Pristine End of Year Newsletter - 28 December 2012 
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Christmas (CD2)   

Beuron Abbey   



This week: part 2 of the double CD set 


*Compline of Christmas
*Third Christmas Mass



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PACO 066 


Audiophile Audition

26 December 2012

Charles Munch

by Gary Lemco


"Besides two classic French scores restored from RCA, Pristine bequeaths us a fine performance of the Vaughan Williams Eighth Symphony "live" in its Boston premier"

PASC 368

Besides the reissue of two marvelous performances (28 March 1958) that feature Charles Munch (1891-1968) in French repertory from commercial RCA Records, Pristine adds a real find, the live Berkshire Festival performance of the Vaughan Williams 1953 Symphony No. 8 in D Minor from 2 August 1958, its debut in that city, having come to America - after its world premiere by dedicatee Sir John Barbirolli in Manchester 2 May 1956 - by way of Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (5 October 1956). Vaughan Williams allowed this symphony to be numbered; and despite its relative brevity among his symphonic oeuvre, he demonstrates an experimental attitude in regard to scoring and textures. Rather like Sibelius, Vaughan Williams in his old age found a kind of exotic sense of color, here adding glockenspiel, tubular bells, vibraphone, xylophone, and three tuned gongs to enhance the sound of the outer movements.  If the orchestration is lush or extravagant, the use of formal procedures finds a chaste, conservative character behind the colors: the sonata-form, chorale, and variations all old friends of the composer.

Munch finds the opening, a Fantasia subtitled Variazioni senza tema or "seven variations in search of a theme," less a musical parallel to Pirandello than a forceful etude based on two rising fourths. One theme, a variation in A Minor for strings, harp, oboe, and cello, derives from the initial motif but has its own affect. The trumpet work-I assume Roger Voisin-conveys decided force throughout the symphony. The second movement Scherzo alla Marcia, scored only for woodwinds and brass, combines three themes in a Hindemith style, aggressive and stylishly and contrapuntally idiomatic. The third movement is all strings, a Cavatina in E Minor with strong ties to a passion motif we find in Bach: "O Sacred head." Both principal violin and cello share elegiacally in the evolution of the main melodic line. The last movement asks the BSO to engage in its favorite activity: an energetic toccata for orchestra. Joyful, though marked by some minor-mode asides, the music embraces another chorale tune, "O valiant heart" as a source of emotional optimism. Munch and his galvanized forces impart the heroic temper on the bustling intricacies of this movement, a strong analogue for Walton's Partita for Orchestra. The music concludes with a loud, potent coda, rare in Vaughan Williams except for his equally daring Fourth Symphony in F Minor. Broadcast sound is quite good.

Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer (1925-2001) serves up two fine readings of the Gallic side of this restoration: RCA at the time had no contract pianist whose repertory embraced Ravel, whereas CBS had Robert Casadesus, who also played the D'Indy and recorded it twice. Oddly, Casadesus recorded Ravel's Left-Hand Concerto and eschewed the G Major. Schweitzer, by the way, was related to Munch by marriage. She plays exquisitely in the Ravel, a performance that well represents the French School we know from Monique Haas and Vlado Perlemuter. Her jazz riffs prove as commanding as the cantabile phrases she elicits for the suave Adagio assai for piano and English horn.  The last movement Presto hustles with the requisite verve and coordinated vitality we want in terms of pure Ravel dazzle. The interjections from the BSO winds and brass, the irreverent dissonances, along with Schweitzer's febrile keyboard work, make a handsomely debonair mix.

The BSO English horn raises his voice again to lead off D'Indy's popular 1886 Symphony on a French Mountain Air, a hybrid concertante work that takes its cues from the Ardeche region of southern France. Strongly influenced by Franck and Liszt, it utilizes the idea of "transformation of theme" on a richly vocal level, possibly treating the opening material as Wagnerian leitmotif.  At the time of Schweitzer's collaboration with Munch, her rivals on American records were Casadesus and Ciccolini. Her approach is studied, lean, and polished without undue bravura. Once trumpet Voisin makes his appearance felt in the first movement, the Roman pageant implicit in the piece explodes, and the sensuous wash of the BSO flows effortlessly over the keyboard. The latter two movements by way of Schweitzer remind us of the debt D'Indy owes Cesar Franck, who once told him, "You are very gifted, but you don't do anything." Perhaps this symphony with piano obbligato pays homage to Franck's own Variations symphoniques which had appeared only a year prior, in 1885. [These are all early genuine stereo, and the two Ravel works are taken from remastered 45 rpm Classic Records vinyl, so the fidelity should be exceptional, along with any ticks, pops and possible off-center pressings totally corrected...Ed.]



PASC 368  (76:25)  


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Editorial     We're going 24/96 next week: win a copy!
Sullivan      The Mikado - Lytton et al in 1926
PADA           Busoni, played by Egon Petri and Carlo Bussoli

Farewell to 2012 - and something new for 2013

Win a copy of our first 96kHz 24-bit release     

Mark Obert-Thorn has really come up with the goods this week, with the D'Oyly Carte 1926 production of The Mikado in a truly superb new transfer from fantastically clean sources.

It's a classic recording - one of the greatest Gilbert and Sullivan casts ever assembled, according to those in the know: "it is doubtful that any better cast than this was assembled in the twentieth century", says the Gilbert and Sullivan Discography website.

It's a recording long close to Mark's heart:

"This is a project that I've been wanting to do for two decades.  It was on my original "to-do" list for Romophone in 1994, but didn't get done before the label ceased operations several years later.  I started doing it for Pristine last December, but had to abandon it partway through because it was proving to be so difficult that I couldn't get it done in time for the deadline.  Finally, I figured on the way to do it most efficiently, and just got it done just in time, on Christmas Eve..."

Further tweaking to stabilise the pitch took place the morning after Christmas Day here at my own studio, so this really has taken us to the wire to deliver it to you today!

Just one thing to note though: the full duration of the recording runs to 82 minutes - just too long for a single CD, so I'm afraid it comes in at double-CD. However downloaders can purchase the recording at the same price as a single CD-length release - an incentive if ever there was one to brush up on your downloading skills if they're a little rusty...

And if you need further inspiration to join the downloading majority:

Win a copy of our first ever 24/96 release, due out next week!

Next week we see the first Pristine release from the year 1962, a live concert recording of which we've acquired incredibly well-made stereo open-reel quarter-inch tapes.

Indeed the sound was so good that I decided to break with our tradition of CD-standard 44.1kHz sampling rates and go the whole ultra-high-resolution hog and make the transfers at 96kHz, 24-bits, and it's this which we'll be releasing next week - this gives more than double the usual frequency range, up from around 22kHz to 48kHz (I'm sure your pet bat will appreciate this!).

Naturally there'll be regular CD-quality FLAC and MP3 releases, as well as a regular CD (and this one does, just, squeeze onto a single disc), but if you want to find out whether your digital replay system is ready for 2013 right now there's no need to wait - if you can download and listen to the sample here, you could win a full 24/96 FLAC copy of the album when it comes out next week.

The Questions: There is of course a very good reason why I'm stating nothing about who or what is on the recording. The music I'm sure you'll recognise, but even so you'll need to tell me (1) the composer, (2) the piece, (3) the orchestra and (4) the conductor. The only clue I'll give is that it's was given a stereo radio broadcast in 1962 (I'm not sure if this was actually live or rebroadcast after the concert just yet) - it's the broadcast tapes we have here.

I'll give away up to five copies of this - but you'll get extra marks if you can put (5) a date to the concert. Thereafter, all entries with the first four answers correct will be put into the famous Pristine hat next Friday morning and download links to 24/96 copies e-mailed out the same day. The deadline is 7am Central European Time on Friday January 4, 2013 (that's 1am EST), and entries must be sent by e-mail to this address with the heading 2013 Competition.

Winners will be notified by e-mail at the address used to enter. All the usual conditions apply - one entry per person, no cash alternative, judge's decision final etc. And really, this is just supposed to be for fun!

Good luck, and thank you for all your support in 2012 - have a great New Year and I look forward to seeing you here next Friday with all the answers!


Andrew Rose
28 December 2012 

 The 1926 D'Oyly Carte production of The Mikado - Superb new Obert-Thorn transfer 

"the whole performance is extraordinarily good and sparkling" - The Gramophone, 1927

"it is doubtful that any better cast than this was assembled in the twentieth century" - The G&S Discography      



PACO 087

The Mikado  

Recorded 1926             

Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: 

Mark Obert-Thorn        



The Mikado of Japan: Darrell Fancourt
Nanki-Poo, his son (disguised): Derek Oldham
Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner: Sir Henry A. Lytton
Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else: Leo Sheffield
Pish-Tush, a Noble Lord: George Baker
Go-To, a Noble Lord: T. Penry Hughes
Yum-Yum, ward of Ko-Ko: Elsie Griffin
Pitti-Sing, schoolfriend (shared role): Aileen Davies, Doris Hemingway, Beatrice Elburn
Peep-Bo, another schoolfriend: Beatrice Elburn
Katisha, a Lady of the Mikado's court: Bertha Lewis 

Light Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Harry Norris conductor


Web page: PACO 087  


Short Notes  

"The year 1927 was the height of the so-called "golden age" of G&S singing, and it is doubtful that any better cast than this was assembled in the twentieth century. Lytton, Lewis, Fancourt, Oldham and Griffin are all justifiably rated as G&S legends. The one non-D'Oyly Carte singer among the bunch is George Baker, who was included in nearly all the G&S sets of the period because of his excellent diction, even though he never sang with the Company." 
- The Gilbert & Sullivan Discography

Here's a real treat from Mark Obert-Thorn - in a project he's been planning for two decades, the first ever complete opera recording of the "electric" era: the superlative 1926 recording of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado.

The cast as indeed stellar, and Mark has excelled himself in these fabulously detailed, superb transfers. Treat yourself to some truly classic Gilbert & Sullivan!




N.B. The total duration of this recording, at 82 minutes, requires we supply a double-CD set, as it is 2 minutes too long for a single disc. We therefore strongly recommend the download versions of this release, which are priced as a standard single-disc album release.





Notes On this recording   


The 1926 D'Oyly Carte production of The Mikado boasted several "firsts". It was the first to use new costumes and scenery since the original production of 1885, and the first to broadcast a portion of the opening night performance on the radio, live from the theater. It would also become not merely the first Gilbert and Sullivan work, but the first opera of any kind to be recorded complete using the new electrical process.

As might be expected with such an early effort, the recording quality is variable. Some portions have much clarity and presence, while other sides sound dim and muffled. There are balance problems between singers and orchestra, and sometimes between one singer and another. The sides dating from the December 6th session are particularly problematic - bass-deficient, shrill and distorted.

Nevertheless, the set is significant in that it preserves the performances of several unforgettable Savoyards. As the Gilbert and Sullivan Discography website puts it, this was "the height of the so-called 'golden age' of G&S singing, and it is doubtful that any better cast than this was assembled in the twentieth century. Lytton, Lewis, Fancourt, Oldham and Griffin are all justifiably rated as G&S legends." Chief among the attractions here is the Ko-Ko of Sir Henry A. Lytton, heir to the "patter" roles originated by George Grossmith and continued by Walter Passmore, who would himself turn them over to Martyn Green in the 1930s. (The recording also, unfortunately, preserves a racial slur in Ko-Ko's "little list" and the Mikado's litany of punishments, one which was not removed from the performing editions until 1948.)

The transfer has been made from the best portions of three late-Orthophonic U.S. Victor pressings, the quietest form of issue I have heard for this basically rather noisy set. Save for excerpts, it has never received an "official" LP or CD reissue by EMI.   


Mark Obert-Thorn     



Review HMV 78s    

In the old set (H.M.V., D.2-D.12 [rec. 1917]) the overture, especially the second half, was the pick of the whole bunch, and Radford the pick of the artists. The tenor and soprano both seem a little flat in their top notes, and the tenor further lacks the sense of the opera which Oldham has. The second verse of Pish-Tush's song Our great Mikado was cut, and I am glad to find it restored in the new set, and there were a few minor ones as well.

The new set has every advantage, not only improved recording, but also the actual singers that we know in the theatre, available to no other recording company. There are, however, some small faults. Oldham in A Wandering Minstrel I is excellent and sympathetic, but uses falsetto at the end which should be unnecessary for so good a singer. Sheffield and Fancourt are neither of them vocally so good as Radford, but are first-rate nevertheless. Fancourt in the Mikado's song "fair gives one the creeps," even though he cannot make such an excruciating "gulch" as Leicester Tunks used to do. Ko-ko is bound to lose most through being invisible, and Lytton seems to feel this. At any rate, he is inclined to be mechanical, delightful though he always is, even at a discount. As for the women, whereas Violet Essex sings The Sun whose rays with dramatic effect but flat, Elsie Griffin sings it blamelessly but with-no dramatic effect at all. Bertha Lewis is first-rate, as one feels sure before coming to her. Three little maids is capitally sung and the Madrigal is heavenly, especially the piano, but the whole performance is extraordinarily good and sparkling, one good thing after another, in fact - with one serious blemish, the overbearing orchestra already referred to. There are certain variations from the original score, but in accordance with invariable stage practice; for instance, So please you, Sir as originally written. included Pish-Tush as well as Pooh-Bah and the three Little Maids. In the finale a few bits of accompaniment are cut out to save time, but every word of the libretto is there apart from the dialogue.        

Excerpt from "Savoy Opera Records" by N. M. Cameron,
The Gramophone - June 1927




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PACO 087 - webpage at Pristine Classical     

Egon Petri plays Busoni

Egon Petri
Egon Petri
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Fantasia Contrappuntistica 
1922 Version for Four Hands

Egon Petri 
Carlo Bussoli   piano

Recorded 1959

Transfers by Dr. John Duffy

Pitch stabilisation by Andrew Rose 



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