting in a complex polyrhythmic effect-essentially superimposing a temporary 4/4 on the movement's basic 12/8-that I have never understood the rationale for (he maintains it, though not with complete consistency, throughout the movement). Mengelberg's "Storm" is one of the most amazingly vivid on record, deliberate and unhurried (Beethoven's metronome mark is only 80 here, in contrast to the needless frenzy often whipped up) but with a headlong sweep, controlled ferocity, and subtly nuanced but pungently tangy coloristic range-sul ponticello string chills, sudden glints of brass tone through the downpour. The climax (bars 106 ff.) is overwhelming. The "Shepherd's Hymn" has a (for its time) exhilarating up-tempo buoyancy and detached articulacy, with wonderful forward momentum in the coda, where so many conductors bog down. On the debit side, there are some fussy tempo changes (e.g., his disruptive slamming on of the brakes in bar 32); from the viewpoint of tempo modification, this is one case where Furtwängler's more seamless, gradual approach was more convincing.
Mengelberg's approach to the Seventh was equally original. The first movement is played for precision and weight at a moderate, flexible tempo. His Allegretto is like no one else's in its heavily stylized clarity of legato/staccato articulation, and the contrasting major-mode section is a miracle of coloristic subtlety. The Scherzo is unhurried and trenchant; the Trio slow and songful, with much agogic manipulation. The finale is once again notable for its constant modification of the tempo, but here more in terms of a subtle flux than the abrupt gear-changes heard in the "Shepherd's Hymn." There is an extraordinary sense of each of the movement's rhythmic elements leading its own autonomous life-e.g., the way he swings the swirling string lines against the massive, deliberate treatment of the wind-and-timpani punctuations. In comparison to alternative live versions (Mengelberg never made a studio recording of the Seventh), this one is notably slower overall, and more given to flexibility of rhetorical emphasis than those with the Concertgebouw in 1936 (Tahra) and Berlin Radio Orchestra in 1939 (on the British specialist Mengelberg label Archive Documents).
PASC 280 - Mengelberg
SPALDING AND DOHNANYI
by Rob Cowan
"They call him America's greatest native-born violinist"
They call him America's greatest native-born violinist and, indeed, Albert Spalding's tone was as richly expressive as any, even by 1951 when he recorded the three Brahms Violin Sonatas with pianist-composer Ernö Dohnanyi. These gripping renditions couldn't be further removed from the sanitised norm we so often hear nowadays. Rather, they reveal a pooled creative impulse, sounding totally improvised, and while neither is what you'd call super-slick, musicality burns from virtually every note. It's a cliché but I'll say it anyway: these are real performances. And Mark Obert-Thorn's expert transfers are well mastered by Pristine Audio.
PACM 078 - Spalding
|Audiophile Audition |
21 October 2011
by Gary Lemco
"A classic all-Dvorak reissue disc that reaches into an illustrious pair of traditions, with Haendel and Mainardi's imparting a genuine sympathy as well as technical prowess to their respective concertos"
The 30-31 July 1947 performance of the Dvorak Violin Concerto by Polish virtuoso Ida Haendel (b. 1928?) has had prior incarnation through the Dutton label in 1999 as CDK 1204, where it appeared in concert with the Tchaikovsky Concerto from 1946 and the Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso from 1945, each of those latter collaborations with Basil Cameron. The Pristine restoration by Andrew Rose carries a pungent immediacy; and thus Haendel's strong suit, her blazing attacks, gain in their feral approach to a combination of gypsy and Slavic impulses in the music itself. Conductor Karl Rankl (1898-1968), an Austrian musician who like Haendel embraced British citizenship, generates a natural sympathy in the course of A Minor Concerto, although sonically we could wish the National Symphony woodwinds had more color presence. Haendel's work with the flute solo and French horns in the Adagio of the Concerto proves exemplary in its taste and vocal phraseology. The outer movements with their respective drive and rasping intensity will remind auditors in several aspects of the Milstein approach: virile, robust, grandly scaled.
The Finale perhaps of all three movements reveals the "feminine" character in Haendel's playing, although Rankl's orchestral part continues to vibrate with the rustic energies we know from Dvorak's Slavonic Dance forms. Again, better miking of the National Symphony tympani would have added a distinct power to already colorful approach. The middle section, rife with double notes and high voltage changes in bowing and registration, showcase Haendel's studied approach, which would gain even more vertical acuity after her fateful encounter in the 1950s with Sergiu Celibidache. The lithe athleticism of Haendel's upper register and flute tone, however, quite dazzle even here in 1947, and music lovers can only marvel at her combination of fluid technical virtuosity and absolute comfort in the emotional authority of her conception.
The recordings of Milanese cello virtuoso Enrico Mainardi (1897-1976) have been grudgingly slow to re-enter the main stream; and while this affecting effort in the Cello Concerto from 24 January 1955 with Fritz Lehmann (1904-1956) gives us hopes of further issues, many collectors envision that Mainardi's work with Paul van Kempen will no less warrant restoration. Restoration engineer Andrew Rose has resuscitated a German Heliodor LP with pseudo-stereo effects and done away with all phony sources of separation. Mainardi then reveals himself as a cellist whose style lies somewhere between the older romantic tradition of Casals and the relatively "clean," almost Spartan linear drive of Emanuel Feuermann. Lehmann, working with the Berlin Philharmonic, performed at the height of his powers, although he would die prematurely only a year later. In 1955, the Berlin Philharmonic still reeled emotionally from the loss of their major conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler, but the discipline remained honed under Karajan, Fricsay, Jochum, Lehmann, and Knappertsbusch.
The scale of Lehmann's orchestral part does not strive for the metaphysical objectivity of Karajan nor the "patient" indulgence of Fricsay, but rather proceeds in a literalist fashion that might remind some auditors of the classic contribution George Szell provided for soloist Casals. The warm sound of the BPO provides a pampered tissue for the long-lined, impassioned declarations and runs from Mainardi. In their intimate moments together, Mainardi and Lehmann manage a chamber-music effect, quite arresting, that segues easily into the martial and more heroic gestures the first movement proffers, especially in its extended coda. For those who complain of Mainardi's predilection for slow tempos, a potent tonic reveals itself in these pages. On the other hand, Mainardi's old school sensibility in the Adagio yields up thoughtful, exalted moments of meditative beauty bathed in the woodwind miracles of Dvorak's seamless writing. A self-effacing, meticulous approach may not achieve the epic proportions some of our modern virtuosi effect, but Mainardi delivers a Dvorak Concerto intelligent as it is ardent, and the last movement dances and sings with that especial nostalgia the composer imparts when his fairy-tale ethos meets musical ideas that celebrate both his national style and his universality.
PASC 308 - Beecham
Editorial the clocks ticks for the compact disc
Elgar conducts himself: Enigma Vars, Symphony 2
Curzon reviving his Decca Brahms and Grieg concertos
PADA Uninsky plays Liszt
|Editorial - The death of CD
Before I even begin this column I know I'm going to annoy some readers simply by writing down these thoughts. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to speed up the demise of the Compact Disc, but it's something I've been expecting to hear about for a while, and something I've already done something about in my own home - how about you?...
This week I was directed to an online article which claims to have inside information on the major record companies' plans for killing off the CD by the end of next year. Yes, you read that right - according to the article there's 13 months or less to go before the big boys stick a major nail in the coffin of the loveable silver disc.
To be honest, I do have reservations about the article I refer to
, which was posted on a site new to me, called "Side-Line Music Magazine", if only because it has no named sources and there's no quoted comment directly from any of the major music labels. It's worth noting too that the article focusses on the mainstream pop and rock aspect of the music industry, and makes no mention of the prospects for classical music recordings.
Still, those caveats aside, the gist of what it says is as follows: the major labels, by the end of 2012, want to have switched over more or less completely to online digital distribution of their music releases, with only a few special 'limited edition' releases appearing in any physical format. In other words, unless the record company's A&R department wants to put out a fancily-boxed (and -priced) edition of your favourite pop star's new album in 2013, your choice will be to download it ... or download it.
With record shops closing down around the world - or, in the case of Britain's HMV stores, making a highly profitable switch
into music gadgets and expensive designer and star-branded headphones - they envisage the likes of Amazon (and the odd supermarket) as being the only remaining mainstream retail outlets for physical discs, and I suppose the big record companies do have a point: If the customer can't walk into a shop to buy a CD, but an online retailer can sell the same thing as a download, why spend a fortune making and distributing expensive CDs when "virtual stock" can save you a fortune in manufacturing, warehousing and shipping? (Amazon can take care of the latter anyway for those special editions...) Sooner or later this has to happen, surely? Why not in 2012? The money we'll save will far outweigh losses from lost sales, won't they?
If this is the thinking in the pop music world - and with British singles sales now officially 99.7% downloads
, you can see where they're coming from - what about classical music? Surely the average classical buyer today isn't yet ready to give up on the traditional CD? And what about all those music lovers whose non-broadband connection would be improved by wetting a piece of string and using two tin cans to connect them to the world wide web?
Unfortunately I suspect that with the state of the mainstream music industry right now, considerations such as these hold little sway. As far as the accountants running the likes of EMI are concerned, the desires and needs of a music-lover on some remote archipelago who's mainly interested in the lesser known works of Cyril Scott aren't going to persuade them to keep their CD factory open and their retail distribution chain in place. As I've argued before, recorded classical music these days, with its approximate 3% market share, surely relies (for the big labels at least) on being able to piggy-back popular music's infrastructure to continue in its present manner. Take this away and classical has little choice but to follow pop music into the virtual world of download-only distribution.
Of course we're talking about the mega corporations here. Smaller, specialist labels will be less likely to jump ship immediately. Thanks to the likes of Nimbus and their short-run CD production facility a lot of CDs will carry on being produced - and likewise we're not about to abandon the disc just yet either. Outside Europe our gross revenues from CDs and downloads are more or less even - but it's interesting to see that within the EU, last month's download sales brought us nearly double the gross income that we saw from CDs. Strip out production and distribution costs and downloads look ever more attractive - whereas a couple of years ago we saw perhaps 60:40 in favour of downloads, I'd say now it's getting closer to 75:25 here in Europe. But when the record shop is but a nostalgic memory it's hard to see how those record companies who don't sell direct will be able to justify continued CD production either.
If we're seeing these kind of figures, I wonder what EMI's next owners will be looking at - and predicting? What seems inevitable is that at some point the big boys will reach a tipping point where they have to make a decisive switch, just as they did with 78s, and later with LPs. For sure the CD won't be killed off overnight, and unlike its predecessor, the ability to make CDs is also in the hands of the consumer, which changes things considerably with regard to its overall lifespan.
But I'm afraid I can believe the thrust of the Side-Line article: a major change has taken place already - and the end is nigh.Schnabel Sonatas Offer - apply now for a free Volume 10
OFFER CLOSES 10TH NOVEMBER
As previously mentioned, if before 28th October you collected the first 9 volumes of the Schnabel Piano Sonatas series then we'd like to say thank you by sending you a copy of Volume 10 absolutely free.
To apply for your free copy you need to meet the following conditions and agree to these terms:
1 - Applicants must have ordered and paid for at least one copy each of all of the first 9 volumes of the Schnabel Beethoven Piano Sonatas series before the day of release
of Volume 10. In other words if you haven't ordered Volumes 1-9 inclusive before
the day of release of Volume 10, you won't qualify for a free copy of Volume 10.
2 - In the case of orders where different volumes have been ordered in different formats (e.g. 24-bit FLAC vs. MP3) we will offer the equivalent to the lesser-priced format (e.g. MP3) purchased. If all your purchases are in a single format, the same format will be offered for your free copy, whichever format that it.
3 - In order to rationalise our postage costs, we'll include a free CD copy of Volume 10 to successful applicants with their next regular CD order - the free copies will not be sent separately.
Assuming that's all OK with you, please send an e-mail to me to claim your copy of Volume 10.
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We'll try to get onto these as soon as possible, but please be patient as checking and verification will not happen overnight!
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I look forward to hearing from you!
Digital Music Collection - 10% off
OFFER CLOSES 30 NOVEMBER
Feeling a little down in the dumps with the latest economic news? Perhaps you need a little musical cheer? Well, between now and the end of next month you can save 10% on our Digital Music Collection disc drives.
It's the ideal way to obtain and maintain the full Pristine collection - each drive is sent out bang up to date with the latest releases on it, together with all the artwork and scores we include in our FLAC downloads. There are no restrictions on copying the tracks, and from the smallest pocket-sized drive up to the biggest, dual-drive RAID fully back-up system, the sound quality is never compromised.
For more information, see our web pages here.
4 November 2011
Elgar's definitive acoustic recordings of his own masterpieces
XR remastering digs deeper into 90-year-old grooves than ever before
Enigma Variations, Symphony 2
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Andrew Rose
ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme "Enigma", Op. 36
ELGAR Symphony No. 2 in E flat, Op. 63
The Royal Albert Hall Orchestra
Sir Edward Elgar conductor
Web page: PASC 313
Sir Edward Elgar was one of the first composers to really enthuse about the process of recording, and from 1914 onwards he spent many hours in the studio conducting a large number of his own works.
Unfortunately much of this recording pre-dated the microphone, and Elgar's acoustic horn recordings can sound exceedingly primitive to the modern ear.
Help is now on hand, with XR remastering rebalancing the tonal shortcomings of the acoustic process and digging deep into the grooves to find frequencies previously buried in the murk.
Now,. some ninety years later, we can at last start to hear Elgar's definitive interpretations as they've never been heard before.
Review Symphony No. 2, 1925 (excerpt)
Dr. Ernest Walker, in the later edition of his "History of Music in England," writes: "An altogether new Elgar has emerged since 1907, and in several respects his genius has markedly ripened. In orchestral music he has still, it is true, not surpassed in imaginativeness the Variations of 1899; but the later achievements in this field show in many ways an increased breadth of outlook with, occasionally, a touch of austerity seldom felt before." These words are a warning as well as a recommendation, and the man who is not prepared to take his music seriously will do well to leave this long-awaited recording of the Second Symphony severely alone. Shelley's words, "Rarely, rarely comest thou, spirit of delight," with which the composer prefaces his score, suggest that the vision of beauty here struggling for expression is one that can only be glimpsed after long seeking by arduous and intricate ways, and so indeed it turns out to be. That the prize to be won is well worth the labour of the winning there can be no doubt whatever, but it is necessary to warn readers that their path at first may not be easy.
They may perhaps be consoled to reflect that others have solved problems even more difficult than theirs. Of the composer's task I need say nothing ; but the work of the players and the recording department must certainly be discussed. Let me say at once that all of them deserve well at our hands. The work is long and the writing for all the instruments extremely elaborate, yet nowhere have I discovered anything to find fault with in the playing. As to interpretation, the conductor is Elgar himself, so inestimably the rendering may be accepted as authoritative and the partition of the work among the eleven sides as having the composer's sanction. There remains the recording, and here I can only say that my first impressions are very favourable. In so huge a score one does not expect that every instrument will be individually audible throughout; such clarity would be impossible, and perhaps undesirable too, even in the concert hall. What one does expect is a correct balance, a proper blending of the colours of the orchestral palette, with the important phrases standing out clearly, each with its own tone quality and with due regard for the proportions of the whole. And these things one gets. There may be details that are not beyond criticism; there are places., for instance, where the tone of the brass failed to satisfy me completely; but in a highly complex work occupying no less than eleven large sides.
P.P., The Gramophone, September 1925
Notes On this recording
Attempting to extract more musical information than is usually heard when listening to older recordings is one of the chief rationales behind XR remastering, where the restoration of an acoustic balance closer to reality than is often heard in vintage recordings can bring out all sorts of qualities previously lost to the listener. Attempting to achieve this with recordings made in the acoustic era, such as those here, is especially difficult. There are most certainly "hidden" sounds, and frequencies that can only be discerned when played at the highest volume - but they share their pitches with, and are often buried in, a huge swathe of surface noise. Extracting the former from the latter is an incredibly difficult task which inevitably results in necessary compromises.
What I can offer is perhaps greater depth, a more realistic sound, and a higher frequency extension than has been heard in these recordings before. At times you may also find more background noise, though I've struggled to keep this as unobtrusive as possible.
Yet despite this, these recordings still have the power to astonish today as they must have done 90 years ago - and here's a chance to get closer to them than ever before.
MP3 Sample Enigma Variations - Finale (E.D.U.)
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Ambient Stereo MP3
Mono 16-bit FLAC
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CD purchase links and all other information:
PASC 313 - webpage at Pristine Classical
|Clifford Curzon's excellent Brahms and Grieg Concertos
Fine Decca recordings revived by Pristine's XR remastering
Brahms, Grieg Concertos
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Andrew Rose
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15*
GRIEG Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16**
* Concertgebouw Orchestra van Beinum
**London Symphony Orchestra Fistoulari
Clifford Curzon piano
Web page: PASC 312
British pianist Clifford Curzon was one of the greatest performers of the last century. Never satisfied and always curious he constantly reinterpreted and revised his approach to the piano repertoire.
Partly as a result of this - and partly because he disliked the entire process - he recorded relatively rarely. Yet what he did commit, first to shellac, later to vinyl, still stands today as testament to his unique talent and interpretative skills.
These two recordings, made by Decca in the early 1950s, are prime examples of Curzon at his very best. The Brahms has always had great sound quality, but the Grieg had a veiled quality that often suggested rather than delivered. Thanks to these new XR-remastered transfers that veil has been lifted, allowing Curzon's artistry to truly shine.
The death of Sir Clifford Curzon on September 1st is a loss to the musical world out of all proportion to the modest number of recordings he made. It would be fruitless to compare him with other artists. When I first met and started to work with him more than 20 years ago, he was already an institution.
Because of his astonishingly fastidious approach to any score, accompanied by his highly sensitive musicianship and unique musical humour, his work became a criterion by which other performances have come to be judged. To him, every performance was something new, and no two were ever the same. It reminded me of those fascinating films one occasionally sees when a photograph is taken at regular intervals during the growth and life of a plant, which more than anything else illustrate the sheer vibrancy as well as the constant change which is at the heart of nature.
This was the reason he made so few recordings, for he refused to consider any performance as being remotely definitive, and believed passionately in the evolution of a composer's work through performance after performance.
Curzon's first recording was made on April 1st, 1937 when he recorded the Schubert/Liszt Wanderer Fantasia with the Queen's Hall Orchestra conducted by Sir Henry Wood . His recording career extended over the next 40 years almost exclusively with Decca, culminating in the live recording of the Theme and Variations from Schubert's Trout Quintet with members of the Amadeus Quartet in The Maltings, Snape during the Benson and Hedges Music Festival from September 28th to September 30th, 1977.
He did not like the recording studio at all, and refused to allow the use of the customary red light which normally indicates that the tape machine is running. More recently he flirted with the idea that the only way to record was to "catch the performance on the wings", but although he was scheduled to record two more Mozart concertos with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Bernard Haitink in January 1984 in live performance, it was the first time he had consented to the experiment. The results would have been fascinating in relation to his other recordings. which to him became outdated by the further musical discoveries he always made after the record was completed. Of course this would have applied to the live recording as well...
Ray Minshull (then Decca Executive Vice-President)
Gramophone, October 1982
Notes on the transfers
Despite the presence at both sessions which produced these recordings of Decca's crack recording duo, producer John Culshaw and engineer Kenneth Wilkinson, there was a marked difference sonically in the results they achieved. Indeed, the earlier recording of the Grieg, made in London in 1951 - and still prepared as for a 78rpm release which didn't happen (an additional Chopin fill-up side was also recorded but never issued) - sounds particularly dim and dusty. Reviving this recording has perhaps been the major achievement in this release, with 32-bit XR remastering injecting a sense of life and reality missing from the Decca LP.
By contrast, the 1953 Brahms is a different matter altogether, recorded with a clarity that surely makes it a model recording of its era. Both recordings have also benefitted audibly from the latest pitch stabilisation techniques, especially again the Grieg, where what would have been the third 78pm side (the final third of the first movement) was distinctly flat by comparison to the rest of the recording.
MP3 Sample Grieg Concerto, Third Mvt.
Download purchase links:
Ambient Stereo MP3
Mono 16-bit FLAC
Ambient Stereo 16-bit FLAC
Ambient Stereo 24-bit FLAC
CD purchase links and all other information:
PASC 312 - webpage at Pristine Classical
Streamed MP3s you can also download
Piano Sonata in B minor
Sonetta 104 del Petrarcha
Alexander Uninsky piano
Recorded 1 October 1951
Transfer from Philips LP G 05302 R
This transfer is presented with Ambient Stereo remastering by Dr. John Duffy
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