A FREE 128k MP3
Piano Concerto #5
Elsewhere in this issue I question the wisdom of Pristine needlessly choosing to go head-to-head with EMI in issuing a classic performance (in that case, the Giulini recording of Mozart's Don Giovanni), since Pristine's result is clearly inferior and carries a significantly higher price tag to boot. Here, thankfully, the results are completely different. All of these performances have been issued on three separate Testament releases, and more recently in a seven-CD EMI super-budget box set devoted to Solomon's art. An A-B comparison shows that Andrew Rose has been able to eliminate much of the distracting hiss in the Testament discs, and likewise clear up a somewhat muddy bass register to sound sharp and clear without losing body. There is a trade-off in that the Pristine issue loses a degree of extra presence and warmth in the middle register, but to my ears the gains far outweigh the losses. As usual, Rose has also equalized any pitch fluctuations inherent in the LPs he uses as his sources. I have not been able to audition the EMI set, but since previous releases in the same series only repackage previous ones with identical or inferior remastering, I assume they are not different from those on Testament.
Solomon's Beethoven is well known and much loved, and with good reason. He was an artist of great integrity, able to combine technical fluency, intensity of expression, and clarity of interpretive vision with an iron discipline that eschewed all flashiness and self-indulgence. In the January 1956 Gramophone review printed on the front cover insert card for this Pristine release, the reviewer stated that the performance of the "Emperor" Concerto "seems to concentrate on brilliance" while finding some fault with the wind soloists, who "do not seem to be fully at their ease." I would disagree on both counts. Brilliance is there indeed, but as a secondary consequence of an energetic and dramatic interpretation rather than as a primary aim; and the excellent contribution of all the wind players, ably brought out by Menges to a greater degree than one typically hears, is one of the special points of this set. Indeed, I would particularly wish to cite the superb conducting of Menges, a little-known conductor, as being as much responsible for the greatness of this recording as the pianism of Solomon. In the sonatas, Solomon offers brisk, no-nonsense readings that emphasize the composer's fieriness; while the Adagio of the concerto shows that Solomon could also offer repose. In the Andante of the "Les Adieux"sonata he projects anxious unease instead.
Pristine has also done companion remasterings of the other four Beethoven piano concertos from the Solomon/Menges/Cluytens set on EMI, with the same results as compared to the comparable Testament issues. If you treasure these readings-and I cannot imagine any lover of Beethoven who does not-then make acquisition of the Pristine versions a high priority. Emphatically recommended.
James A. Altena
FANFARE Jan/Feb 2013
Download it now - for one week only - it's only free from our Cover Page!
"UPGRADE" to full quality lossless 16-bit or 24-bit FLAC downloads with notes here:
by James Miller
"Once again, I had my favorites and this time, Solomon's recording, one of the few stereo ones he made before his stroke, has very good two-channel sound and is also one of them"
Back in 1997, a friend of mine decided to celebrate Schubert's 200th birthday with a sort of Schubertiade. He invited several record collectors of his acquaintance to choose a favorite recording of Schubert's music, come to his house, and play it for the rest of us. The composer, of course, was only on hand in spirit but at least the evening gave us an excuse to celebrate his unique genius. My contribution to this musical séance was Solomon's recording of the "Little" A Major Sonata, D 664, a performance of such artless beauty that I think it flirts with perfection (whatever that may be).
Solomon Cutner was a prodigy who, early in his career, was billed as "Solomon, The Boy Pianist." Feeling that he was exploited as a child, he retired from performing for several years. Once he was ready to resume his career and was no longer "The Boy Pianist," he must have been concerned that the public might not know who Solomon Cutner was, so he retained the use of his first name and that is how he was recognized until the end of his life. Generally regarded as one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, he suffered a stroke in 1956 which, while it did not end his life (he lived another 32 years), did end his performing career and, no doubt, deprived us of some great recordings. He combined intelligence and sensitivity with a splendid technique. On the subject of the latter, I remember an interview many years ago during which he claimed that, if he went three days without practicing, his hands would itch.
Solomon's recording of the Beethoven Fourth Concerto was made in November 1952 and you know what that means: it's monaural. For many collectors, that will eliminate it from consideration. In preparation for this review, I auditioned no less than 15 recordings of the concerto. This is not going to turn into a discography but I will, at least, name them in no particular order: Rubinstein/Krips, Casadesus/Ormandy, Grinberg/Järvi, Ashkenazy/Solti, Perahia/Haitink, Rubinstein/Beecham, Grimaud/Masur, Schnabel/Sargent, Uchida/Sanderling, Haskil/Zecchi, Curzon/Knappertsbusch, Gieseking/Böhm, Sherman/Bolle, Zimerman/Bernstein, and the EMI CD of Solomon/Cluytens. Although I amused myself by likening Gieseking/Böhm to the "Mozart Concerto No. 28" and the Rubinstein/Krips and Grimaud/Masur recordings to the "Saint-Saëns Concerto No. 6," I believe that all of these artists, in their own way, came to grips with Beethoven's "message" and delivered it well. I had my favorites but the difference between the "good" ones and the "bad" ones was so miniscule that I could live with any of them, the same situation that prevailed in the Third Concerto.
I'll start right off by writing that, if you want a very good modern (actually 1986) recording of the third and fourth concertos, I'd recommend Murray Perahia and Bernard Haitink with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. My other three favorites of the fourth were, alas, mono recordings, those of Schnabel/Sargent, Curzon/Knappertsbusch, and Solomon/Cluytens. The EMI CD of Solomon/Cluytens is pitched nearly a half-tone low, if that matters; Pristine's transfer brings the recording up to pitch and has a somewhat fuller orchestral sonority. Some may not like the somewhat clunky sound of the piano, which is pretty much the same on both releases. In 1952, one reviewer even described it as "tinny," which seems a harsh judgment now that some recordings use fortepianos. Unlike what appears to be the case on some earlier recordings of the concerto, the conductor and orchestra are treated as collaborators, not mere accompanists-you can hear Solomon diminishing his volume for important solo statements by the winds and strings. Solomon and Cluytens do not stake out a revisionist position-tempos are generally moderate throughout the performance. He uses the "standard" Beethoven cadenza in the first movement.
On the other hand, in the Concerto No. 3, he uses one by Clara Schumann (his teacher studied with her). This is a decision I almost always like-giving a performance a touch of extra interest even if the cadenza turns out to be lousy, so I hereby give a tip of the hat to Wilhelm Kempff, who uses his own cadenzas in the first four concertos, to Marguerite Long, for using one by the 19th-century pedagogue and virtuoso, Ignaz Moscheles, to Walter Gieseking, for using Beethoven's alternate cadenza in the fourth concerto, and to Artur Rubinstein, for using his own version of Busoni's version of Beethoven's cadenzas. The recordings of the third concerto that I checked out were mostly by the same performers who did the fourth. Subtract Rubinstein/Beecham, Grimaud/Masur, Grinberg/ Järvi, and Solomon/EMI (my CD is coupled with the Concerto No. 2), and add Kempff/Leitner, Arrau/Ormandy, Long/Weingartner, and Rubinstein/Toscanini. Once again, I had my favorites and this time, Solomon's recording, one of the few stereo ones he made before his stroke, has very good two-channel sound and is also one of them. It's easy to take Solomon for granted; many of his recordings have a straightforward artlessness that doesn't startle you but you may find yourself admiring the music, rather than the performer. This does not mean that his playing lacks nuance...far from it! My other favorites were the aforementioned Perahia/Haitink, Kempff/Leitner (a delightfully witty performance but it's mono), Zimerman/Bernstein, Uchida/Sanderling (an interesting pairing of soloist and conductor), and Long/Weingartner (though sometimes she seems to wish she were playing Chopin's "Third Concerto" instead of Beethoven's). Once again, despite various differences in approach, all the performances measured up and I could live with any of them.
Pristine has done a good job on the transfer. I might point out that the company has also transferred Clifford Curzon's recordings of the fourth and fifth concertos. I have not heard them; I listened to Curzon's fourth on my excellent LP. Curiously, Pristine, while it has issued the Schnabel/Sargent recordings of the Concertos Nos. 1, 2, and 5 is yet to issue their 3rd and 4th but I assume that that shoe will eventually drop.
PASC 351 (72:20)
Editorial Audiophile 200g vinyl - part two
Paray Conducts Liszt & Wagner - Mercury in Detroit
Munch Rare RVW8, plus Ravel & d'Indy in Boston
PADA Beethoven's Sonatas: 8, 14 & 23 from Egon Petri
|Audiophile Vinyl Odyssey Part 2
Sure it sounds good, but... This week
I've put together two releases suggested to me (and in part supplied to me) by my good friend Edward Johnson, whose supply of Stokowski material will be providing a very special treat in the new year, and who has regularly raided his extensive LP collection for long-forgotten treats.
Edward is solely responsible for introducing me to the joys of Paul Paray, and in particular the Detroit Symphony recordings he made with Mercury which they have never reissued. We've been working through these for quite some time, and garnered some excellent reviews for the 24 works already released - I hope today's additions will do as well.
The recordings span the years 1953 to 1956, beginning with Liszt's Les Preludes
and then moving into Wagnerian territory with five orchestral pieces drawn from his operas that get us (just) into the world of stereo for the final item, the Prelude from Act 1 of Parsifal
In this year's Awards issue of Gramophone, Rob Cowan wrote: "Paray's greatest virtues were his vitality, his impeccable sense of rhythm, his ability to maximise on a composer's tone palette and his overall stylishness. This isn't the first Pristine Paray reissue - there's also some superb Wagner and Russian fare - and I sincerely hope it won't be the last."
Well the release he referred to wasn't the last, but this one may be, for the time being at least.
Our other release features Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, recorded in stereo both live and in the studio in 1958. The live recording is the only one we know of where Vaughan Williams' 8th Symphony is played and
conducted by non-Britons. Indeed the only other non-British orchestra we can come up with for a recording of this work was the New York Philharmonic in 1959 under Barbirolli.
In his original note to me, Edward Johnson wrote: "There have been no commercial recordings of RVW8 made outside the UK but this 'live' performance by a great American orchestra leaves all the competition standing!" As he's certainly better acquainted with "the competition" than me I'll take his word for it. It's certainly a thrilling performance from the Boston orchestra!
By now you may have guessed that the other half of this release hails from the audiophile vinyl I started writing about last week. I may have a number of gripes with the format and the discs in question, but once stripped of rumble, the odd clicks, a short section of scratch, and any residual pitch wow, by golly do they sound good!
A Gramophone reviewer referred to the sound of the "tap-room piano" - well I've played a few pub pianos in my time and none of them ever sounded as good as this! It's electrifying stuff, brilliantly recorded, and now I've overcome the shortcomings of the vinyl it's sounding absolutely glorious.
Read on for a slightly more technical response to that so-called audiophile 200g vinyl from Classic Records - but before you do, please do download the sample below, possibly the longest we've ever provided.You'll get the first movement of each of the three works - that's just over half an hour of wonderful free music!Brand new "audiophile" vinyl - Part 2
Last week I wrote about my first impressions of the audiophile 200g vinyl discs I used for the second part of this week's Munch release (though deliberately neglecting to mention the content!) The discs came from a company well known amongst present-day vinyl lovers, Classic Records, and promised a lot.
In some respects they did deliver excellent results - take a listen to the transfers and you'll hear superb sound quality, albeit after a considerable amount of remastering and processing. Yes, the underlying sound quality the discs deliver is very good indeed - and yet I find it very hard to warm to the discs themselves. Indeed, they seem suspiciously like a dose of Emperor's New Clothes to me. Let me try and explain why.
Back in 1982, at the tender age of thirteen and a bit, I bought my first twelve-inch single. Increasingly popular through the eighties, these LP-sized discs rotated at 45rpm and usually delivered either extended mixes of pop singles or an extra couple of tracks over the seven inch single version.
I was fascinating by this chunk of black plastic. It delivered four minutes and forty-five seconds of music in higher quality than I was used to hearing, and was one of the very few microgroove records I've ever seen where the grooves were spaced so widely they could easily be discerned by the naked eye.
I still have that record, and this morning I dug it out to compare it with the "audiophile" vinyl - bought 30 years later. Now of course I can't do a direct comparison here; the contents of the two discs are very different, as are the durations, but some things can be measured and compared. It's also worth noting that the older disc had been played dozens of times, the newer one only once. The older disc is a bog-standard pop music issue, with no pretensions to audiophile status, yet in a number of ways it outscores the 200g audiophile disc.
First of all, let's look into the weight issue. The discs are thicker, and thus heavier than most pressings. This is claimed to deliver better sound quality by the manufacturers, who also charge more for it. Elsewhere I'm told it's harder to press accurately and prone to greater quality control issues than lighter discs.
Now I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I read once that early vinyl records were made heavier than necessary simply to give them something of the weighty feel of a 78rpm disc. So I got my digital kitchen weighing scales out yesterday to compare different discs and see where they came in. A random HMV shellac disc weighed 292 grams - roughly half as much again as the stated vinyl audiophile weight. The next heaviest disc I tested was a c.1960 Philips LP, which came in at 203g, so perhaps there is something in the story.
A decade later and RCA were selling Dynaflex discs, one of which I weighed at 97 grams, but a more typical weight into the 80s and 90s was around 130 grams, which I found both on a 1981 EMI LP and a 1992 pop disc. A 1972 pressing for Unicorn Records was lighter than this at 119g, whilst the four discs which made up the 200g Munch release came in between 188g and 197g. Finally, my 1982 12"-single record was the second lightest I tested, at 112g.
So a wide range there - does it make any difference? One of the claims for the Classic Records discs is very low surface noise. To test this I searched for the quietest section of the discs, which I found at the end of the actual content as the record progressed to the run-out grooves. I transferred the records at 24/96 resolution, with identical gain settings, one immediately after the other. Both records came in exactly the same - the audiophile vinyl was no quieter than the 1982 pop disc.
Total signal-to-noise ratio favoured the pop release, which came in at 65.46dB to the Munch's 62.22 dB. By comparison that Unicorn record from 1972 (also mint, unplayed, as was the Munch) rated 59.75dB here. Small differences really, but I would have expected (or at least hoped for) a different winner here.
I looked next at the frequency range. At this point the Unicorn LP was ruled out of contention as it's a transfer of a Furtwängler recording from 1948 which only extends up to a little under 10kHz. By contrast, the percussion in the pop single was registering right up the frequency scale, just as the brass did in the Munch. Both appeared to have content above the 48kHz available to a 24/96 recording - and well above my ability to hear it, or most people's loudspeaker's ability to reproduce it. (It's also possible that the visible traces of high frequencies are caused by resonant distortion - if you can't hear them, how can you possibly tell?)
The Munch sounded very good, and I'm sure it sounds a lot better than the original LP - it certainly should: LP cutting technology of the 1950s really struggled with higher frequencies, which were frequently rolled off a little to prevent burn-out of cutter heads. Here I can see clear indications here that those same frequencies have been boosted - perhaps over and above a realistic level. Something very odd seems to be going on around 18-20kHz (again, above what most people can hear), with some very unusual fluctuations, before settling down higher up the frequency range (where we can't actually hear). So, was it much better than a 1982 mass-produced 112g pop single? On some measures, no, not at all - quite the opposite. But ultimately I can't properly compare them because I'd need to hear the same content from the two different pressing eras, which quite simply don't exist.
Ultimately, I'd still rather go with high quality digital reproduction. It easily outperforms any analogue platform when it comes to signal-to-noise ratio, for which you can also read volume resolution - this is as true of 16-bit as it is of 24-bit recordings: digital can go much, much quieter with a much finer resolution than analogue. It can handle any frequency range you want to throw at it, given the right hardware and file format, and I'm still to be convinced that there's any point in trying to play at frequencies well above those any of us can actually perceive.
There's also the small matter of pitch stability. A 45rpm disc on a high quality turntable should have very low wow-and-flutter, and though it will be measurable (it effectively doesn't exist on digital systems) it shouldn't impact significantly on the recording - unless a record is pressed off-centre, or the centre hole is so big that positioning the record on the turntable becomes a matter of guesswork. Every one of the four Classic Records 200g disc had a centre-hole big enough to allow the disc to be positioned off-centre to a degree which could cause audible wow. That's inexcusable in my book, and something I've almost never come across before. I really shouldn't have to reach for €3790-worth of specialist audio software just to ensure that my transfers were accurately centred and to correct any wow caused by an oversized spindle hole!
The conclusion? I love the sound I've been able to get out of them, but I'm really not about about the shortcomings of the pressings and the measurements taken from the discs. I know I'll be listening to my FLAC remasterings when I want to listen to these recordings, and I'll file the records away to gather dust alongside the rest of my collection. An interesting experiment, certainly, but I don't think it was worth the premium price charged simply for regular replay; all that extra-heavy, single-sided vinyl seems suspiciously like a bit of an "audiophile" gimmick rather than something of real sonic value.
23 November 2012
Paul Paray conducts orchestral music from Liszt and Wagner
Electrifying performances from the Detroit Symphony recorded by Mercury, 1953-56
Recorded 1953-6, stereo & Ambient Stereo
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Andrew Rose
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Web page: PASC 367
"We're very fortunate that, thanks to Mercury's enterprise and superb engineering team, we can enjoy the fruits of Paray's considerable labours with the Detroit Symphony ... Paray's greatest virtues were his vitality, his impeccable sense of rhythm, his ability to maximise on a composer's tone palette and his overall stylishness. This isn't the first Pristine Paray reissue - there's also some superb Wagner and Russian fare - and I sincerely hope it won't be the last"
- Rob Cowan, Gramophone, 2012
This Paray release will be a double-edged sword for Mr. Cowan - more from the maestro, but the last in the present series from Pristine as we conclude our releases of all the Paray Mercury recordings they have neglected to reissue (generally speaking, the mono releases).
This fine set spans the years 1953-56 and gets us just into Paray's stereo era. As always it's superb stuff, and with one exception, deals in material he never re-recorded.
Notes On this recording
This release brings to a conclusion our series covering the recordings of Paul Paray with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra which Mercury Records have chosen not to reissue on CD. They are presented here in order of recording, and span the end of the mono era and the birth of commercial stereo recording.
In each case, with the exception of Wagner's Flying Dutchman Overture, these are Paray's only recordings of these works, and as such are valuable additions to the present day catalogue. All have been remastered using Pristine's 32-bit XR method, and it has been interesting to note how the corrective influence of these technology become less intensive as the recording technology used by Mercury improved considerably between 1953 and 1956.
In one instance we have chosen to use an alternative source to the original Mercury LPs. Wagner's Forest Murmurs occupied the end of an LP side in Mercury's release, and its loud, brassy climax suffered terribly as a result from end-of-side distortion. A later reissue on the Wing label (a Mercury subsidiary) avoids this problem, if slightly at the expense of the top end clarity found elsewhere on the original Mercury pressings.
Overall, however, sound quality is as good as we have come to expect from Mercury. With the final recording in stereo we have opted to present the rest of the programme in Ambient Stereo, which provides a sense of space around the musicians without sacrificing the integrity of the central mono signal.
MP3 Sample Parsifal - Prelude to Act 1
Download purchase links:
Stereo & Ambient Stereo MP3
Stereo & Ambient Stereo 16-bit FLAC
Stereo and Ambient Stereo 24-bit FLAC
CD purchase links and all other information:
PASC 367 - webpage at Pristine Classical
Fabulous and unique recording of Vaughan Williams' 8th Symphony
Plus superb stereo recordings of Ravel and d'Indy, all in new 32-bit Pristine XR remasters
Vaughan Williams Symphony 8
Ravel Piano Concerto in G
d'Indy French Mountain Air Symph
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer piano
Recorded 1958, stereo
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Andrew Rose
Web page: PASC 368
"Munch takes a fresher view of the [d'Indy] score than many latter-day interpreters, and judges to perfection the difficult tempo relationships in the central Assez modéré. Had not Dutoit come up trumps with a recent account of the d'indy that must be one of the finest things he has done in Montreal , this Boston account would be a clear first choice."
- JS, Gramophone, 1995
This remarkable release gives a first issue to perhaps the only entirely non-British recording of Vaughan Williams' Symphony No.8, in an electrifying live concert at Tanglewood broadcast in superb stereo sound - possibly its finest ever recorded performance.
Coupled with this are recordings from the same year of music by d'Indy and Vaughan Williams' (brief) tutor, Ravel, culled from ultra high quality audiophile vinyl for the finest possible sound quality. This is a truly special recording from Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at their very finest.
The restoration and remastering of this release has been particularly fascinating for me. First of all we have what would appear to be the only extant recording of Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 8 in D minor which features neither a British orchestra nor a British conductor. Indeed we can only trace one other recording of the work, made in the late 1950s with Barbirolli conducting the New York Philharmonic, which was not made with a British orchestra. Previously unreleased, Munch and the Boston Symphony make a superb job in this broadcast recording from the Berkshire Festival at Tanglewood - some may even find this the finest recording this symphony has ever had; it's certainly how it was introduced to me.
We opted to couple the Vaughan Williams with the commercial Ravel and d'Indy recording partly because of the links between the two French composers and Vaughan Williams. Seeking advice over orchestration, he was advised early in his career to study with both Frenchmen, and indeed did spend time working under Ravel in 1908, who described Vaughan Williams as the only one of his pupils who didn't write music like his own.
The discs used for these transfers are contemporary audiophile pressings on the Classic Records label, remastered from the original RCA Victor master tapes and pressed onto 200g single-sided vinyl at 45rpm for maximum fidelity. Despite some unexpected technical difficulties experienced with the discs themselves (all easily resolved in the restoration process), the sound quality is indeed superb here. Further impressions of these discs can be found in our newsletters of 16 and 23 November 2012, archived here at the Pristine Classical website.
Review excerpt: d'Indy
Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer in the d'Indy has the handicap of a tap-room piano, but the poise, delicacy and spirit of her playing shine through (her subito and sustained pp from 4'36" in the first movement, is, like much else here, utterly enchanting). Munch takes a fresher view of the score than many latter-day interpreters, and judges to perfection the difficult tempo relationships in the central Assez modéré. Had not Dutoit (with Jean-Yves Thibaudet) come up trumps with a recent account of the d'indy that must be one of the finest things he has done in Montreal (full-price coupled with the Franck Symphony), this Boston account would be a clear first choice.J.S., Gramophone, 1995
MP3 Sample All three first movements!
Download purchase links:
Stereo 16-bit FLAC
Stereo 24-bit FLAC
CD purchase links and all other information:
PASC 368 - webpage at Pristine Classical
|Egon Petri plays Beethoven Sonatas
Streamed MP3s you can also download
Piano Sonata No. 8
Piano Sonata No. 14
Piano Sonata No. 23
Egon Petri piano
Recorded c. 1956 for Westminster LP XWN-18255
Transfers by Dr. John Duffy
Over 500 PADA Exclusives recordings are available for high-quality streamed listening and free 224kbps MP3 download to all subscribers. PADA Exclusives are not available on CD and are additional to our main catalogue.
Subscriptions start from €1 per week for PADA Exclusives only listening and download access. A full subscription to PADA Premium gets you all this plus unlimited streamed listening access to all Pristine Classical recordings for just €10 per month, with a free 1 week introductory trial.