Table of Contents

 

Miscellaneous Ramblings by W.D. or Ron Penndorf

 

Monaural: the Musical Format by Ron Penndorf

 

 

 

 

 

Miscellaneous Ramblings

by WD or Ron Penndorf

 

And as I've already written, I recently heard Joanna Blendulf and JungHae Kim's CD of Johann Sebalt Triemer's 'Cello Sonatas. I believe this private production to be a major effort the equal of Harmonia Mundi. I will soon write a full review, but for the moment offer a paraphrase from Dick Clark's American Bandstand. When the kids really liked a 45 they blurted out, often self consciously, "Great tunes and I can dance to it. Give it a ten!" For a more studied reaction, as well as some history, down-load and read the SFEMS October 2003 Newsletter PDF. Should you want to order a copy of their Triemer CD now, go to Ms. Kim's website, ici.

I listened to this CD yesterday afternoon to relax after my work week and came to understand that one of the reasons it is so completely musical is that it was not only performed by, but was also produced and recorded by, musicians.

Soon you will be able to sample an MP3 of this CD at Magnatune.com Check it out!

And my neighborhood songbirds have discovered Ms. Blendulf and Ms. Kim's CD. My, what refined taste.

 

During the weeks of June 30 to July 14 JungHae Kim will be performing, teaching and coaching at the Assisi Summer Festival in Italy. Ms. Kim will be playing works of Handel, Rebel, Vivaldi, Marini, Sweelinck, Byrd and others.

Joanna Blendulf will be playing at the Carmel Bach Festival, from July 17 thru August 7.

Ms. Blendulf plays cello on Gonzalo X Ruiz' offering of oboe oriented baroque chamber music. Check it out at Magnatune.com

Ms. Blendulf is also playing with Baroque violinist, Jeanne Johnson, and harpichordist, Yuko Tanaka in performances of Baroque violin music at Magnatune.com

 

 

Writing about records in this strange half-lit time seems to bring a feeling of unreality, of wandering in a world where points of reference no longer present themselves, but must be reinvented or rediscovered. An uneasy sense of having slipped over the edge into a mire of nostalgia, into a boggy, weepy place where everything seems gone past, comes over me all too often. Solid ground is a rare thing in this world, and one is unsure of every step. Records are illusion, after all, and the distinction between the illusory and the fake is illusive, to say the least.

Many of us recognized long ago that the early dubbings of 78 RPM material to LP often presented us with a shocking dose of true music even in the company of the best recordings of the LP era. This was in part a matter of authenticity. What was coming through was, simply, the real thing, with few layers of intervention and manipulation between us and what the artists in fact did in the fortunate presence of the machine. We caught a glimpse through these dubbings of a performing reality that was, by this time, well beyond memories of our own experience with artists in concert halls or clubs, and we were willing to accept that the somewhat diminished scale, the relative smallness of image, the lack of depth and breadth were a small price to pay for the musical richness which still reached us from the records of Schnabel, Casals and Ellington.

Few of us considered that a spin of the originals at their mad old vertiginous speed could bring us something better.

Now I must tell you that, contrary to our expectations, the old speed is the best speed. And it is not just a marginal phenomenon, a slight gain in one dimension or another. It is quantum.

Of course this seems like madness, a relapse into antiquarian mania. Who can seriously contemplate hefting all those pounds of shellac, listening through all that noise, the very noise that the best minds of the LP era ingeniously removed or reduced when they made their loving and respectful dubs. All I can say is, do it, my friend, and you will be rewarded.

Look at it this way. Consider that, perhaps listening to 78s through a musical system might just be the most truly esoteric pleasure available to the committed disqophile. And it is probably the least describable of all the indescribable pleasures we persist in trying to describe. You really have to do this one alone. Some say that if you pray enough, prostrate yourself enough, count beads enough, contemplate the words of whatever prophet enough, sleep on beds of nails, humble yourself, flay yourself, maybe, just maybe, the god or goddess will come down and appear to you in all his/her glory. Playing 78s is a bit like this. The burden of trouble and the pains that must be taken are almost too much to bear. But the miraculous appearance of the music, full-sized, three dimensional, transparent, will make the burden light and the noise sweet. W.D.

 

 



Great beauty sometimes resides in the familiar, as everyone knows, and even more so in the long forgotten, in things once-loved but now displaced. We have the habit of dismissal, the tendency to sweep away the old and familiar when distracted by the new, only to find ourselves taken as if for the first time when the tides bring these things back to us as flotsam, now to be re-seen, re-read, re-heard with the bemused kind of attention we pay when wondering what all the fuss was about.

Looking at reproductions of daguerreotypes in books, the way we usually see them and come to be familiar with them, we typically lose interest in the frozen faces and attitudes once we realize that the technical circumstances enforced an unnatural discipline upon the moment of the pictures' creation, the slow exposure requiring a long-held stillness of the subjects when animate, landscape and cityscape beyond the reach of the medium, for the reason that the light tended not to cooperate in the charade as readily as did people.

But when we see the real things, perhaps encountered by chance in a museum, we often sense another dimension, the silvery ground setting off the lightly-etched lines with a kind of rich austerity, the passing illusion of depth and even movement coming over the still images as if from the hand of a ghostly puppeteer, the long-gone light still quivering in the eye.

Some old records can be this way. The sounds of Jazz recorded long ago on 78s, for example, dismissed finally as great playing imperfectly reproduced, forced by the early technology into bottles too small to hold all the bass and treble, forced by the short sides to be only so long, sometimes come back to us, perhaps in early dubs to LP, with an immediacy and warmth we had forgotten or never noticed, indeed with qualities we had come to miss in the more accommodating products of our own time.

In Classical music too, the sound of Schnabel's piano or Lehmann's voice can come to us with a weight and a purity that seem to carry forward the artists' intentions with full authority and coherence. Listening again, we often sense an unmediated directness in these recordings long gone from our own modern things, a feeling of still-intact reality that transcends noise levels and limitations of frequency response.

Maybe it is only the increased distance from our time that makes these old sounds seem all the more striking and miraculous. Or maybe it is just that the sounds that ended up in the grooves were the right ones, the best ones, so that what we hear is the better for being distilled, and seems to improve with age. W.D.

 

 

 

 

By now it is a commonplace to observe that recorded music, with us now for more than a century, is one of the great glories of technology. We often read accounts of the history of the medium that tell us of the march of progress from relatively crude and clumsy machines through increasingly sensitive electrical devices right up to the present-day triumphs of digitization and miniaturization. We have digested all the revelations of the sophisticated trickery that has been the stock in trade of the recording engineer and editor at least since the appearance of the tape recorder, now made more flexible, seamless and transparent than ever through the power of software. We are fully aware of the modern manner of recording music in which no performance takes place, at least not in any sense that we can relate to real-life experience.

For some, all this knowledge perhaps has led to a generalized indifference, an acceptance of whatever comes along in the belief that progress is good, inevitable and usually an improvement over what went before. For others, resistance is a way of life, and all of the improvements the marketplace presents bring forth wary suspicions and a near tragic feeling of nostalgia for what has been lost. Without taking sides, I think it is fair to point out that for music lovers, it is possible both to accept and enjoy digitized sound for the sake of receiving new performances and new music by contemporary musicians, and to continue, as connoisseurs, to value and seek out examples of the great recordings of the past in their original form.

To some extent, the division has already been bridged over by the marketplace: we now have seen numerous successful sales campaigns built around digital reissues of recordings from the Golden Age of the fifties and early sixties, while young entrepreneurs are, on the other hand, producing and marketing new analogue recordings on 180 gram vinyl. Somewhere in between fall the fully hybridized stunners like the 1997 reissue of the legendary late- fifties Kind of Blue, remastered for CD through tubes! I believe there is a term out there that reads something like "appropriate technology." If not, then let us coin it.

Maybe it is time to just be thankful for what we have. No one doubts that we now have more music available on records and CDs than ever before, and this is cause for some wonderment, given the oft-bemoaned state of the music business. Nor can there be any doubt that our playback systems are better than ever, in spite of (or possibly thanks to) the posturings and pronouncements of the numberless Pooh-Bahs and Grand Inquisitors of audio. Even fairly everyday CD players have matured to the point where the most committed vinyl devotee can accept their sound quality as musical, and that is to say a lot.

Looking back over the last century from our privileged position, we can ask new questions about recorded music. How is it, for example, that the most desirable of the collectibles, however they may present themselves, in the original, reissued, analogue or digital, seem against all logic and common sense to be exactly those early studio productions which ought to be the most impossibly canned, formaldehyded ones imaginable? The Chicago Symphony conducted by Reiner, comes to mind, with scared-rabbit musicians playing under the cold eye of the notoriously nasty, dictatorial perfectionist. Are these examples of craft transcending itself and becoming art? Is this the craft of composition, and the craft of playing instruments, and the craft of recording all being raised a notch all around, with the record emerging as a kind of subsidiary art form, handmaiden, as they used to say, to music?

Well, here's the twenty-first century, with everything new and renewed, music composed and recorded for the home-theater medium, digital remasterings through tubes of great old records, previously suppressed tapes of Tilson Thomas conducting contemporary Chinese classical music, and best of all, a recording of the long-lost radio opera by Glenn Gould, based on the private life of J. S. Bach. W.D.

 

 

 

 

In the early 1940s, RCA's Red Seal division recorded the San Francisco Symphony under Pierre Monteux at the War Memorial Opera House. Of these sessions the producer Charles O'Connell writes, "As for the technical difficulties and the absence of portable recording equipment it was decided that we would record simultaneously in two ways-first, over an equalized telephone circuit between the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco and our studios in Hollywood, four hundred miles away, where the actual cutting discs would be done. This special telephone line was already in existence, and was often used by the National Broadcasting Company. . . . Then, as a safety measure, we arranged to record simultaneously on sound film, bringing a sound truck from Hollywood and driving it directly onto the stage of the War Memorial Opera House. I considered this precaution necessary because of the possibilities of interruption to the telephone circuit which, however momentary they might be, would utterly ruin any recording. . . . to my surprise and pleasure I found that the film recording, when transferred to disc, was distinctly superior to the direct recording made via telephone line. The first recordings of the San Francisco Orchestra, therefore (César Franck's Symphony, D'Indy's Symphony on a French Mountain Air, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, and several other works), were the first symphonic recordings issued by Victor that were primarily made on sound-film and later transferred to disc records."

So it seems that some twenty years before Mercury recorded magnetically on 35mm film, the RCA Red Seal division used this medium and that forty years before the introduction of laser retrieval from CD, RCA used optical coding for its 35mm film recording. I've heard some of the 78 RPM sets of Pierre Monteux and the San Francisco Symphony that were recorded in this way, and the sound is very, very good. RCA also seems to have had a mobile recording unit long before Mercury-albeit a rented one.

Charles O'Connell's remarks can be found in his slim volume "The Other Side of the Record"- originally published by Knopf in 1947. Ron Penndorf

 

 

 

Lüchow's German restaurant, on 14th St. in New York City was, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a gathering place for musicians, artists, writers and not a few business men and politicians. They gathered for a little good food, good talk and companionship. Here the likes of Rachmaninoff, O. Henry, Helen Traubel, Toscanini, Mack Sennett, Lillian Gish, Theodore Roosevelt and others exchanged ideas, socialized and ate. William Steinway and his senior staff were regulars at the noon lunch. Gus Kahn wrote "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" there, on a table cloth, in 1912. There, in 1914, Victor Herbert and some friends founded "The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers," and J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie held dinners at Lüchow's that made culinary history. Fritz Kreisler and his wife dined regularly at Lüchow's and among their favorite desserts were German pancakes. Here's the recipe:

 

LÜCHOW'S GERMAN PANCAKE
PFANNKUCHEN

6 eggs
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pint milk

1/2 pound butter
Powdered cinnamon in shaker
Sugar in shaker
Juice 1 lemon
Preisselbeeren, huckleberry jam, cooked apples or chocolate sauce
Jamaica rum, kirschwasser (optional)

Beat eggs lightly; beat in flour, salt, and sugar, then milk. Beat five minutes in all. The batter should be thin and smooth. Melt enough butter in a wide frying pan to coat bottom and sides. When hot, pour in 4 to 5 tablespoons batter. Turn and slant pan to make batter spread to form large, thin, flat pancake. Cook until batter bubbles: turn, bake other side.
Slip onto hot plate. Makes 4 to 6 pancakes.

 

Walter Damrosch was one of the early conductors of the New York Philharmonic as well as a conductor of the Metropolitan Opera.
He ate regularly at Lüchow's and a favorite dish of his was:

 

LÜCHOW'S
BEEF STEAK TARTAR
2 pounds fillet of beef
4 slices freshly buttered toast
4 fresh raw eggs
8 sardellen
2 tablespoons capers

Remove all fat from beef. Grind meat fine. Arrange on toast; serve raw egg on top of each slice. Garnish with sardellen and capers. Serves 4.

 

Dr. Damrosch enjoyed the German red wine Assmanshauser with his Beef Tartar.
The recipe is from Lüchow's German Cookbook, Jan Mitchell (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1958).

 

 

A favorite record of mine for years has been Offenbach's Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman, played by Sigmund Romberg and His Orchestra (RCA Victor Red Seal 11-9222, 78RPM). This 1930s' recording contains some of the most natural 'cello section sound I know. It also presents great orchestral detail. Of course it is difficult to find a record of this vintage in excellent condition and in order to hear 78s' natural and realistic sound, it is particularly important for them to be in really fine condition.

Sigmund Romberg is better known as the composer of the light operas Desert Song and The Student Prince than as a conductor. He was also a regular at Lüchow's German Restaurant. Here is the recipe for his favorite dinner:

 

VENISON RAGOUT A LA LUCHOW'S

REH RAGOUT

4 or 5 pounds venison shoulder
Vinegar and red wine to cover
2 onions, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
6 pepper corns
1 tablespoon salt
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons beef suet or lard
1 cup red wine
2 or 3 tablespoons flour

Wipe venison with wet cloth. Cut in 1 1/2 in. cubes. Place in enameled kettle or large crock; cover with a mixture of equal amounts of red wine and vinegar. Add onions, carrots, peppercorns, salt and bay leaves. Cover and let stand in refrigerator 1 week.
When ready to cook, drain meat. Melt suet or lard in very hot heavy roasting pan. Place venison in pan and brown quickly in very hot oven (475F to 500F) 20 to 30 minutes. Add onions and carrots from the marinade (do not use marinade liquid). Add 1 cup red wine and sufficient water to cover venison. Lower oven heat to moderate (350F), or just hot enough to simmer liquid in pan. Cook 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove any excess fat.
Place venison on hot serving dish. Stir enough flour into pan to make a smooth gravy; bring to a boil on top of range, stir, then strain over venison. Serves 8.

Mr. Romberg liked Würzburger beer with his venison. The recipe is from Lüchow's German Cookbook, Jan Mitchell (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1958).

 

W.D COOKS AS WELL AS HE WRITES AND HERE IS HIS FAVORITE RECIPE

Put

1/3 of a cup of extra virgin olive oil,
5 chopped cloves of garlic,
2 cups of drained and chopped canned
San Marzano Tomatoes, and
1/2 a pound chopped fresh spinach

in a large saute pan
over medium heat for 15 minutes,

add

a dash of salt and a twist of pepper

and toss with

1 pound of al dente Spaghettini or Capellini

finish with

2 or 3 torn leaves of basil and maybe Parmesan

 

This recipe should serve three or four people, and W.D. suggests Respighi's Gli Uccelli might be appropriate music during dinner.

 

 

 

In the early '50s the RCA Victor Red Seal Division released many of its recordings on 45 RPM EP sets as well as on 33 1/3 RPM LPs. The 45 EP sets can still be found and make revealing comparisons with their 33 1/3 LP counterparts. The RCA Classical 45s' are well detailed with a upper-end emphasis . . . OR . . . They are busy, thin, and lack bass. AND if you don't have a changer, they are a lot of work to play. AND, even if you do have a changer, a mind raised on LPs [like mine] has difficulty establishing continuity in longer works.

BUT, they're cute.

The 45' LPs that I remember most fondly and respectfully are the original Connoisseur Society releases of Indian classical music. On these disqs, Ali Akbar Khan's passionate playing was rendered with startling detail and explosive dynamics. Compared to 33 1/3 LPs they offered almost painful clarity. Still, even their fine sound could not overcome their relative inconvenience and smaller storage capacity, and they were soon remastered at 33 1/3 . [They were also graced with stunning album covers.]

Some years ago it became apparent to me that tube-produced records and transistor-produced records were very different-a result as much of differing production values as of differing technologies. I then decided that to better understand and appreciate these differences I would play tube-produced records with a tube based system and transistor-produced records with a transistor based system-so reinforcing the unique qualities of each kind of production. I've since done this, almost without exception, and have been happy with my listening. For similar reasons I play CDs with a Sony Discman through mid-ear phones-I find this a satisfying cyber experience. And, with Discman replay I do not confuse the CD experience with the Edwardian beauty of playing and hearing records in a listening room.

 

 

An Alternate RCA Victor Universe

In the past years I've greatly enjoyed these less-known RCA releases:
VICS-1333-Rameau's Dardanus Suite, Collegium Aureum;
VICS-1370-D'Anglebert and Couperin, Gustav Leonhardt;
VICS-1412-Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Suites, Munch and the Boston Symphony;
VICS-1435-Gluck's Orfeo and Euridice Suite, Monteux and the Rome Opera Orchestra;
VICS-1495-The Sound of the Mozart Piano, Jörg Demus;
LSC-3088-Haydn's Symphony No. 60 and Cherubini's Symphony in D, Brusilow and the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra;
LSC 3089-Francaix, Ibert and Ravel, Brusilow and the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra;
LSC-3180-Penderecki's Utrenja, Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra;
LSP-3929-John Handy's New Orleans and the Blues;
LSP-4666-Buddy Rich in London;
ARL1-1249-Charles Ives' Holidays Symphony, Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra;
CRL1-1921-Holst's The Planets, Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
(I find the "care free'"orchestra of VICS-1435 refreshing and VICS-1495 is at times a very funny record.)

 

 


Soria-Strauss-Don Quixote-Reiner-Janigro: A Study


I have in front of me two copies of this release.

The first is LS 2384 [c1960]: K2 RP2406 1S B1 I / K2 RP2407-1S A1 I.
The K letter indicates that the mastering was done in 1959. The 2 indicates an RCA Victor recording.
The R indicates the Red Sea Label or classical music.
The P indicates a 331/3 RPM monaural groove and 12" diameter record.
It is the first mastering sequence-1S and the second mother/first stamper B1 and the first mother/first stamper A1.
The disq was manufactured in Indianapolis.
The label is No. 5b from my "RCA Victor Labelography." A monaural variation of the "Shaded Dog" label.
The inner-sleeve is a poly-in-paper one specially designed for the Soria Series.
The box is a fabric slip-cover with a tipped-in print of Don Quixote. The slip-in box, which contains the record and booklet, has STRAUSS REINER DON QUIXOTE printed in gold running vertically on the spine. LS 2384 is printed horizontally at the spine bottom.
The booklet was printed by Skira, Lausanne and has LS/LSS 2384 printed in the lower right-hand corner of the booklet back.
IMPORTANTLY also printed, centered on the booklet cover back, is OF THIS FIRST EDITION-COMPLETED FEBRUARY 1st 1960-A LIMITED EDITION OF 200 COPIES
WAS PRINTED.

The second is LD 2384 [c1960]: K2 RP2406-1S C2 I / K2 RP2407-1S C2 I.
The information is the same except the disq is of the third mother/second stamper on both sides-C2.
The label is the same.
The inner sleeve is the same.
The box slip-cover is the same but has LD 2384 printed horizontally at the spine bottom.
The booklet has LD/LDS 2384 printed in the lower right-hand corner of the booklet back and [OF THIS FIRST EDITION-COMPLETED FEBRUARY 1st 1960-A LIMITED EDITION OF 200 COPIES WAS PRINTED] is OMITTED.

 

A favorite sometimes-audio magazine of mine is ROAD & TRACK.
In a long-past issue they did an article analyzing different automobile exhaust notes-quite an extensive effort with graphs and charts. In a road test, they wrote that the interior of a Ferrari was so sumptuous it made them want to play a Brahms Violin Sonata.

 

 

 

 

Imagination as Component

Over and over again, when a record of a certain age falls into our hands, we succumb to the old record collector's great hope: that these grooves will inspire our phonographs to perform prodigies of impersonation so convincing that we will be transported in spite of our doubting selves to the place deep within where music is apprehended. We know it's only a child's game, a trick of the imagination, that allows us to believe that real music will happen before us if only all these little boxes do the best they can. We know these sounds are only reconstituted from traces left behind after some real, or quasi-real, event took place before an earlier array of boxes, themselves only imperfectly able to receive, retain and pass on these traces.

And yet, and yet . . . as we listen again to records we now have before us, representative artifacts of an arguably dead technology, now irreplaceable, no longer technojunk existing only to be superseded, but precious survivors, we are forcibly struck with the realization that these things surely are among the most powerful means we have for connecting with past reality. The necessity for imagination as a component in the system ought not to put us off. No medium is completely transparent after all, and if imagination is required in order to pierce what veils there are, so be it.

Photography again provides a parallel. Indeed, it can seem that cameras do this connecting better, requiring perhaps a lesser input of imagination to get us through to the indispensable point of belief, quite as if we were naturally more inclined to believe our eyes than to believe our ears. And still cameras may be said to do this better than moving picture ones, probably because the fundamental proposition is simpler: there was light and it made this image. With the moving picture, achieving the added dimension of movement requires a mechanical intrusion, an injection of illusion now one more step removed from the immediately apprehendable facts of light and vision. We should not forget that moving pictures are really just a string of still pictures seen one after another. Indeed the connection of the artifact with its originating event often seems stronger with still images, (one thinks of Capa and Cartier-Bresson), the visual image summoning the sounds and odors of the event more surely than most silent film sequences do, save the most artful. And, as with Eisenstein, the most artful sequences are precisely the ones most clearly seen as strings of still images.

It would appear that a kind of simplicity principle governs our responses to those media which claim the power to save and hold for us bundles of stimuli for later re-presentation. I would submit that, in my experience of LP records, it is the simplest ones that command my senses most unerringly: a voice and a piano, a violin alone, a quartet of strings. And of these, it is the monaural ones that seem to bring back the event most directly and with the least trace of mediation, illusion and manipulation, the messages still intact. W.D.

 

 

 

 

Some Archive Observations

The Archive disqs that I particularly value were manufactured in Germany in the late '50s and early '60s and have IN THE US market: four digit record numbers in mono beginning with 3 and five digit record numbers in stereo beginning with 7; simple European-manufacture manila covers with mostly blue printing and no photos front or back; a white paper/poly bag inner sleeve; a silver label with blue printing except for the specific record information which is in black [often including the recording date]; an-often grey-card stock insert with almost too much information including the recording date; and a disq similar in weight to US Londons of that period. Some, the earliest, have small white inspection stickers glued to the album front and inspection tag inserts. In the mid-sixties the record numbers were changed to five digits in mono beginning with 14 and six digits in stereo beginning with 198. And Archive became Archiv. Ron Penndorf

 

 

 

 

 

Some Stokowski Notes

Stoki's L'Histoire [Vanguard VSD 71165 and 71166 (c1967)] was released with no little promotion as a "true advancement" in recorded sound. The choice of Stokowski as conductor was savvy as he had already been associated with "improvements" in recording and it was probably felt his name would effectively advertise this first Dolby release.
His involvement with Dolby sound, however, pales when compared to his work on Disney's Fantasia in the late '30s. For the film, Stokowski recorded the entire Philadelphia Orchestra at the Music Academy in Philadelphia. But he recorded the orchestra sections separately-nine recordings were made optically on film. He then mixed them down with film studio equipment to four channels. As the movie soundtrack these four tracks were played back, in special theater installations around the country, through three speakers behind in the screen [left, center, right] and sixty-five speakers around the theater. This phenomena was called Fantasound. Although the soundtrack was not Hi-fi in the '50s sense, the sound is said to have swirled around the theater, effectively enhancing the screen action. There is a Fantasia Soundtrack three LP release produced from a four-track magnetic tape master [Buena Vista SE-101 (c1957)].
It is important as an historic document.
More information about the film can be found in
Walt Disney's Fantasia by John Culhane.
Stokowski was also instrumental, in the '20s and '30s, in the adoption of the "new" orchestra seating arrangement-said to result in a "better" Philadelphia Orchestra sound. Ron Penndorf

 

 

 

 

What Makes an Old Record Valuable

I wrote this about twenty years ago but I think it still applies-though I now believe it is just a starting point.

"Many things determine an old record's price. Important in setting the value of a record is how many of it were made and how sought after it is. Early classical Lps were issued in small quantity compared to the many later released, or the great number in which popular records were made, and consequently these early Lps command high prices. This is also true of early stereo records which were released in small quantities compared to the mono equivalent. Some records of course are scarce because they had short lives, that is they were deleted soon after they were released. Similarly, a label design that did not last long might add to the price of a recording, as well might an original cover design that changed shortly after the records introduction. Finally, some records are deliberately released in small 'limited editions,' and generally these are worth more.

A record might be desirable for the quality of performance, the fame of the recording artist,its album cover and more. A striking cover can often give an album a special appeal and records by famous artists are very much wanted. Also, the tragic or untimely death of an artist seems to add to a record's value. MOST IMPORTANT, 'the special performance' is always sought after. A recording of a little known work might be appealing and a particular style of recorded sound may also increase a disq's worth.

All else equal, the first issue of any record is the most valuable. The time of its issue is a fact when much else about it, if not all, is opinion. That a subsequent issue has 'better sound' is a very subjective judgment, as is the assumption that a later issue might have a 'more attractive' cover.

A special kind of first issue, the Promotional Copy, is not only more valuable but also might be a truer pressing as it is among the first off the stampers. Simply, that the edition is first is in and of itself important.

Condition is a MOST IMPORTANT factor in establishing the price of an old record. It may be more so with records than with many other collectibles, for with every listening a record's good condition lessens. It wears out with playing. Naturally, the better the condition the higher the price. A 'near mint' record brings a higher price than an average disq and a mint record brings a SUBSTANTIALLY higher price than a 'near mint' grade. Truly mint copies are rare and in fact, a mint copy of a 30-35 year old record may no longer exist.

Just as the presence of the dust jacket on a fine old book increases its value, the presence of an original inner sleeve increase the old record's value. Original inner sleeves were often thrown out or wore out, and many times were replaced by custom sleeves that 'better' protected the record. In fact many replacement sleeves did just the opposite and increased the record's deterioration by chemical reaction with the vinyl.

Also the better condition of the outer jacket the more valuable the recording. Covers wear easily with use and age. They become torn at the edges, bent at the corners and the paper and cardboard dry out. Ones like new are rare.

Of course the numbering of a cover or a disq within an issue may increase the worth of a recording.

And an artist's autograph on the jacket or inner sleeve of course adds to the record's worth.

Finally, some defects such as an incorrect label, upside down cover or liner notes might add value."

 

The idea that what we hear in our listening room is an aural scale model has implications for recorded dynamics: If what we are hearing through our systems is a 1/10th aural scale model, then the dynamics, to be in scale, should also be 1/10th dynamics. In which case, to expect life-size dynamics is to expect dynamics that are too large. (Life-like dynamics would only be appropriate in a one-to-one model-say a solo double-bass recital).

Webster's definition of stereophonic might offer guidance about the important qualities of (stereophonic) recorded music. Stereophonic is defined by Webster as "of sounds which appear to have their sources distributed in space, even when they are emitted by e.g. two loudspeakers." If we except this as the definition (essence) of stereo, then our hardware, above all, must accurately reproduce this essence.

 

On July 29, 1951 Wilhem Furtwängler conducted the Beethoven Ninth Symphony at the Festspielhaus, Bayreuth with the Festspielorchester and Chor. The soloists were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth Hongen, Hans Hopf and Otto Edelmann. The performance is said to have marked the reopening of Bayreuth. This event was recorded live by EMI and first issued in the States in October 1956 as a two record set-RCA Red Seal LM 6043. (From a different matrix than ALL OTHER releases or re-releases.) An evening's listening to this set in Vermont with Dr. Tom Simone provided what might still be the most memorable recorded music experience of my life.

(Well . . . there was that afternoon with Cheri, the rock keyboard player, when I first heard the import "Electric Ladyland." )

In the 20 years that I have written about recorded music I have seldom (almost never) come to conclusions about "the best" in recorded music. I think a search through the material that I've published will bear this out. The facts of RCA Victor Red Seal LM 6043 (2) are: it is the FIRST US release; its matrix [G2RP 2437/2438/2675/2676] is UNIQUE; it was available for about only ONE YEAR; it was, at its time, A STATE OF THE ART recorded music production

Of course I have my favorites.

Then again, Monteux was once asked what his favorite piece was. He replied something like: "The one I'm conducting."

For reasons best known to my spiritual advisor I'm most comfortable picking the worst record that I've heard in my 50 years of listening to recorded music. In my memory it surely is Handel's "Royal Firework's Music" as recorded by the Telemann Society and issued by Vox as STDL 500.750. I snicker at it now. Of course . . . there is that Telefunken release of the Mozart Horn Concerti played on the natural horn that reminds me of the soundtrack to the campfire scene in "Blazing Saddles."

 

Among, the respectful imitations that I've heard are the Blue Note Connoisseur LP Series. Released at roughly the same time as the Connoisseur CD Series, they are another of Michael Cuscuna's honest efforts.

 

"Of originals that we shall never see-another DC-3 or Living Presence Mercury."

Ron Penndorf

 

 

 

 

 

The Moyzes Quartet's recorded performance of the Shostakovich Quartets Nos. 2 and 4.

I've always known that I was supposed to like the Shostakovich String Quartets and I've wanted to for years. I've listened to the Borodin's and some of the Fitzwilliam's performances and over time have developed an intellectual appreciation of the works. But I really never loved any of them until I heard the Moyzes Quartet's recorded performance of the Nos. 2 and 4 on the CD, Amadis 7133 (c1994).

The Moyzes Quartet was formed in 1975 while its members were were students at the Bratislava Conservatory and in the '70s they won performance prizes in Bratislava, Florence and Evian-since the early '80s they concertized in Bulgaria, Italy, France and Germany.

The Quartet takes its name from the distinguished Slovak composer and teacher Alexander Moyzes and the members are: Stanislav Mucha, first violin; Frantisek Török, second violin; Alexander Lakatos, viola and Jan Slavic, 'cello. The quartet members are also members of the Slovak Philharmonic.
For this recording the Moyzes Quartet seats itself with the first violinist on the far left, the second violinist left center, the violist center right and the 'cellist on the far right. This seating arrangement in the old manner brings out the first violin and 'cello parts-often accenting melody and accompaniment. But the Moyzes Quartet members had been playing together for almost twenty years at the time of this recording and their ensemble is so complete that the listener can easily imagine " the quartet playing, with bows flashing, swaying bodies, and above all, the glances." Still, in this performance their ensemble is occasionally broken by highlighting, which by accenting melody alters the musical balance-though at its very best the technique enhances the quartet's old fashion melodic playing.

But I came to love these quartets for one simple reason-the Moyzes plays them Jewish. Two movements in particular are telling-the Second Movement of the Second Quartet and the Fourth Movement of the Fourth Quartet. In the "Recitative and Romance" of the Second Quartet the first violinist cries out the melody in cantorial fashion and evokes an unbelievible bittersweet beauty-I had never really "heard" this movement until this performance. The other movement, the dance "Allegretto" of the Fourth Quartet, is rendered with the flavor of a Jewish village celebration, a flavor so rich that you can almost see the players and dancers.

Happily, this kind of interpretation honors this music-for it is a music rich in Jewish melody and rhythm. But whatever the music's origin the Moyzes is always appropriately emotional and emotive.

These are continuously rewarding recorded performances and I believe are among the most important releases of the 1990s. And they taught me to love these two Shostakovich quartets. Ron Penndorf

 

 

 

 

Two Labels of American Symphonic and Chamber Music

Two labels of American symphonic and chamber music that I've enjoyed over the years are: "Music in America: The Society for the Preservation of the American Musical Heritage." This label was available by mail-order in the late '60s with society membership. All the releases I've seen come in a medium-gray matte cover with a roughly 5"x7" olive green sticker pasted on the cover's front-the record information is printed in black or white on this sticker. The record prefix is MIA. [The JJ17 often found in the lead-out looks suspiciously like the code used by Mercury to indicate a John Johnson
mastering.] Some of the releases are superb examples of concert realism.

"New World Records; Recorded Anthology of America Music." A favorite of mine is NW 228 (c1977). Of the four works on this record I particularly like John Alden Carpenter's "Krazy Kat." Simply, it is a tone-poem based on the comic strip. Here, Calvin Simmons, the talented Afro-American conductor, leads the Los Angles Philharmonic in what can best be described as a romp. [Importantly, one of the reasons that Mercury's Harold Lawrence moved to California was to manage the Oakland Symphony, then under the direction of this truly brilliant young conductor-Simmons later died tragically in a boating accident in up-state New York.] This label's releases usually come in a gate-fold album with a booklet insert that is packed with historical information-some recording information is also given. Sterling Sound mastered many of these releases-they also did some mastering for Nonesuch. Ron Penndorf

 

 

 

 

Just What is Recorded Music?


It is not , as we thought for its first hundred years, pretend live music, nor is it merely recorded sound. Yet these misconceptions underlie most of this century's recorded music reviews, for the reviews separately evaluate a record's music and a record's sound. This division is artificial and comes from the curious notion that the music we are hearing is live and--how bizarre--that we are hearing it with sounds that are somehow separate from the music. Of course neither is true.

The idea that recorded music can be real is silly and it is also silly to pretend that recorded music is just sound. It is simply what it claims to be, music-that-is-recorded. It is a music-sound-production and its parts cannot be separated-it is organic.

But how do we hear music organically? How do we hear the parts working together? We can begin by thinking of recorded music as a scale model. In fact, the most creative and revealing way to hear recorded music is as an aural scale model." "Further, we can judge recorded music on just what kind of aural model it is. For years I have built 1/48 models of World War II fighter aircraft. These models have the same relation to real aircraft that recorded music has
to real music. In both cases it is only through exercising imagination that the models come alive.

Standards can be developed to evaluate the aural scale model in and of itself. Curiously, how real a model is may not be the most important. Of course, a realistic scale model can be very satisfying and relaxing, since the imagination does not strain while appreciating it. But, the impressionist, expressionist and other models can also be enjoyable. A favorite expressionist production of mine is Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges with Jeanine Berbié, Jeanine Collard, Sylvaine Gilma, Colette Herzog, Camille Maurane, Françoise Ogéas, Heinz Rehfuss, Michel Sénéchal, the Choir and RTF National Orchestra, Paris. Lorin Maazel is the conductor (Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft DGG 138675 [c1961]).

Scale is an important characteristic of any model. But, the scale of an aural model varies with the kind of reproducer used. For instance, in listening to Walton's Symphony No. 1 played by the London Symphony under Andre Previn [RCA Victor Red Seal LSC 2927 (c1967)] the model I hear in my listening room is about 1/10th the size of the real performance. This aural model is accurate and well detailed, and most important, its dynamic range is in scale. My listening room is about 12'x15' and my speakers are monitor size.

The old and the new orchestra arrangements present two distinct aural models. Until roughly the 1920s the symphony orchestra's sections were arranged with the violins split, the first violins are forward on the left and the second violins forward on the right, the 'cellos are behind and to the left of the second violins, and the violas behind and to the right of the first violins.The doubles basses are at the rear of the orchestra. The brass and winds are behind the string section and in front of the double basses and percussion. This is the "old manner" and the violins are always split left and right, though the arrangement of the other sections often vary. From the twenties on, and roughly corresponding to the increased recording of symphony orchestras, the orchestras were arranged with the first violins on the far left with the seconds toward the center. The violas are next to the seconds, further to the right, and the 'cellos are on the far right. The double basses are behind the 'cellos. The winds and brass are spread behind the strings, and the percussion is heard at the back of the orchestra. This is the "new manner." The new manner came about, IN PART, to satisfy the needs of record producers and recording engineers who preferred to record the orchestra seated this way.

The "new manner" results in an easily heard, harmonious ensemble. The "old manner" gives the orchestra a well-defined breadth and depth. With the violins divided left and right, and the violas, 'cellos and double basses behind the split violins in roughly two ranks the string section takes on great depth. With this arrangement, melodies and motifs move AROUND the whole string section-a phrase might rumble in the double basses, be moved to the 'cellos and violas, and come to rest in the violins.

The new arrangement was used often by Bruno Walter, Leopold Stokowski and Charles Munch.

The old arrangement was used effectively by Pierre Monteux, Adrian Boult, Rafael Kubelik, Rudolf Kempe and Otto Klemperer. It was also used, but less often, by Fritz Reiner, Antal Dorati and Howard Hanson.

Much criticism of the orchestral sound on early stereo recordings comes from not correctly identifying the arrangement being recorded. The criticism, for instance, that the sound is THIN often comes from hearing a recording of the old arrangement and not correctly identifying it as such and so not judging it by its own standards. Rather, it is heard as a BAD recording of the new orchestra arrangement.

An orchestra seated in the new manner sounds very different from an orchestra seated in the old manner. The most easily heard difference is the dominance of the violin tone in the string section of the old arrangement. As both the first and second violins are well forward, they NATURALLY dominate the texture. The orchestra sound then, relatively, is thin.

Also, the criticism that a recording has weak bass can come from mis-indentifying the orchestra arrangement being used. Early Fritz Reiner records were recorded with the double basses toward the back of the orchestra. Placed there, they do not dominate the string tone as do the forward placed double basses of the new arrangement. In fact, the old orchestra sound is generally not as heavy as the new orchestra sound. The early Fritz Reiner recordings are often criticized for having a "whole in the middle." That is, the left and right sides of the orchestra are easily heard but the orchestral texture becomes vague as it approaches the middle. This is attributed to the incorrect use of just two microphones in these early sessions. But in part, the dominant left and right sound comes from the forward placement of the split left and right violins. And so, at least roughly, it is an accurate portrayal of the sound of the old orchestra arrangement.

Early stereo productions, even of complex orchestral music, were often conceived of in terms of two dimensional left-to-right sound. The sophisticated three dimensional presentation came later. Ron Penndorf

 

Some promotional record jackets were "mutilated" in ways similar to cutout jackets-the Arista Freedom label of the '70s comes to mind. It is important not to mistake a 'mutilated' promotional cover-often containing a fine promotional disq or fine early stamped disq-from a 'mutilated' cutout jacket.

I've always thought Mercury's image of Starker to be that of the hero-cellist. In addition to the larger-than-life sound, he's sometimes out of scale--in the Dvorak he's almost as large as the orchestra. And then there's the dramatic cover art. I do love the image, by the way, both visual and aural. And, in the past, Starker has recorded with, and concertized on, what is one of the largest of all 'cellos--the Lord Aylesford Stradivarius. For a more intimate portrait of Starker I recommend the Beethoven Piano and 'Cello Sonatas--in the States, Musical Heritage Society MHS 596/597

In reading from a short biography of Mercury founder Irving B. Green I find that he claims; to have pioneered the use of the single microphone technique in the Living Presence Series, that he was the first to utilize the echo chamber in the Harmonicats' hit "Peg' O' My Heart," was the first to effect multi-dubs with Patti Page's "Confess," was the first to develop the laminated record cover, and the first to "realize the untapped potential of the disc jockey as a valued aid in product exposure." That is-arrrgh-he invented payola? (This is from a bio-sheet in Harold Lawrence's files.)

Fairly recent research indicates that the F in the Mercury dead-wax FR may stand for Fairchild.

Sound quality is only one of many variables that determine the value of a collectible record. Other variables are; record content including type of music and performers, record jacket construction including material quality, record jacket graphics, record jacket notes, disc construction including vinyl quality, disq design, label design, label graphics, inner sleeve construction, inner sleeve design including graphics. (I personally place a great value on the monaural release of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony [LM 1893 (c1955)]. The mono version is sleeved in an album containing original Picasso-like line-drawings by Andy Warhol. The stereo record is sleeved in an ordinary RCA-of-the-time record jacket.) Ron Penndorf

 

 

The American majors did not regularly seal their records until the mid-sixties. The earliest stereo product from Mercury, RCA, London and Columbia generally was not sealed. Angel was an exception-in fact it pioneered factory sealing in the mid-fifties.

In the world of serious-collectibles, repairs lessen an object's value-originality is all important. In fact, there is a word used by antique collectors to describe attractive aging-patina. (It was originally used to describe the change of tone over time in brass or copper.)

More and more I'm finding records that do not completely clean up: They have changed chemically. Imprint from continual storage in an inner poly-bag is the most frequent problem. The record's surface is roughened by a reaction with the bag-it is most severe where the bag bunches up. It seems to be accelerated by wide temperature swings, high humidity, storage in indirect sunlight and even slight non-vertical storage.

In record cleaning it is my experience that a record is not fully clean until it is flushed with lukewarm distilled water and then re-vacuumed after the solvent cleaning cycle.

In my fifty some years of record collecting, I've seen many "state of the art" cleaners come and go. My "favorite" came in an aerosol can. It was sprayed on the record surface and dried into a mask which was then peeled off-sometimes it didn't ever come off. Ron Penndorf

 

 

Record distribution in the'50s was very regional. Even in the '60s, in Berkeley, we could not readily get Vanguard product-an East Coast label. Some other East Coast product [Monitor comes to mind] was available only when the traveling salesman Larry Sokel arrived from New York-usually once a
year. And, in the early '60s,
European imports were generally unavailable to us-though, in the late '60s we could mail order some from Peters International in New York. My memory is that imports only became generally available in the Bay Area in the '70s-largely through the "Discount Records" chain. But the U.S. majors [Columbia, RCA, Decca, London] were, by and large, well distributed, though I believe RCA Victor product was more available on the Eest coast than the west until their Hollywood plant opened.

Those were different times-early LPs were generally sold in music or appliance stores. The record store developed along with the LP.

 

As important as a record's label-graphics, are a record's alpha-numerics-those numbers and letters in the lead-out area which can document the record's history. A study of these, for all major labels, is surely a necessity. Also important is record-cover information, for, as all facets of the LP become collectible the "new collector" might value the cover most of all. Inner sleeve information is also important.

Also, the description "new" is a marketing term and has nothing necessarily to do with collectors condition.: though it is helpful because it indicates originality.

And, I have never understood letter grading: A, A-, etc. I've fantasized it being used at a classic automobile concours. After an owner's expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars and his regime of careful, loving maintenance, a judge proclaims on inspecting the Bugatti: "I think it's an A-." My sense is that it's not respectful of the Bugatti or, for that matter, of Mercury Living Presence SR 90303.

More importantly, I've never understood visually grading an aural medium. It's as if you could fully determine the condition of a Vincent "Black Shadow" by just looking at it. Ron Penndorf

 

Tape, including a master-tape, is not a stable medium. If you want an example of tape deterioration-albeit visual-remember how those clips of last year's Super Bowl looked only a few months after they were shot. More over, tape deterioration is insidious. Where disc deterioration often takes the form of the easily heard ticks and pops-tape deterioration results in the subtle, gradual regarding of sound.

After over 50 years of listening to recorded music I no longer know just what "good sound" is-though I know what other people think it is. What I do know is that there are many "different sounds." It might be important to describe-characterize-just what these sounds are. What is the Decca sound,
the RCA Red Seal sound, the Mercury Living Presence sound, the Philips sound, the Columbia Masterworks sound, the Vox sound, the Westminster sound, and on, and on? Then we might find out just how the sounds are different.

When buying from a dealer who is also a collector, the buyer should understand that the dealer often [usually, always] keeps the best stuff.\

I remember the very eariest Hungarotons that were imported into the U.S. had discs so noisy-filled with almost constant ticks and pops-that they were immediately pulled from the full-price bins and sold as cut-outs. In fact, it was possible as a dealer to buy them for as low as one dollar a record.
Later product improved-I've heard them with Decca-quiet surfaces. Granted, such copies are now hard to find. And, many of the very earliest Hungaroton albums had monuaral numbers, as did their discs, even when they were stereo. [So did the covers of some of the earliest Blue Note stereo product.] The covers of both labels that contained stereo discs had a gummed sticker affixed to the front that simply said "stereo." [I had such a "Blue Train."] Of course, you had to play these Hungaroton discs in order to find out if they were mono or stereo. Still, I have seen and heard Hungarotons that are the equal of ANY
product-in production quality, in performance quality, in disc manufacture, and in jacket design-granted the label graphics were always a little bland.

 

The Blue Note Connoisseur Series-released in the '90s and now out of print-are among the most respectful Blue Note imitations I've heard. Michael Cuscuna-the founder of Mosaic Records and long-time jazz record producer-is the reissue producer and his knowledge, respect and sense for the originals shines. Of course if you want a Japanese view of the Blue Note phenomena there are the Japanese issues and if you want an audiophalic experience there are the audiophile imitations. The Cuscuna reissues do suffer from the "improvements" in mastering however. Still, given an over- emphasis of detail they are "most authentic". Traditionally, the Japanese reissues have been sought by Jazz collectors. And, there are some Japanese orignal issues.

The Blue Note Connoisseur Series that I value are individual disqs that have copyright dates in the mid-nineties and usually (always) credit M. Cuscuna as the reissue producer. Their record numbers are long, like B1 7243 8 33581 1 3, and the issues roughly parallel the Blue Note CD Connoisseur Series. I write it is helpful to understand that "best" ("better") sound is only one of an imitation's [reissue's] many variables and, I believe, a very subjective one. Also, I use "reissue" if it is easily (lineally) related to the original-done by the same staff, division, company and done not too long after the first issue and I use "imitation" for product made long after the first issue, often by amateurs or staff not acquainted with the original in its many facets.

It seems to me disc design in itself (but not by itself) is an important factor in establishing edition. Here are some LP disc design variables [variations]:
Disc diameter and speed-usually 10" or 12" or the metric equivalent and 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, 16 RPM.
Disc vinyl color.
Disc vinyl quality-composition, texture.
Disc weight, thickness and flexibility-heavy, floppy, rigid, light.
Disc groove distribution,type and size-groove pattern, monaural, stereo, quadraphonic, binaural and groove breadth and depth.
Disc lead-in area profile-raised, flat.
Disc edge profile-round, pointed, flat.
Disc label area profile-raised, flat.
Disc label area design-grooved, double-grooved, non-grooved, flat, raised.

My ear says most RVG productions are multi miked, with gain-riding and the occasional reverb. Listen to the piano change size in Blue Note productions
or the lonely trumpet in the night sound on some of the Blue Note records. Ron Penndorf

 

Mercury's characteristic tape hiss is a result of the low level of Mercury recording-necessary because of the great dynamics in the music that characterized the catalogue and Bob Fine's unwillingness to futz-his recording volume was set at the beginning of a session and remained fixed throughout. And, it had to be sufficiently low to capture those rousing Mercury moments. I don't mind Mercury's tape hiss, by the way, and I believe it is an important part of the label's sonic signature.

My understanding from a conversation with Harold Lawrence is that someone (Red Eberenz) rebuilt a 35mm machine for Wilma Cozart so she could playback the 35mm masters for the CD reissues.

Some years ago I spent a little time with Harold Lawrence while he was mastering some of the Mercury CDs. I listened to the mastertapes of Paray performances of French orchestral music and parts of one of the Dorati/Stravinsky ballets. My memory of the experience is that of overwhelming tape-hiss and nervously busy music-making. The copies that Harold was working from were the two-track masters-the result of Wilma Cozart's phantoming the center track of the three track masters into the left and right channels. (Mr. Lawrence unashamedly used different takes for the CD-Stravinsky than he did for the LP-Stravinsky.)

For years (decades) my unconscious reference for "good" LP sound was used (worn, previously played) LP sound. And, it wasn't until recently, when I received a collection of sealed '60s and '70s jazz records, that I gradually became aware of this. On first sampling these records I felt that something was wrong-they all seemed bright and too busy (in fact they reminded me of the Mercury mastertapes that I had just heard). Then, when this sound changed on playing, it slowly became apparent to me that my "good" sound was, in fact, previously played sound. This also explains why we might be more comfortable with the sound of a record that has played-in: simply, its sound becomes more like that with which we are familiar. Now, I remember all this when comparing new records with forty year-old ones. And the sound on the first playing of an original Mercury Living Presence 35mm is something to behold. Ron Penndorf

 

"The Absolute Sound" magazine refocused classical music listening. Where before "The Absolute Sound," performance and sound were balanced in record-evaluation, during and after the magazine's popularity "the absolute sound" of a recorded-performance became almost totally important. I believe this has had a negative effect on classical music listening, evaluation and collecting-it interrupted (obliterated) the previous eighty-years' recorded-classical-music tradition.

For instance, it is important to know that the prestigious RCA Victor Red Seal records had their roots in Victor Red Label records of the early-part of the last century. Or, that "All" RCA Victor classical records are Red Seals. Red Seal indicates a release of the prestigious Classical Division of RCA Victor. The use of the term to indicate a re-release of an early stereo issue is inaccurate-though popular.

But, rather than lament the crumbling of the audio establishment I personally am going to more fully appreciate the intimate and pure listening room experience. Thomas Z. Shepard, the record producer for RCA's Red Seal Division, has said, "I love records because they provide the least cluttered communications between the composer and me . . ."

And, the more I listen to classical recorded-music the more in awe I am of the production team. Primarily, because though more and more they fashion the performance, the more and more they don't seem to be there. When listening to the Beastie Boys' "Hello Nasty" CD on a fine surround-car-stereo I am very aware of the production values yet when listening to a '70s EMI classical production, Bishop and Parker aren't heard.

Here's a similar RCA Red Seal production: Holst, Gustav. The Planets, Op. 32 (c1914-16). Philadelphia Orchestra. Eugene Ormandy, conductor. Jay David Saks, record producer. Paul Goodman, recording engineer. RCA Victor Red Seal CRL1-1921 (c1976). The review copy has: Codes: CRL1 1921A 2 A2 / CRL1 1921 B A2. 1st Label. Disq Grade 93/93. Inner Sleeve 94. Cover 96/94. (2a)(3a)(4b)(4e)(4f)(4g)(5b). The 1970's Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra/RCA Red Seal productions are among the best phonography I've heard-they usually fill the listening room with satisfyingly musical sound and are fine aural models. This record is such an effort-it is also filled with ice-hot Holst.

An RCA Victor Red Seal in which production intrudes is: Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai. Scheherazade, Op. 35 (c1888). Chicago Symphony. Fritz Reiner, conductor. Lewis Layton, recording engineer. Richard Mohr, record producer. RCA Victor Red Seal LSC 2446 (c1960). The review copy has: Codes: L2RY-0939-1S A6 I / L2RY0940-7S B1 I. 1st Label (5h). Disq Grade 95/93. Inner Sleeve Grade 95. Cover Grade 98. (1a)(2a)(3a)(4a)(4i)(5i)(5j)(5k). Through highlighting, Layton and Mohr simplify the rich texture of this piece. The recording in effect reduces Scheherazade to a series of easily understood tunes. By accenting melodies, "bringing them up" in the mix, the work is recomposed and becomes more accessible-the highlighting also produces dramatic splashes of color.
Ron Penndorf

 

 

Found in Jan Swafford's "Charles Ives" from Ives' "Conductor's Notes" published with the score of his Fourth Symphony.

"It is difficult to reproduce the sounds and feeling that distance gives to a sound. . . . A brass band playing pianissimo across the street is a different sounding thing than the same band playing the same piece forte, a block or so away . . . a horn over a lake gives a quality of sound and feeling that is hard to produce any other way. . . . As the eye, in looking at a view, may focus on the sky, clouds or distant outlines, yet sense the color and form of the foreground, and then, by bringing the eye to the foreground, sense the distant outlines and color, so, in some similar way can the listener choose to arrange in his mind the relation of the rhythmic, harmonic, and other material. . . . The general aim . . . is to bring various parts of the music to the ear in their relation, as the perspective of a picture brings to the eye. As the distant hill, in a landscape, row upon row, grow gradually into the horizon, so there may something like this in the presentation of music."

Ives was very much aware of sound-space when he wrote his Fourth Symphony. Ironically, the Tilson Thomas CD performance of this symphony's definitive, critical-edition [Sony SK 44939] does not render space very well.
Ron Penndorf
But, all you "train guys" should listen to this symphony's second movement with an open ear. It's a sound-rendering of Hawthorne's "Celestial Railway." And . . . Ives "loved" trains-steam trains. Hmmm . . . Brian Wilson uses a train-recording in "Pet Sounds." Haven't heard a train in "Hello Nasty" but then again I haven't yet listened to it in an 87 Chevy with a trunk full of sub-woofers. [But I did pick up the vinyl album autographed by Mario Andretti?]

 

 

 

 

My own feeling is that the monaural Mercury MG 40,000 American Music series is now tremendously undervalued-they were often world premier recordings, of a good American orchestra, with Howard Hanson as conductor, of great American music, with fine sound, by an excellent production staff, of well manufactured discs and jackets, with great cover art, with crisp glacine inner sleeves, with informative liner notes etc.

 

Mercury kept mono records in print well into the '60s. [And released monos along with stereos into the (mid) '60s]. The American Music deletions are informative: MG 50073 was deleted in 1969; MG 500074 was deleted in 1963; MG 500075 was deleted in 1963; MG 50077 was deleted in 1968; MG 50079 was deleted in 1969; MG 500081 was deleted in 1963; MG 50083 was deleted in 1963; MG 50084 was deleted in 1969, "La Fiesta Mexicana,"this is my personal favorite of the series; MG 50085 was deleted in 1969; and MG 50087 was deleted in 1964.I do not have easily accessible information for the numbers that I have omitted.

Deems Taylor's "Through the Looking Glass," MG 50081 (c1957) is, in its MG 40000 (c1954) issue, the first LP release of the work. This is a FINE recorded music production.

Mono records were still the buyers choice in the mid-sixties. And as I have mentioned, reflecting this preference, browsing stock in many stores was then still mono.

 

The number of copies of a record offered for auction in any given period is probably first and foremost an indication of the collector's record market for that release at that time. But to determine, with accuracy, how many of any record were produced it is necessary to find the production figures. Unfortunately with a Mob controlled company such as Mercury such figures, if found, are suspect.

Harold Lawrence claims that the original 1812 Overture was the first million-seller classical album. He also remembers the first pressing of an average selling album as about 5000 records. [This is from memory.] And I remember that in the 1970s some Mercury classical records were MANUFACTURED as cut outs and dumped for cheap. They could be found in drug store record-racks, dime stores and used record stores for a few [a couple] of dollars.

 

In keeping with "how to go junking without buying junk" ever so rarely one can find a Mercury Wing pressed from the same stampers as a Living Presence issue. Look for the FR or RFR AND the original Living Presence record number and if it's good 'n glossy buy it. I think that Mr.Pearson's recommended-Grainger-LP was a Wing issue.

Ron Penndorf

 

 

 



In my fifty years of listening to recorded music I have never heard an imitation [reissue] that was totally respectful of the original. However, I have heard reissues that themselves had great integrity. Among the most apparent [self-conscious] imitations have been many of the 1990s attempts. Perhaps the current imitators are just too far removed from the originals.

 

Ideally, an imitation should be a facsimile of the orignal-but one that wasn't comes to mind. Some years ago you could buy a kit car that, when assembled on a VW frame with a VW engine, was supposed to resemble a Porsche Speedster. And it did-at a distance. But on close examination it was clearly a big plastic kit. Which is ok if you like plastic kits-and I do. Though I prefer mine in 1/32 scale and marketed as kits. Perhaps something like this also applies phongraph records.

 

Aarron Davis writes of "exact duplicate" Lugers in his "The Luger Handbook."

"Some would argue that there is a fourth era of Luger production. In the late 1960s Mauser/Interarms started making and marketing new manufactured Lugers that were identical in design to the originals. In fact, they are made from the original plans, and with many of the same tools and dies. However, from a historical collector's standpoint, they are not covered in this book. I view them like someone today making an exact duplicate of a 1964 Mustang. It is a flattering likeness, but the orginal stands apart."

 

I myself am a collector that plays his records respectfully. The fullness of playing a fine old original simply cannot be duplicated with ersatz LPs.

Ron Penndorf

 

 

 

Yah gotta love the ole guys

From Roland Gelatt's review of the Debussy Quartet on Westminster Laboratory W-LAB 7045 from a 1956 High Fidelity magazine. "The sound is superb, like having a string quartet in your home. But if you want to hear the Debussy Quartet performed with optimum style and imagination, you would do well to invite another ensemble."

(The Lab series had its own prefix and numbers.)

For more good stuff, read Roland Gelatt's book "The Fabulous Phonograph."

 

I use tube-reproducers for tube-productions, transistor-reproducers for transistor-productions simply for authenticity. I use reproducers of the same technology as the production--acoustic for acoustic, electric for electric, tube for tube, transistor for transistor.

Production and reproduction technology are interdependent: I can't satisfactorily play a 33 1/3 RPM record at 78 RPM. The 33/78 example is an extreme difference--tube/transistor example is a
slighter difference. Whether this is a significant difference must be answered individually.

 

I think it's important to remember that, at one time not so long ago, people rioted at symphony concerts. Monteux used to program new music at the
evening's end and before he played the piece asked those in the audience who thought they might object to the work to leave rather than riot.

Similarly, I had a client who, a few years ago, after a particularly boring S.F. Symphony concert jumped up and cried SHAME, SHAME!

Perhaps this behavior after expensive and unsatisfactory concerts should be encouraged.

 

 

Over the years I've enjoyed not only the work of Sid Marks but of the whole Mark[x] family-Harpo, Groucho . . . and even Zeppo and Karl.

 

 

I've been skimming the "1959 Records in Review-the Fifth High Fidelity Annual." These guys-among them, Alfred Frankenstein, Harold C. Schonberg, Paul Affelder and Robert Charles Marsh-are awfully hard on stereo often preferring the mono release for tonal accuracy. "What goes round comes round." And, . . . they really love Stoki.

 

I found a refreshingly brief and direct record review in "A Guide to Long-Playing Records:Chamber and Solo Music" (c1955) by
Harold C. Schonberg.

"RUBBRA, EDMUND (1901- ) Quartet for Strings No. 2 in E flat (Op. 73). Griller, 10" [London] 657.

Rubbra, a composer much talked about in England, is represented in this country by very few recordings or live performances. If this quartet is typical of his work, he writes in a basically conservative, post-romantic idiom despite a heavy outlay of dissonance. The work has intensity, and one is happy to make its acquaintance. As the Griller Quartet commissioned the work and has played it throughout the world, it is fairly certain that the group (a) has familiarity with the score, and (b) likes it. Both familiarity and liking are present in this clear, accomplished reading. Mellow recorded sound, with transparent texture throughout."

Ron Penndorf

 

 

 

Double-boxing puts less stress on LPs during shipping, especially if the inner package is well protected with cushioning material. Still, I remove the record from its jacket and from its inner-sleeve.I put the record in a dry plastic inner-sleeve and separately place the record, dust jacket and inner-sleeve in a plastic outer-sleeve. In fact, I also store my records this way, often with the LP in front of the jacket so that if a ring should develop during storage it shows mostly on the jacket back. Also, the plastic outer-sleeve acts as a cushion between the LPs.
AND, I have found the an outer-plastic-sleeve can discolor ( yellow) some jacket covers.I've yellowed a Ronette's and the Dorati Tchaikovsky 6th.
Still, I store all new graded acquisitions this way.

Recently, I was asked by a friend to find CDs of Menuhin playing the Beethoven Violin/Piano Sonatas. I searched the Net with Google, typing in "Menuhin Beethoven Sonatas". Up came an "authority" -- RECOLLECTIONS Journal of Recorded Music Three. At

http://ronpenndorf.com/journalofrecordedmusic3.html

Yah . . . don't believe your publicity.
In a Menuhin article, Tom Simone recommended the DGG set with Kempff.

I don't trade LPs on ebay. However, I've had five transactions buying aviation material. I'm batting zero -- none of the material was as advertised. And in the most recent transaction, I was sent the wrong item. Hope LP transactions are better.

Ron Penndorf

 

 

For years[decades] my unconscious reference for "good" LP sound was used[ worn, previously played] LP sound. And, it wasn't until recently, when I received a collection of sealed '60s and '70s records, that I gradually became aware of this. On first sampling these records I felt that something was wrong-they all seemed bright and too busy [in fact they reminded me of the Mercury mastertapes that I had heard]. Then, when this sound changed on playing, it slowly became apparent to me that my "good" sound was, in fact, previously played sound. This also explains why we might be more comfortable with the sound of a record that has played-in: simply, its sound becomes more like that with which we are familiar. Now, I remember all this when comparing new records with forty year-old ones.
And the sound on the first playing of an original Mercury Living Presence 35mm is something to behold.

People now consume music as they do other goods. Up until the end of Edwardian time, people by and large produced music. The piano, for instance, was the center piece of many middle-class homes. Were they more musically sophisticated? Don't know, but playing music was an important part of life.

Ron Penndorf

 

 

Aural comparisons are difficult. There are too many variables are involved--groove wear of the compared disqs, the compared disqs chemical deterioration over time, the place of the compared disqs in the stamping sequence and more. I'm not even sure any longer what we're hearing or comparing. It is helpful to stick to facts and to find more facts. It is a fact that most FR-Mercuries were manufactured by RCA. This can be determined by a record's alpha-numerics.

That the alpha-numeric information on Mercury Vendor Labels and Mercury non-Vendor labels can be the same is fact.

A Mercury record's alpha-numerics indicate its hard-parts and the sequence of its manufacture. Mercury was a decade and a half ahead of the other American majors in using the same recording number and record number. (Andre Millard in his America on Record writes that the Mercury Record Co. was a Mafia controlled company formed to provide product for their bar-restaurant jukeboxes.)

An old record has two important variables-edition and condition. The edition must be the first and the condition must be the best. With dedication both can be factually determined.

Indeed, there are too many variables in sonic-comparisons for me. I've spent years listening to aural models and there are many. For me one of the most satisfying is concert-realism: which I believe is most accessible on London/Decca-the Aston Martin of labels.And many models are not realistic: some are impressionist, some are surreal [my favorite], some are hyper-real, etc., etc., etc. I would describe the Mercury/Dorati/Firebird as some sort of neo-realist production.

Ron Penndorf

 

One of my favorite demo records is Mercury Golden Lyre MG 40011 (c1954) which contains "La Fiesta Mexicana" by H. Owen Reed played by the Eastman Symphonic Wind Ensemble conducted by Frederick Fennell. This record was reissued as Mercury Living Presence MG 50084 in 1957.

Philips PHS 900-000 , the Liszt Piano Concertos with Richter and the London Symphony conducted by Kondrashin, has a cover photo by Harold Lawrence. Harold's photos from this session were also used on the Richter-Beethoven-Sonata records on Philips. The recording session used the Living Presence techniques and also produced one of the GREAT classical recordings -- the Beethoven Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 3 with Richter and Rostro. (Harold produced these sessions, I think, with Philips staff.) There's a Harold Lawrence photo of Richter taken at the Liszt session that can be downloaded at Mostly Mary Morris5.

When you see other Richter photos with his striped shirt they are probably from this session. And a part-scan of the cover of PHS 900-000 can be seen in Don Toldors' story at Journal of Recorded Music6.

Ron Penndorf


 

In his book Hollywood Rhapsody, Gary Marmorstein tells of Dimitri Tiomkin's introduction to American music. It seems that Jascha Heifetz' pianist, Emanuel Bay, played "Yes, We Have No Bananas" for Tiomkin-apparently with convincing enthusiasm. This picture of the classical musician is perhaps more realistic than the one marketed during the 20th Century by record company publicists-it's certainly more human. Marmorstein also tells of David O. Selznick instructing Max Steiner how to shoot benzedrine. This all-too-human tale certainly puts Charlies Parker's habit into perspective.

 

The Philips Berlioz Te Deum (London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Wandsworth Boys School Choir, Colin Davis, conductor. Philips
839790) was re-recorded through speaker-playback to provide a larger setting. This was known at its release and the fact was mentioned in reviews. (Aware of this on playback, the recording sounds canned.)

 

Capitol's FDS (originally "Full Dimensional Sound" and later "Full Dimensional Stereo") was a marketing phrase like "Living Presence" or "New Orthophonic" that "described" a new recorded sound--wide range recording, encoded in a fine groove, 12", 331/3 RPM, vinyl disc, i.e.the high fidelity LP. Later it became associated with a particular kind of recorded sound-Capitol's. My guess is that Capitol's fine sound had its roots in the state of the art recording of the Motion Picture Industry. In fact, Copeland, the British recordist and archivist makes the point that most sound recording techniques were pioneered by Hollywood in the late '20s and '30s during the introduction of motion picture sound. (The term "Full Dimensional Sound" was introduced in the mid-fifties and was changed to "Full Dimensional Stereo" in the late fifties. Most original Capitol LPs were characterized as just "High Fidelity".)

 

All M prefix Mercuries (M2, M4, M6, M9, etc) that I have seen and heard are mid-to-late '60s product. That is, they are among the last pressings. They were probably manufactured (mastered) at the Columbia plant: their alph-numerics are similar (identical) to Columbia Records' mid-to-late '60s product. As are their platters. They are, comparatively, compressed and rolled-off-and are mere shadows of the FR or [especially] the RFR issues. These disqs could be cheaply bought as cut-outs; and were even sold by rack-jobbers in drug, five-and dime, etc. stores. Yet, very occasionally, one shines.

 

Here are some variations in Soria packaging. (This is mostly from memory and there are probably more.)

Released first in slip-case with dowel-spine Berlioz Requiem LDS 6077-then later in hinge-box.
Released first in slip-case but without dowel-spine Strauss Don Quixote LS-2384-then later in hinge-box.
Released first in slip-case with dowel-spine Handel Messiah-then later in hinge-box.
Released first in slip-case but without dowel-spine Heifetz and Friends LDS 6159-then later in box.
Generally the later releases came only in a hinge-box-the Bream Consort LDS 2656.

Ron Penndorf

 

 

Judging Golden Imports

How the Golden Imports compare to the Mercury Living Presence is not how to judge Golden Imports. The Golden Imports should be judged on its own merit-that is, is it great phonography? The two are, after all, very different artifacts--tube cut vs transistor cut, Mercury mastered vs Philips mastered, Mercury or RCA manufactured vs Philips manufactured, '50s-'60s "heavy" disq vs '70s-'80s "light disq," '50s-'60s vinyl formula vs '70s-'80s vinyl. Really different technologies and esthetics went into these two products. Generally, they are as different as their covers.

 

Some thoughts on Concert Realsim

A good concert-realist recording has many qualities. Foremost, it must sound "real." That is, the recording perspective must be one that it is possible to hear in a live performance. It must successfully imitate the real event. A monaural recording with little front-to-back separation and no left-to-right spread, but surrounded by a good deal of space, does present a perspective that might be heard at a concert. It would be similar to hearing a live chamber performance in a large hall, seated in the back of the orchestra section or in the balcony. A recording of a symphony orchestra with loud or large winds and brass, could be the perspective from the conductor's podium. That is how the orchestra might be heard by someone who is standing on the elevated platform, directly facing these sections. A recorded performance of a piano concerto with a large solo instrument playing against considerably smaller strings is the way the pianist would hear the performance. Finally, a string quartet with a large 'cello and viola and much smaller first and second violins is the way a listener would hear the quartet playing if he were seated closer to one side of the performance stage than the other. The closest instruments, of course, will sound the loudest or largest. So clearly, a recording that presents an unbalanced perspective is "realistic," for music is often heard this way live. (Naturally however, one of the most rewarding perspectives is the balanced one, especially when it occurs in a pleasing setting.)

A recorded performance of mixed perspective is not "realistic," because it is not possible to hear music played this way in live performance. A string quartet recording with each instrument miked, gives the instruments a close-up sound. In this perspective you hear string vibration as well as fingering and bowing noises. When four such sounding instruments are put together on record they result in an ensemble sound that cannot be heard in concert. In a live performance, even with the listener fairly close to the quartet, the individual instruments blend. They would take on some resonance and hopefully a pleasing woody tone, and details like fingering and bowing noises would not be easily heard. [This intense perspective, however, is possible in a recording of a solo instrument, for this is the way the instrument is heard by its player.]

A multi-miked and mixed-down recording may sound "realistic" if individual sections or instruments are recorded with some resonance and are properly proportioned through mixing. This kind of well mixed recording can be identified by its "realistic perspective" as well as by a consistent and natural decay time of the separately recorded instruments. However made, a good recording must always have the instruments and sections in "realistic proportion" to each other-given the recording perspective.

It is important in a "concert-realist" recording for instruments to sound real and natural and it is necessary for the record's dynamic range and frequency response to approach that heard in a live performance given the scale of the recording--in a live performance an instrument's sound will vary according to the placement of the performer and listener and to the performance setting. Naturally a similar variation is found in a recorded "concert realist" performance. [Though important, accurate frequency response and dynamic range are not as crucial as many other recording qualities. It is clear that a 78 RPM recording can have "realistic sound," and yet these records have little or no high frequencies.]

Though difficult to achieve, a good recording must realize detail and yet present a convincing whole. For example, in a symphony recording, it is important to clearly hear the string section-the defining sound of much "classical music." The first and second violins, the violas, the 'cellos, and the double basses must be well defined-a difficulty arises in realistically balancing them with the other sections of the orchestra. In a good chamber recording the inner voices, the second violin and viola, should be heard yet they must also sound as part of a balanced quartet.

Finally, it is necessary that a good recording present complex music clearly. This presentation can be difficult, but not as difficult as accurately rendering the different parts of quiet yet rapidly played chamber music. These subtle passages are elusive and difficult to hear.

When these qualities combine successfully they produce a realistic three-dimensional-model-of-the-performing-of-music.
Ron Penndorf
Curiously in many "satisfying" symphony recordings--on critical listening--the listener appears to be in front of and above the orchestra-as if suspended in a "little basket." Ron Penndorf


 

 

Musical Space

The book, In Concert, by Carl Vigeland, contains a mightily revealing account of the Boston Symphony Orchestra recording Mahler's Second Symphony. It tells much about the difference between making a recording and giving a performance, as these things are done in the late 20th Century. We see the embattled conductor, the Mephistophelian producer, the alienated musicians. We witness the manic pace of the recording session, the takes beyond count, the moving back and forth in the piece. And we sense the virtual deconstruction of the work, hopefully to be reassembled in some electronic never-never land.

After this, that so much dissatisfies us in contemporary recordings should not be surprising. How can anything genuine come of this fragmented process, the antithesis of the idea of "symphony" with its implications of concord and continuity?

Perhaps there is something we might call "musical space", a place actual and mental. This might be the space where the musical encounter takes place, where the musicians, the composer through the composition, the players through their instruments and voices, meet the listener. This space is probably hyper-real, with dimensions both in space time (objective actions and events must fit), and elsewhere, ear-places or (Taruskin's term) the ear's mind.

In a more innocent time, we thought of this musical space as just another place in our "real" world, a room, a symphony hall, or the space between a musician and a listener. Experiences in that space were coherent: everyone (except perhaps the composer) was present and accounted for in the usual three dimensional way, and events began and ended with the linearity we take as natural. We were not led to wonder much about where this music was happening, in what mind, what heart.

Records changed that. Listening to them, hoping to hear an echo from musical space, we exchanged "real" for "realistic", moving to a standard which now places high value on the best possible imitation of a real event. Real events, as reflected in live performance recordings, were felt to be too imperfect and idiosyncratic to bear repetition. Records would have to embody impeccable, impossibly perfect likenesses of musical events which, in fact, never happened. Nowhere in the process of recording Mahler's Second in Boston does a performance of the symphony actually occur, only sections and even individual parts. A likeness of a performance is assembled elsewhere, by others. Off-site, as they say. With surpassing irony, the Boston musicians are made to re-record patches of music because earlier takes sound "too manufactured".

Still, the encounter in musical space, be it real or realistic, is what we want from our marvelous machines, and who would deny that sometimes they deliver? Sometimes, with certain records, we have the sense that we and the musicians have unerringly entered musical space, that we are all within the enchanted circle, that nothing could be more real than this music, these players, these ears. Curiously, this sense is often associated with records from musicians who did not willingly record, resisters like Toscanini and Furtwängler. Or Schnabel and Monteux, whose genius seems at times to lie in a sort of transcendence of the material conditions of recording, as if the technical considerations were beneath notice. Perhaps their willingness, or their insouciance, was proof against the deadly calculation so characteristic of our more evolved approach to imitating reality.

It may be that we should be suspicious of artists too eager to record, who delight too much in the embrace of technology. To prove the rule, we can turn to Glenn Gould, the eagerest of all. Listening to his early Two and Three Part Inventions of Bach, played on a piano doctored to sound like a drunken harpsichord, miked as if the pianist had swallowed the Telefunkens, and presumably cut and pasted together in the classic Gould manner, we are drawn deep into musical space, the Inventions coming like waves on a body of water, the end in view from the first note. But then, Gould surely had the world's most advanced understanding of musical space. W.D.


 

 

The Musical System--or Not

It seems perfectly clear to me that the most musical system I ever owned was the first one: a wind-up Waters-Conley portable, circa 1945. It required much of me, constant attention to its winding, careful placing of the clunky disqs, and the great effort of ignoring all of the extraneous noise its playing generated. But the return was surely worth the investment, for it was through the instrumentality of this simple machine that I was first allowed the freedom to experience, over and over again, until I broke the record, the exhilarating mood and uplifting feeling of the 'Great' Chopin polonaise (I forget the actual piece) as played by José Iturbi in a film about the composer, which I half-saw, half slept through, from my father's lap. I never want to hear that work again, but I will remain grateful for the introduction to the pleasures of obsession and imagination.

For many of us, books and records remain the likeliest routes to epiphany, and comparing one to the other can be instructive. For example, we do not often think of reading as involving an act of imagination, and indeed experiencing a literary work seems to be done in a wholly neutral way: if you can read, you can have the experience. The work just seems to materialize in the reader's consciousness. If we recognize imagination in this, it is the author's, and we speak of 'works of the imagination' without perceiving that our own contribution to the experience of such works is considerable.

But even this apparently simple formula has its pitfalls. For instance, in listening to 'live' music the only effort involved is getting to where the music is happening, putting up with whatever distractions might occur, and letting the performance enter our minds and bodies as music will. But the easier it gets, the more likely is boredom to seep in and spoil the alchemical mix. This is when we realize that opera can sometimes be best appreciated from standing room with limited vision.

So it may be with records, that when playing them gets so simple and foolproof that almost no effort, physical or mental, is required to do it, we must invent complications, subtleties, disputables, or perhaps rediscover artifacts long discarded as imperfect or insufficient, ungratefully, even though these were our former vehicles of pleasure.

And there exist dead end paths such as the belief in perfect sound, that if we can just get the sound right, the music will follow. But there is no perfect sound, only perfect music. It is an imperfect world out there: the only perfect stuff is in your head. Getting the sound right is a musician's problem, not a listener's problem. It isn't even an engineer's problem. The engineers should concentrate on offering such an imaginative variety of recordings, all 'musical', that even in a lifetime of trying, we couldn't possibly get bored with listening; not like the already notorious Karajan videos, where the calculation is overwhelming, where nothing is left to the imagination, where the unrelenting march of images leaves one exhausted, desperate to escape to a fresher realm where there are still some details to fill in to imagine. W.D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monaural: The Musical Format

by Ron Penndorf

 

Mono happened at just the right time. Although the modern monaural LP was introduced by the Columbia Record Company in 1948, monaural records were made well into the 1960s. Even after the introduction of stereo in 1958, mono records were released along with their stereo equivalents; this continued into the mid-1960s.

But the great monaural era was from 1952 to 1958. By 1952 the technical problems of LP disc production had largely been solved. By then major companies were able to produce a defect-free record of generally good sound.

However, the appeal of the monaural era lies not in recording technique or production values but in just the opposite-their absence. Listening to records of this period, one has an overwhelming sense that the companies were recording music, not making records-an important difference of approach. Where in record making, the emphasis is on assembling a product, in recording music the focus is on capturing the event. Perhaps this is why the usual mono performance seems so fresh and spontaneous. Also, the recorded event, the performance, was primarily influenced by the musicians, not by the technicians. Fritz Steidry, when interrupted by a technician during an early mono recording of a Mozart opera, screamed, "There is only one conductor here, he is me."

The mono LP era began just as the great romantic era was ending. Although romanticism in composition ended with the beginning of the 20th century, many musicians making records in the 1950s were trained in the romantic style or influenced by it. Heifetz, the first modern violinist, was widely criticized for being cold, that is, being essentially unromantic. The romantics were many things-extraordinary, great musical personalities, very individual perhaps-but not cold. The mono LP captured their personalities, their individualism and their warmth.

While some of this individualism came from the Romantic notion of the artist as bohemian, some of it stemmed from real differences in national and personal style. Monteux, who played for Brahms, relates that this German composer thought French musicians best realized his music. When asked what he, Monteux, thought of Brahms, maitre replied that they couldn't converse since Brahms didn't speak French and Monteux didn't speak German. Monteux added that Brahms had a lot of hair and smoked cigars.

Personal differences also were very great. Casals's music personality, for instance, was extraordinarily different from Feuermann's. Where Casals was known for his "warm tone and intellectual strength,"1 Feuermann was known for his polished tone and sure technique. The differences between pianists Artur Schnabel and Vladimir Horowitz were as great. Horowitz "was admired for his . . . technique [and] combination of urbanity and power,"2 but Schnabel was known simply for his lyrical expression. Wilhelm Furtwängler's and Arturo Toscanini's music differences are legend.

Then there was the romantic style itself. Not only was it individualist but it was emotional and emotive: expressive glissandi, suggestive rubati and wide vibrato abound. The violin was queen of instrumental music and was adored as a prima donna. Melody was supreme and often delivered with the drama of Grand Opera. Early mono LPs show this to be a grand era.

If old mono classical records cannot be found, these characteristics can most readily be heard by listening to the soundtracks of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood films. For the Hollywood Romanticism of these scores and the film studio orchestras have their origins in European Romanticism. Carried to an extreme, of course, it results in schmaltz.

As to the simplicity of recording technique, C. G. Mc Proud, editor and publisher of Audio, writes in "High Fidelity Recording," the 1955 booklet included in Westminster LAB-7023, "In any location which is acoustically good enough to make an acceptable recording there is certain to be one place where a microphone can be put to pick up the entire orchestra in proper balance. It may take hours to find that place, but once it is found the orchestra will sound right-assuming it is properly balanced to sound right to the ear."3 It is hard now to convey the importance of the Westminster record label and particularly the Westminster LAB Series. Harold Lawrence still reacts with some astonishment and envy to their sonic achievements. "You know that they only put fourteen minutes of music on a side . . . fourteen minutes of full, distortion-free sound."4 The first Mercury Living Presence record, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, MG 50000 (1951), has informative liner notes. The writer observes, "Recorded on April 23, 1951 in Orchestra Hall, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, [this disc was recorded with] a single Telefunken microphone hung 25 feet directly above the conductor's podium."5 And notes for The Ballet (LM 6113), an RCA Red Seal production of the mid-'50s, reveal, "Meyerbeer's LES PATINEURS and Piston's THE INCREDIBLE FLUTIST were recorded by Mr. Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra on June 29 and July 1, 1953 in Symphony Hall, Boston. A single condenser microphone, noted for its uniform frequency response and wide range of sensitivity, was suspended above the conductor's podium approximately 16 feet to secure an ideal orchestral balance."6 The Hollywood String Quartet, the great American quartet, recorded for Capitol in the late 1950s, sitting in a circle around one microphone.

This single-source sound results in especially convincing scale, accurate timbre, musical coherence and, often, a fine sense of setting and perspective. At its very best, monaural is made of "sounds which appear to have their sources distributed in space." Which is, incidentally, Webster's definition of stereophonic.

The simple, deep and wide monaural groove is the repository of all this good, full sound. Of course, in tracking the monaural groove, the stylus moves in only two directions and so can very accurately follow the groove pattern. The heavy platter, certainly a carry-over from the 78 era, was relatively vibration free and added little distortion to its engraved music. Finally, because monaural recording was tube in origin, it is warm and natural.

The longer duration of the LP was itself important. The LP format, with its twenty-odd minutes a side, allowed longer works to be recorded. Where the first record buyers cherished three- to six-minute 78s of their favorite opera singers, the LP collector was able to treasure whole symphonies on a single record. The LP made more of the classical repertoire conveniently available.

The fidelity on mono LPs in the '50s was good enough so that we began to hear differences in recording style. And at the same time record companies became more conscious of recording technique. Harold Lawrence remembers that the RCA Red Seal production staff quizzed Chicago Symphony members about microphone placement in the orchestra's earlier Mercury recording sessions.

Also in these years each record company began to develop a style of recording-a sonic personality. Mercury's was bold and strong, with its origin in Romantic orchestral works; RCA's was characterized by an inviting string tone and a pleasant sense of setting; London's was especially wide-ranged, detailed and delicate; and Columbia's warm and maybe just a little fat.

Of course, the era is made up of individual records, and it is through understanding them that we can know more about this period.
Consider Westminster's jewel-like XWN 18698. Domenico Cimarosa, an 18th-century composer of opera, also wrote some lovely keyboard sonatas. These are not large classical or romantic sonatas but are tuneful, small pieces. XWN 18698 (1957) is a collection of 32 of them played by harpsichordist Robert Veyron-Lacroix. Born in Paris, Veyron-Lacroix studied at the Conservatoire Nationale de Musique. Probably best known at the time as accompanist to the flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, Veyron-Lacroix was also one of the few solo harpsichordists to record in the 1950s, an era when the prevailing keyboard instrument was the piano. His performance here is straight forward, accenting melody with very little embellishment. He reveals these pieces simply. This recording brings Veyron-Lacroix and his harpsichord into your listening room.

Released in 1961, Andres Segovia's Three Centuries of the Guitar (Decca DL 10034 and DL 710034) is a solo recital record, for which Maestro chose only Italian and Spanish music. In fact, most of the works were written by one of two composers: the Spaniard Fernando Sor or the 17th-century Italian Ludovico Roncalli. Segovia's style combines personal warmth with a detailed understanding of the music. Self-taught, his technique was as ample as his hands were large. When taking a travelers check from him during a record sale in the 1960s, I remember wondering how those enormous paws could play so delicately. This record, in monaural, is my standard for recorded guitar music: its scale and timbre are exact and its setting convincing. The record is a quiet and involving music illusion.

 

 

The 18th-century Italian composer and 'cellist Luigi Boccherini worked in Spain for a time. Between 1769 and 1785 he was court composer and performer to Infante Don Luis, and in 1797 he returned to Madrid, where he lived until his death in 1805. The Quintet in D Major for Guitar and Strings is one of Boccherini's late Madrid compositions. Reflecting the composer's mature style, this is a work of "delicate detail, syncopated rhythm and rich textures."7 It is also a very Spanish work, rich in folk material: its last movement, for example, is a Fandango. In 1958 Vanguard released VRS 1044, a mono-only recording of this quintet, which they paired with the Haydn guitar quartet. Performed by the guitarist Karl Scheit and the Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet, this is a particularly clear recording. Although some sense of space is suggested, each instrument is recorded so accurately that it is possible to identify it by timbre alone. The ear moves easily from one instrument to another, yet, when necessary, it can hear the entire quintet. The Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet was formed in 1934 by graduates of the Vienna State Academy of Music, and Karl Scheit was a professor at the Academy. A fine classical guitarist, Dr. Scheit is also an authority on Baroque performance. The Vienna Konzerthaus follows in the tradition of the Rosé Quartet, giving deeply romantic yet informed performances. Here this style serves Boccherini well, especially in the dreamy, serene"Pastorale." Karl Scheit's guitar playing is perfectly sympathetic.

Formed in 1949, Quintetto Boccherini devoted itself to performing the 120 quintets of Luigi Boccherini. Although the quintet played other music, these Italian musicians were largely responsible for a renewed interest in Boccherini's works, and their Angel six-record series of Boccherini quintets (45006-11) was instrumental in reviving this interest. Released singly, in the mid-fifties, these records made the composer's works available to anyone with an interest, a phonograph, and a total of $29.88 in spending money-roughly one-hundred-seventy 1996 dollars. Although of varying recording quality, the performances are always inspired and musically responsible. These men, after all, devoted their music lives to the composer, Boccherini. The"Andante con moto" from the Quintet in C Major, Op. 42 on Album 5 is particularly well recorded. One of HMV's early LP chamber recordings, it captures fully the deep, rich sound of the Boccherini two-cello quintets. This andante con moto is a particularly lovely, if sometimes brooding piece. However, the musical delight of the series are the bird songs of the Quintet in D Major, Op. 11, No. 6 "L'Uccelliera"; this piece is found on Album 2.

A beautifully satin string tone characterizes the Beethoven trios released by RCA's Red Seal Division as LM 2186. This record contains String Trio in G Major, Op. 9, No.1 and String Trio in C Minor, Op. 9, No. 3. Played by Jascha Heifetz, violin; William Primrose, viola; and Gregor Piatigorsky, 'cello, these performances were recorded in 1957; the record, however, was released in 1958 and only in monaural. On this disq the three virtuosi give us thoroughly modern performances. They are readings in which each part is given its full musical importance-a concept that results in a provocative interplay of voices and an exceptional clarity of texture. These are truly collective efforts, although the tenor of these performances seems to have been set by violinist Jascha Heifetz. In addition to the lovely RCA string tone, this recording offers, with breathtaking transparence, music "sounds which appear to have their sources distributed in space."8 This is as good a record as I have heard.

 

 

 

 

Then there are the remarkable London ffrr LPs. Midway through the Second World War, RAF Coastal Command found that its sonar was not able to identify Axis U-boats. It seems the signals returned from Allied submarine hulls and Axis U-boat hulls were so similar that it was impossible to distinguish one from the other. To be able to tell the boats apart, the RAF would have to refine its sonar equipment, and this job was given to Arthur Haddy, the chief engineer of English Decca. Haddy was able to increase the frequency response of the sonar signal to 15000 cycles, thereby making the signal more sensitive and able to clearly distinguish one hull from the other. He was also asked to produce a set of training records so that sonar operators could learn to use the new equipment. To do this Haddy needed to cut 15000 cycles into master discs-he eventually developed a cutting technology that could do just that. Now he had a high-frequency signal that could be transmitted underwater and a cutter that could produce the signal on disc. But to record music with this tech-nology, Decca had to be able to capture up to 15000 cycles through air. With the subsequent development of Haddy's FR-1 microphone, the company was able to do so. Decca, through wartime sonar research, had incidentally developed its wide-range ffrr sound.

When the war ended, Decca had a technology that enabled it to make wide-range commercial recordings. This the company first did with its 78 RPM new releases. As a clerk in New York City's Grammophon Shop in the late '40s, Harold Lawrence remembers, ". . . it was my job to arrive an hour and a half before the rest of the staff in order to take inventory and replenish the stock. It also gave me an opportunity to audition new releases. I can recall my excitement on hearing the Decca/Khachaturian recording fill the empty shop. It didn't seem possible that such glorious sounds could emerge from the grooves of a 78 RPM disq."9 The recording Mr. Lawrence remembers is of Aram Khachaturian's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in D Flat Major with Moura Lympany, piano, and the London Symphony conducted by Anatole Fistoulari (Decca 1145/8).

Although English Decca (American London) had been producing wide-range recordings for its postwar 78s, its earliest LPs also featured this technology.

The sound of these early monaural LPs is astonishing.

Originally released on 78s as Decca 28277/81, London LL 1191 (1955) is one of these records. The Septet in E Flat Major, Op. 20, was written by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1800. In the same year he finished his First Symphony, the "Spring" Sonata for Violin and Piano, and the Six String Quartets, Op. 18-it was a busy year for Mr. Beethoven. The Septet Op. 20 takes up both sides of London LL 1191. Written for violin, viola, 'cello, bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn, it is a work of varied sound-an ear's delight. For entertainment, the ear can light on very different musical instruments, sampling the 'cello, darting to the clarinet, or playing with the differences between double-bass and bassoon. Because the recording is startlingly clear, it can do this easily. Not only is each instrument's sound rendered precisely, but all instruments are in good scale and are in very definite places: space is rendered as clearly as instrument timbre. This is a very sophisticated recording. Happily, it is matched with a whipped-cream-rich performance by the Vienna Octet, many of whom were also members of the Vienna Philharmonic, the great kaffee mit schlag orchestra. This is a tasty record.

While these Viennese musicians were recording in Austria, the Hollywood String Quartet was playing and recording in California. The Quartet's mono LPs show it to be one of the finest string quartets on record. The writer of liner notes for the Hollywood Quartet albums observes, "Formed in 1948 . . . the group's widespread recognition is almost wholly the result of its highly praised recordings, since recitals by the ensemble have been confined chiefly to the West Coast, where its members occupy principal chairs in the orchestras of major film studios."10 Although incidental to her extraordinary work as a chamber performer, the haunting solo of the Quartet's 'cellist in the soundtrack to Johnny Belinda should be heard.11 The Hollywood String Quartet was made up of Felix Slatkin, first violin; Paul Shure, second violin; Alvin Dinkin, viola; and Eleanor Aller, 'cello. Throughout the 1950s the group was recorded by Capitol in FDS (Full Dimensional Sound). In 1956 Capitol Records released P 8331, which contains the Quartet's performances of Bedrich Smetana's String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor "From My Life" and Five Novelettes for String Quartet, Op. 15 (1888) by Alexander Glazunov. The Novelettes are Glazunov's five music impressions of places and things- "Alla Spagnuola," "Orientale," "Interludium in modo antico," "Valse" and "All' Ungherese." In one of the Hollywood String Quartet's best- sounding recordings these little pieces are treated with respect, the Quartet skillfully evoking a light mood in my favorite, "Alla Spagnuola." From this movement's opening pizzicati we are given a young and fresh, not too sentimental look at things Spanish; a Californian view perhaps. With clean attack, tempered vibrato and tasteful glissandi the Hollywood Quartet alternately bounces and wanders through Spain.

 

 

 

The later work of another American West Coast quartet became known through its records. Formed in 1946, the Paganini Quartet played on string instruments once owned by Niccoló Paganini. Their viola, in fact, is said to be the one Paganini used to premiere Berlioz' Harold in Italy. In 1957 Liberty Records of Hollywood, California, recorded these instruments and, almost incidentally, the players, in full glory-performances were recorded in monaural on an Ampex tape recorder, through an Altec Lansing amplifier and a Telefunken microphone. They were wide-range recordings of 40-15000 cps. At this time the Paganini Quartet was made up of Henri Temianka, first violin; Gustave Rosseels, second violin; Charles Foidart, viola; and Lucien Laporte, 'cello. The Quartet's performance of Benjamin Lees' String Quartet No. 2 (1955) and the String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10 by Claude Debussy make up Liberty SWL 15004 (1957). Benjamin Lees is a West Coast American composer of Russian ancestry. Although born in China, he came to America in 1925, settling first in San Francisco and later in Los Angeles. He studied at the University of Southern California in composition and then privately with George Anteil. "The STRING QUARTET NO. 2 was begun in Paris in March 1955, and completed during June of that year in Vienna. . . . The premier performance took place on February 8, 1956 in Town Hall, New York, by the Paganini Quartet, to whom the work is dedicated."12 The last movement, "Allegro Energetico," shows off the Quartet brilliantly. Characterized by sharp staccato attack with occasional lyric interludes, it challenges the Quartet's ensemble. With taut energy, perfect intonation and great rhythmic precision, the Paganini charges through the movement. This wild interpretation is imaginatively captured by Liberty's wide-range recording.

The Harvard Biographical Dictionary observes: "Alec Wilder was largely self-taught as a pianist and composer. During the 1930s and 1940s he did arrangements for several bands, and his songs were recorded by Tommy Dorsey, Mildred Bailey, the Mills Brothers, Frank Sinatra, and others. He also experimented with blending popular and classical music in a series of Octets for winds, harpsichord, and rhythm section (c1939)." In about 1956 M-G-M Records released a record of thirteen of these octets. Performed by the jazz musician George Russell and his group, MGM 3321 is a wide range, tube recording and one in which instrument timbre is warmly rendered. Although the works' harmonies and rhythms are easy-listening pop, their instrumentation of bassoon, clarinets, English horn, flute, oboe and harpsichord gives the pieces a classical flavor, and the use of bass and drums lends a jazz quality. This record has a gentle, jazzy swing.

The second movement of Maurice Ravel's 1927 violin and piano sonata is entitled "Blues." But on Mercury MG 80000 (c1955), violinist Rafael Druian and pianist John Simms play it like a modern gypsy air. This record, the first issue of the short-lived Mercury Custom Fidelity Series, was released in February 1955. This series is made up exclusively of beautifully recorded performances of chamber music. The writer of Mercury liner notes, possibly Harold Lawrence, observes, "special care is taken in each instance to see that the acoustical environment is ideally suited to the character of each performance and of the music itself-so that in terms of any given composition, its sonic realization can be called LIVING PRESENCE." Another release in the series was MG 80002, a record containing Johannes Brahms' Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100 (c1886) and Robert Schumann's Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 105 (c1851). Also released was MG 80001, which paired the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 25 (c1926) by Georges Enesco and the Sonata for Violin and Piano (c1921) by Leos Janacek. The performers on both of these records are Rafael Druian and John Simms. Druian, a Cuban of Russian birth, and Simms, an American born in Arkansas, give all the works a New World bent. Two other records by these artists (MG 50096 and MG 50097) contain three violin and piano sonatas by the American composer Charles Ives. On Mercury Custom Fidelity MG 80000, the work coupled with the Ravel sonata is Béla Bartók's Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 (c1922). The recording is superb, with instruments of exact scale in an inviting setting. Yet what is notable about this side of the record is the informed, modern way the artists have with Bartók, and the resulting clean and revealing textures. Fortunately, the textures are enhanced by the recording's superb piano-and-violin balance. The Maurice Ravel sonata offers, in addition to its bluesy movement, a tantalizing study in the different sounds of the violin. Druian, Simms and the Mercury production staff render all of them clearly. This record became MG 50089 in January 1957 as part of the Mercury Living Presence Series.

 

 

 

By 1958 the entire Westminster catalogue had been renumbered with the XWN series. XWN 18592 (c1957) features Johannes Brahms' Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100 and Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108. The performers are Erica Morini, violin, and Leon Pommers, piano. Trained in the early 1900s by Sevcik at the Vienna Conservatory, Morini offers completely romantic Brahms and has Pommer's obliging support. In the third sonata, particularly, she sings and soars. The second movement "Adagio" is her heartfelt outpouring. On this record the artists present us with beautiful music and a beautiful kind of playing from a time long past.

Leon Pommers is also the accompanist to 'cellist Janos Starker on the recital record Period SPL 741 (c1958). Although the record features the Debussy Sonata for 'Cello and Piano (c1915) and the Paul Hindemith Sonata for 'Cello and Piano, Op. 11 No. 3, my favorite is the pyrotechnic piece by Francoeur. An arrangement of an 18th-century violin sonata, its "Allegro vivo" movement is breathtaking. The recording, bold and detailed, enhances the brilliant, sparking performance. Starker was principal 'cellist of the Chicago Symphony when this recording was made.

Although the illusion of breadth and depth in mono can often be easily rendered with the small forces called for in chamber music, there is that occasional orchestral record that convincingly suggests three-dimensional space.

Columbia Masterworks ML 5232 (c1957) is such a disq. Here Columbia's aural painting is almost perfect sonic realism. It is not only a treat to hear Bruno Walter conduct the responsive and disciplined New York Philharmonic, but a pleasure to be drawn into Columbia Masterworks' music illusion. Side one of ML 5232 contains the Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72a and the Egmont Overture, Op. 84 by Ludwig van Beethoven. Both overtures were recorded on December 6, 1954. On side two are found Brahms' Academic Overture, Op. 80 and his Tragic Overture, Op. 81. The Tragic Overture was also recorded in 1954, while the Academic Festival was recorded earlier on March 12, 1951, and does not create the splendid illusion of the other recordings. But the jewel of the record is Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3. It is that special blend of fine conducting, great playing and superb recording. Walter gives us warm, powerful Beethoven, the New York Philharmonic plays with discipline, yet flows, and the production staff produces a recording that is a perfect aural model of the symphony orchestra. For the Leonore alone, this is a special record.

The Russian Issay Dobrowen conducted the San Francisco Symphony from 1933 to 1935. Born in 1891, he studied with Sergei Taneyev at the Moscow Conservatory in the early 1900s. Taneyev, his teacher, was born in 1856. Dobrowen was certainly taught in the Russian Romantic ways. One of the first classical LPs released by Angel in the U.S. was Dobrowen conducting the Philharmonia in works of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Angel 35010 [c1953]). Graced with a Gontcharov color sketch of a costume for the Diaghilev production of Tsar Sultan, this dowel-spined deluxe album is itself a work of art. The record contains Rimsky-Korsakov's Tsar Sultan Suite (c1900) and a suite from Le Coq d'or (c1909). An LP recording made before Dobrowen's death in 1953, it is wide-range, has a slightly distant perspective and remarkably exact scale, but is not particularly detailed. Yet what is special about the record is the performance. Conducted by a man who was born a decade before the Tsar Sultan was written and almost two decades before the writing of Le Coq d'or, this music is performed by someone who lived in its time-a man who was shaped by the same forces that shaped the music. Also, his understanding of these works seems particularly personal, with a performance that is free and spontaneous and a touch bold. It's as if the music were being enthusiastically played for the first time. But the perfect balance of melody and harmony betrays an intimate acquaintance. Particularly enchanting and humorous is the "Tsarina in a Barrel at Sea" from the Tsar Sultan. This record is a beautiful portrait of a far away time.

 

 

 

MG 50000 is widely thought to be the first Mercury Living Presence record. Actually it was released in November 1951 as the first record of the Mercury Olympian Series. It officially became a Living Presence record when this name was first used on Mercury record labels in 1957. However, "Mercury Living Presence" did appear earlier in liner notes on the back of record jackets. Mercury MG 50000 is Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. This Mercury production was made with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Rafael Kubelik and was recorded in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, on April 23, 1951.

Harold Lawrence writes: "in the Fifties, a record critic wrote that 'each new release on Mercury was an event... These records had big bass sound, these records had hall sound, the records had dynamic range.' The event that catapulted the energetic young record label into prominence occurred in 1951 with the release of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The release of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Rafael Kubelik heralded a new era in high-fidelity recording. Listening to the new recording was 'like being in the living presence of the orchestra,' wrote Howard Taubman, chief music critic of the New York Times. Pictures was the first of 350 albums produced by the Mercury classical recording team between 1950-1967. The task of engineering Mercury's new orchestral recordings was put to the late C. Robert Fine, supervising engineer for all the Living Presence recordings. Fine had a vision of how orchestral recordings should be made. Given a hall with excellent acoustical properties, Fine contended, a single microphone should be capable of capturing the sound of the symphony orchestra with unprecedented clarity and crisp definition. Single microphone recordings had been made before, of course. But the idea of recording large-scale symphonic works was bold and innovative. The Mercury Living Presence recording technique was simplicity itself. First, the height, angle and position of the microphone was dictated by the orchestral forces involved, the dimensions and physical characteristics of the hall, and the nature of the musical work itself. The final decision was made jointly by the recording director and engineer. The microphone was suspended along the frontal area of the orchestra so that its pattern covered all sections of the orchestra. A level check was then conducted to measure the score's most powerful passage. After that, control of balance and dynamics was placed strictly in the hands of the conductor and his musicians-one of the principal reasons why artists enjoyed recording for Mercury. The choice of microphone was critical to the success of each recording. Engineer Fine selected Telefunken microphones (U-47 or 201) and later Schoeps microphones especially designed to his specifications. Recording was done with Ampex tape recorders." MG 50000 is a prime example of the Mercury Living Presence Catalogue. It is dynamic, colorful and big music that is powerfully recorded.

MG 50030 is as powerful as MG 50000. Mercury MG 50030 (c1953) offers Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (c1913) with the Minneapolis Symphony conducted by Antal Dorati. Bursting with twentieth-century harmonies and rhythms, texturally varied, colorful and dynamic, this music is stunningly presented by the Mercury production staff, Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony. The recording is one of exceptional detail and also is dynamic. When coupled with Stravinsky's music and Dorati's performance, it produces an explosively powerful record.

Also filled with exciting twentieth- century harmonies and rhythms, and drawing on Spanish popular and folk material, is London ffrr LL 3024 (c1958). The Spanish composer Ernesto Halffter wrote his sinfonietta, this record's work, in 1924. His "little symphony" is light, Latin, and tuneful and is beautifully enhanced by its airy recording. Halffter's inventive use of popular material appears through folk tunes, and more creatively, in the recurring imitation of the sounds of a village band. As charming as the composition's village band are the silky, satin strings of the recording. And particularly delightful is the movement, "Allegro vivace (minuetto)." Sinfonietta is conducted by Ataulfo Argenta with the Orquestra Nacional de España. This is a wholly winning record.

The conductor D. E. Inghelbrecht was just thirty-two-years old when, in 1912, Claude Debussy composed Jeux. Although Inghelbrecht was younger than Debussy, they were men of the same era. Angel 35678 (c1959) is one of Inghelbrecht's records of the music of Debussy. It contains Jeux, poéme dansé, Images: Gigues and Rondes de printemps (c1908), Trois chansons de Charles d'Orléans and Trois ballades de François Villon. In all the pieces, Inghelbrecht conducts the Orchestre National de la Radiod-iffusion Française. The Chorale Symphonique de la Radiodiffusion Française sings the d'Orleáns songs and the baritone Bernard Plantey sings the Villon ballades. The record is sleeved in a matte cover with a drawing by Seurat; an informative four-page booklet is enclosed. Jeux was premiered in 1913 by the Diaghilev company with Pierre Monteux conducting. Inghelbrecht's performance draws on this earlier time. Lightly impressionist, dreamy, yet fully informed, this is a concert reading. EMI's staff renders it clearly with a recording of exact scale, fine timbre, detail and a convincing breadth and depth. The orchestra plays beautifully, following Inghelbrecht with ease and elegance. The other works are similarly engaging. This is a fine, fine record.

One of the most transcendental records I know is Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft KL 28 (c1964). It offers Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120. This performance was recorded on May 14, 1953, in the Jesu Christi Kirche, Berlin. Of it John Ardoin writes: "The recording of the Fourth was made under studio conditions but it has all the inspiration and involvement of a live performance, which, in effect, it was. Furtwängler lost his temper after the producer had interrupted him time and again, asking for retakes. He demanded that all previous takes be scrapped, saying he would play the Fourth through without stopping. The producer was free to record it and to issue it but there would be no edits." When I played this record for a lecture at Recollections, the setting sun shone through my stained glass 'cello window, filling the shop with golden light.

 

copyright 2001 by Ron Penndorf, RECOLLECTIONS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much of this material originally appeared in "RECOLLECTIONS Journal of Recorded Music." Back issues of the journal are available for US$15.00 at RECOLLECTIONS-by email at ronpenndorf@earthlink.net

My publications can also be found and browsed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archive of the New York Public Library, the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound and the Music Department of theChicago Public Library.


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