Wednesday, 29 July 2015

La grotte engloutie

Edison Bell VF 674 [X 1576] label 5DII   125, 12-Jul-15

Debussy Préludes, Book 1 - (x) La Cathédrale engloutie
Chopin Etude in e minor Op.25 No.5
Marie Novello (piano)
(rec. c. May 1926, issued July 1926)
Edison Bell VF 674

(My wonky framing of the label, above, is so you can see the matrix number.)

I bought this record back in January – but, as usual, I’ve had to rely on the kindness of others to enable me to share it with you. Generous and patient as ever, Jolyon has sprinkled some of his legendary Fairy Fluff on these two sides, giving me several versions to choose from. Although they’re acoustic recordings, and although the piano wasn’t too well in tune, I think they sound good – I’ve not tired of listening to them, repeatedly, as I took out some recalcitrant noises.

The estimated recording date is courtesy of the eminent British discographer William Dean-Myatt, author of the fascinating Beltona: a label listing and history (2007) and the monumental A Scottish vernacular discography, 1888-1960 (2013), which can be consulted on the website of the National Library of Scotland. Mr Dean-Myatt is currently preparing a discography of Edison Bell, a difficult task which he says will take him many years yet. It promises to be another invaluable work of reference.

My prompts for sharing this disc are twofold: guilt at not posting more often, mixed with shame at the constant streams of treasures from Shellackophile, Satyr, Buster and (not quite so constant, as he himself admits) Jolyon; and some good news which I’ve long been hoping for. The enterprising Japanese specialist label Sakuraphon has announced that it will issue a complete transfer of Marie Novello’s disc recordings, including the uncommon VF of Tausig’s transcription of  Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d BWV 565.

The Bach-Tausig will be offered as a ‘bonus track’: Sakuraphon bought the very copy of the original disc which I’d been eyeing on >ahem< ‘an internet auction site’. It was clearly being sold by a total tyro, and it reached Japan broken in two. I’m sorry for Sakuraphon, but glad that I trusted my instinct (and my meanness, baulking at the price plus postage, which were too high), and that someone more expert than me is picking up the pieces.

Sakuraphon, in case you’re not familiar with the label, is the successor to DIW Classics, which explored audio and piano-roll recordings by overlooked, underrated pianists, and issued such wonderful CDs as ‘Hounds of Ecstasy’ – two volumes of rare historical recordings of music by Scriabin; two of Chopin titled ‘Spoonful of Chopin’s Secrets’; a disc of Beethoven sonatas recorded for French H.M.V. by Aline van Barentzen; and another of Fauré played by French women pianists.

DIW Classics DICL-1001 booklet front

Hounds of Ecstasy vol.1
DIW Classics DCL-1001 (p.2007)

Sakuraphon is continuing this exploration, in CD and CDR compilations which you can see here. I don’t know when the Novello disc is due – I’ll try to keep you posted.

As for Novello herself, she was born Marie Williams in the land of my forefathers, and took her professional surname from her teacher, mother of Ivor Novello. She also studied with Theodor Leschetizky, apparently, although that can’t have been for long, since he died when Marie was 17. Anyway, you’ll find a decent biography and discography on Wikipedia, which also relates the sad story of her early death from cancer, aged around 30 (depending on when exactly in 1898 she was born).

Someone whose expertise and taste I respect – and who actually plays the piano, unlike me, and very well – doesn’t rate this disc very highly. Fair enough; I’m not ashamed to admit I know nothing about piano technique. Both Novello’s technique and her interpretation drew criticism in the September 1926 issue of The Gramophone:

La Cathédrale Engloutie will not stand being played at this pace; its magic atmosphere evaporates and nothing remains but a stark, empty shell. […] The delightful Chopin Etude (from Op.25) is rather better, but here again I should have liked more delicacy and a less percussive effect.

(The reviewer, Peter Latham, liked her Bach-Tausig rather more.) Well, call me cloth-eared, but I really enjoy Novello’s way with both pieces: her refusal to linger over details in the Debussy (though they’re all there), which instead she dashes off like a water-colourist painting en plein air; and, on the contrary, her unhurried, almost parlando phrasing in the Chopin, which sounds really improvised, especially in the middle bit - a quality modern pianists aspire to but rarely achieve. As for La Cathédrale, I just listened to an extremely famous pianist’s 1978 recording and found it catatonically slow, dully grey and almost totally devoid of atmosphere.

Last night I played Jolyon’s transfers to a friend who, again, is much more musical than me, and she likened the Debussy to a ‘charcoal drawing’, exactly the simile I’d thought of using above, instead of the water-colour. She did find the Chopin a bit lumpy. All right, but I think that’s on purpose: Novello lends the outer section an almost Bartókian grotesquery – or should that be Chaplinesque?

Two mono FLAC files, fully tagged, in a .rar file here.

Thanks again to Jolyon and William Dean-Myatt!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dept. of Unabashed Pluggery

Mirare MIR 213 front 19-Jul-15

Variations on a Theme by Scarlatti
Matan Porat (piano)
(recorded 28 to 30 January 2013)
Mirare MIR 213

Some time ago I was given the above CD, which is very, very fine. I haven’t met the pianist, who’s also a composer, and was born in Tel Aviv in 1982, but I know his father (who kindly gave me the CD). Porat’s programme is brilliantly inventive, a 69-minute segue from Scarlatti to Boulez (and Porat himself) and back again, and it’s superbly played. Trust me. Or go to the CD’s listing on Amazon and read my review. (I’m gratified to see that Porat’s disc has received two more, just as positive, since I wrote mine.)

So I was very happy, the other day, to learn that Porat is giving a solo recital a week from now, on Sunday 26 July at 7:30 p.m., in one of London’s smaller but most cherished venues: the Wigmore Hall. And what a programme – it’s as if he’d consulted me before choosing it (as if…). To start, Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata, followed by most of a suite from Rameau’s Nouvelles suites de pieces de clavecin (played on the piano), the one in a minor which ends with the famous Gavotte avec six doubles. And in the second half, one of my favourite sonatas by Schubert, the great A major D.959.

Normally, I have dinner with my mother on Sunday – but we’re taking her to the opera tomorrow, and this concert promises to be too good to miss! Sorry, Ma. You can buy tickets via the concert’s listing on the Wigmore Hall’s website.

For once, nothing to be grumpy about.

Oh, and on the subject of Rameau, and while I’m plugging, here’s another, for that incomparable blogger Shellackophile. Ten days ago he kindly posted his transfer of a 1926 Brunswick disc which I’d requested, of the American harpsichordist Lewis Roberts playing pieces by, >ahem< ‘Rameau’ and ‘Ayrlton’. It comes at the end of a fascinating post about an all-but forgotten American ‘ancient music’ ensemble of the same period. They turn out to be related. Do read and enjoy Shellackophile’s post here.

UPDATE: Read David Nice’s excellent review of Matan Porat’s concert for The Arts Desk here.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Albert Sammons plays Fauré REMOVED

Staircase, Denée, 5DII   Ultron 40mm SL, 14-Aug-13

Over the last year I’ve received a few requests for access to the transfer of  Fauré’s Violin Sonata Op.13, recorded privately by Albert Sammons in 1937, which I shared and wrote about in October 2010.

I’m very sorry not to grant these requests. As I explained in an addendum to my post a few weeks later, the owner of the original discs of the Fauré, who had kindly given me the transfer to post, then gave it to Pristine Audio for further treatment and sale via the Pristine Classical website. I try not to compete with the few bone fide producers of commercial transfers of 78s who are able to stay in business in these very difficult times, so I withdrew my upload.

Pristine Classical certainly is a bone fide producer, and deserves all our support. For instance, a few months ago, during one of my periodic Stravinsky phases, I found to my joy that Pristine has transferred one of Stravinsky’s few commercial recordings which has never been reissued, his 1957 Columbia LP of Perséphone, narrated by Vera Zorina, an interesting artist with a long and varied career in ballet, film and the theatre. Perséphone is a fine and original piece, unfairly overlooked in Stravinsky’s output – so kudos to Pristine for letting us hear the composer’s first recording, which I prefer to his 1966 remake (also with Zorina). There’s an earlier, even better recording, narrated by French actress Claude Nollier and conducted by André Cluytens, especially notable for the wonderful singing of Nicolai Gedda: I keep hoping it’ll be reissued, if possible from master tapes - one for Testament, whose catalogue includes Cluytens’s exactly contemporary recording of Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol?

Pristine’s version of Sammons’ Fauré is coupled with his 1926 Columbia recording of Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata Op.47, in an album of ‘Rare and Unissued Violin Sonatas’ – and it’s priced extremely reasonably, so if you want to hear the Fauré, please support Pristine by buying it!

Thank you and, again, apologies.

Friday, 15 May 2015

“Buxtehude, Headmaster!”

Archiv ARC 3096 front 02 

Buxtehude
Herr, nun läßt du deinen Diener BuxWV 37
Quemadmodum desiderat cervus, ciaccona BuxWV 92
*Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele BuxWV 71
Helmut Krebs (tenor),
instrumental ensemble / *Berlin Bach Orchestra strings,
Carl Gorvin (organ / *conductor)
Archiv Produktion ARC 3096 [APM 14088 / 14529]
(rec. 29-30 October 1956, *25 October 1957,
Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem)

Apologies: I started this post in September 2013, and almost immediately abandoned it. A couple of things, which I’ll come to later, have prompted me to revive it.

When I first saw Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film If, a satire on British boys’ boarding schools and their traditional cruelty, I was still attending one myself, I think. I’d already gone potty for classical music and I’d probably come across the great Dane, played on one of our school’s fine organs – but back then, it was Messiaen’s L’Ascension and La nativité which really blew me away. I missed it at the time but much later, a friend reminded me of a pithy line, spoken by If’s fictional chaplain, after being asked what music the organ was playing as the boys exited Chapel:

‘Padre, that was a super voluntary you gave us this morning. What was it, 18th century?’ ‘Buxtehude, Headmaster!

Actually, it was the Toccata from Widor’s Symphony No.5. What does this mean?, asks a perplexed punter on IMDb. It could mean any number of things; to me, it’s a brief but dense joke at the expense of that system of education. The raison d’être of British ‘public’ schools, supposedly, was the fostering in boys of  something which still sends shivers down my spine: ‘team spirit’. Now, a team needs a captain; in If’s joke, as I read it, he is the headmaster. To lead, the captain needs to know what’s going on. So he asks his subordinate – here, the chaplain – who obliges with the kind of misinformation which led to mass slaughter in the trenches etc., magnificently sent up in the final shoot-out of Anderson’s film. (I suspect there’s a also a dig at a certain strand of British musical philistinism: of course, nobody can be expected to know everything – but Widor’s Toccata, for goodness’ sake…)

Down With Skool front [corrected]

Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle
down with skool!
London: Max Parrish & Co. Ltd., 1958
1968 Armada paperback, originally my friend Stephen’s
(did I nick it or did he give it to me?…)

At the same time, the padre’s Buxtehude joke celebrates genuine strengths of British public schools: eccentricity, contrarianism, subversion, delight in the arcane. These are celebrated traits of wider British culture, obviously: but the schools’ contradictory totalitarianism (the sole advantage of right-wing tyrannies) – ‘team spirit’ and muscular Christianity versus unworldly academicism and dubious ancient poems – creates convenient corners for them to sprout in. Any boarding-school survivor watching If would have known masters and fellow-pupils with unusual tastes and obsessive interests. Unlike the conformist rebels who made a predictable song and dance of their rebellion, these resisted silently, with jokes and sabotage comprehensible to almost no one. Hence: ‘Buxtehude, Headmaster.’

At school, I was apparently the only friend of a kindly loner who introduced me to H.P. Lovecraft and who, a year or so later, shot himself during the holidays (which, my housemaster seemed to imply as he reported my friend’s suicide to me one evening, was my fault…). Another friend, to our matron’s disgust, spent his time publishing papers on subatomic particle physics, instead of washing; he’s now one of the world’s leading computer scientists. Others formed a consort of viols: hearing them play sparked a hunger for early music which I still feed almost every day.

Talking of which, back to Buxtehude. What has prompted me to revisit this post is a) guilt at neglecting Grumpy’s groupies, b) buying this box a couple of weeks ago, and c) listening to all of it for the first time, finishing just a few hours ago:

Buxtehude Opera Omnia 01, A7II   Color-Heliar 75, 12-May-15

Buxtehude Opera Omnia
Bruhns Complete Organ Works
Amsterdam Baroque Choir and Orchestra,
Ton Koopman (organ / harpsichord / conductor)
(recorded September 2005 – June 2013)
Challenge Classics CC772261 (29 CDs, 1 DVD, 6 booklets)

If, like me, you’re a Buxtehude bore, you’ll probably have to have this box. It’s expensive in Britain (much more so than in Europe), but I was lucky and happened to check the price on a day when it was discounted by 40%. There’s probably too much vocal music in the box for all but us Lübeck loonies, and the best pieces are well distributed across the vocal CDs, making it difficult to recommend one. So my quick picks are the very first volume, 2 CDs of harpsichord music including the monumental variations on ‘La Capricciosa’, any of the organ CDs – OK, start with the cracking Volume VIII / Organ Works 3 – and eight wonderful unpublished sonatas, in Volume XII / Chamber Music 1.

Nor will I compare the recordings on the Archiv LP, made nearly sixty years ago, with those in this box – but the earlier ones have nothing to fear from any comparison. Helmut Krebs was in his prime, and his voice, fresh and light, would surely be the envy of any ‘HIP’ tenor today. The instrumental ensemble is no bigger than the ones employed by Koopman:

Archiv ARC 3096 listing

[NOTE: the other two works on the LP, Ich bin eine Blume zu Saron BuxWV 45, and Ich suchte des Nachts BuxWV 50, are equally if not more beautiful. But I haven’t transferred them, as they were reissued in 2000, on a CD in DG’s Fischer-Dieskau 75 Edition, coupled with Bach’s two most famous cantatas for low male voice, BWV 56 and 82. A self-recommending disc, it’s deleted but not too hard to find:

DG 463 517-2 booklet front

Bach, Buxtehude Sacred vocal music
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Helmut Krebs,
Karl Richter, Carl Gorvin
DG 463 517-2]

Three of these recordings were premieres: BuxWV 92 and 71 (with Krebs only) and BuxWV 50 (with Fischer-Dieskau and Krebs). The Swiss tenor Max Meili had recorded BuxWV 37 in about 1950 for Concert Hall (E-5); and the bass Bruno Müller, with Hans Grischkat on Vox (PL 7620), beat Fischer-Dieskau to BuxWV 45 by about 5 years. (I’ve never seen either LP – they don’t seem common.) Given that, one marvels at the fluency, assurance and ‘rightness’ of the performances on the Archiv LP.

You can download the three mono, fully tagged FLACs, in a .rar file, from here.

Koopman’s Opera Omnia box includes a touching written tribute to Bruno Grusnick (1900-1992), the German musicologist who studied, edited, published and championed Buxtehude’s vocal music, discovering many unique manuscripts in the Düben Collection in Uppsala. (I’ve always coveted Grusnick’s beautiful Buxtehude editions as published by Ugrino. They don’t seem at all common.) Grusnick wrote a very good note for the Archiv LP, and I think I forgot to include sung texts in the .rar file, so I’ve uploaded a text file with both (only the bits relevant to the works I’ve transferred), here.

I’m sorry if this upload seems a bit stingy. I had also intended to offer another Buxtehude LP recorded by Archiv in 1956, of four substantial sacred vocal pieces, charmingly sung by the Norddeutscher Singkreis conducted by Gottfried Wolters – but that has been transferred for the Bibliothèque nationale’s BnF Collection series of downloads, in very acceptable sound, and as I write it is for sale on Qobuz in lossless format and high resolution, priced at next to nothing. I’m not sure why Krebs’s LP hasn’t also been transferred – maybe it will – but I urge you to support the BnF Collection, both for its own sake and because I’m hoping the Bibliothèque nationale will make enough money from it to transfer and market their 78s.

Transept organ, St. Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent, A7II, 5-Apr-15

Not Lübeck but somewhere very like it:
Transept organ (Bis & Destré, 1653),
St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium,
6 April 2015

You’re probably bored of waiting for me to get my act together and post more stuff. Once again, I’m sorry. I keep inventing time- (and money-)wasting things to do, instead of decluttering the Cave, publishing my thesis, finding funding for my academic research and setting up a 78 transfer chain. But the last will happen, I promise – I just don’t know when. I have bought so much interesting stuff which I simply must share, including lots of historic Buxtehude. Thank you for your patience.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Frozen

Dead fox in garden, 5DII, 19-Nov-12

I know, I do almost nothing on this blog, except apologise for doing nothing…

But now I’m really frozen. Not as frozen as this fox, which we found one morning 18 months ago, in the green patch behind the Cave. To begin with, I thought it was dozing, as they sometimes do there. We love watching them, when they think no one can see them, completely relaxed and behaving just like pets, yawning, stretching, scratching, wondering what to play with next… and effortlessly beautiful. But after a bit, La G & I realised it wasn’t kippin’ due to it being tired and shagged out following a long squawk. In the end, we had to shovel the poor stiff into a black bin liner and leave it to be collected with the rest of the week’s ‘rubbish’, on the Cave’s designated Friday morning.

The ‘tidying’ was advancing at a glacial pace anyway – but now it really has ground to a halt, as I have a frozen shoulder (or adhesive capsulitis). Possibly two – my right shoulder is beginning to hurt imperceptibly more, just as as my left one did a few months ago. Innocuous-sounding, this condition is really quite nasty: apart from almost constant discomfort, if I suddenly move the affected arm outside its very restricted zone, I suffer short but intense agony; and halfway through the night I wake up with pain which feels much worse at that deathly hour. It gets better during the day, strangely.

Mustn’t complain – I could have something far more serious. This I can live with, though my already pitiful productivity will plummet asymptotically. Still, odd that nature has found exactly the disease to mirror my general state! The transfers too have ground to a halt. I’m not happy with my initial dubs or my treatments (mainly the EQ); I really must get my (tone-)arm recalibrated – and at least one of those blasted 78rpm turntables up and running. Luckily, my buying has calmed down, so there’s not so much coming into the Cave.

But my selling has also slowed down. Doesn’t help that I found my lovely, mostly mint LPs have been attacked by mildew. Not the Cave’s fault – they’ve been fine here for years, until this last, hideously wet winter. The discs are still pristine but some sleeves now have unsightly brown splodges. Won’t look good to buyers. Not that I’ve tried selling anything yet – I have this idiotic phobia about it, imagining I’m going to be messed about by some analogue nutter or scammed by someone from a country with no respect for the rule of law.

But I’ll continue writing here – I hope. I’ve bought some wonderful CDs recently and really must tell someone about them. I’ve read some very interesting books (PhD theses, mostly), too. And of course I have various grumps I really must get off my chest – the shocking quality of commercial and institutional (and private) sound-file metadata, for starters. And you never know – one day I might get my act together and start dubbing some of these fabulous 78s I’ve bought. So please bear with me. And – sorry. Again!

Aunt Marion's side table, M9, 1-Dec-12

Sunday, 23 March 2014

One out, Ten in

Felsted L 89003 front

Vivaldi 6 Concertos for flute, strings & b.c. Op.10
Jean-Pierre Rampal (flute),
Robert Veyron-Lacroix (harpsichord),
Louis de Froment Instrumental Ensemble
Felsted L 89003
(rec. 1953/54?, Paris?, issued September 1954)

It’s no good – much as I try to declutter the Cave, which is mainly what’s kept me from here (once again, many apologies), more floods in. I’ve not been ruthless enough – after several trips to the dump, there are still piles of ancient hi-fi and computer bits, books I’ve not looked at in 30 years, endless runs of magazines… And, of course, for every disc that goes out, an order of magnitude more comes in. But La Grumpy is pleased with my progress. And she has always generously indulged my endless purchases and acquisitions, such as this nice and little-known LP, bought recently from France.

Stuff does go out. For several years I’ve been selling surplus CDs online – a couple a month, usually (often, not even that many). That’s far too slow to make a dent in the Cave, so I’ve started giving discs (78s and LPs too) to our national sound archive. Some people will be surprised to learn that it doesn’t already ‘have everything’. It receives some new releases, yes, from some record companies, as voluntary donations; but many, it has to buy, since Britain has no statutory legal deposit of audio-visual material, unlike printed material. This was one of the subjects discussed on Friday 21st March at Keeping Tracks, a symposium on ‘music and archives in the digital age’ organized by the British Library in London. One presentation, by Trond Valberg and Lars Gaustad of Norway’s National Library, left us all green. Get this: they not only do have statutory legal deposit of audio-visual material, they also receive original master recordings from record companies!

What’s that got to do with this post? Well, I’d much rather you could enjoy this LP remastered from the original tape than from my pre-loved pressing, even though it has come up pretty well, thanks (as ever) to Brian Davies’ marvellous software. What are companies like Universal, Sony or Warner – none of which attended the symposium or, I gather, have bothered to respond to the British Library’s overtures about digital archiving – going to do with material which they’re unlikely ever to remaster digitally and sell? Does anyone at Universal, which now owns Decca, publisher of this LP, know about it or where the master tape is?

In fact, who recorded the master? In August 1954, The Gramophone reported the launch of Felsted, a subsidiary label of Decca carrying material licensed from France and falling into three categories, ‘Serious, Jazz and Swing and Authentic Dance Rhythms… The serious music… will feature both Classical and Modern music.’ Felsted lasted into the 1960s but its programme of ‘Serious’ music soon fizzled out, amounting to just seven 12-inch LPs and one 10-inch. I’ve only come across three or four for sale, of which I’ve managed to buy this and one other (I was outbid on a third).

Felsted masters were apparently licensed from the French label Classic. Rampal certainly recorded for Classic: I own a 78 of Bach’s solo Partita BWV 1013 played by him, which I plan to transfer and share once I get the Cave wired for 78 playback; and I’m sure that the famous Pierrot lunaire, in which he plays under René Leibowitz, must have been recorded by Classic, as were Berg’s Chamber Concerto, also conducted by Leibowitz (both can now be heard on a Japanese Green Door CD), and other works of the Second Viennese School.

Thing is, I’ve found no Classic issue of this Vivaldi Op.10 LP – although it has been confused with a slightly later Vox recording by Rampal and Froment, which was reissued by Tecval on a budget Tuxedo Music CD. And no Classic issue of Pierrot seems to be documented, either. Who now owns the Classic catalogue, anyway, which is stuffed of fascinating and important, pioneering recordings (we need a Classic discography)? It could be Universal Music France – but then you might expect this to have turned up in Accord’s 8-CD box of early concerto recordings by Rampal (get it and its companion chamber music box – they’re both fabulous). Maybe no one owns it… In which case, could Decca here in Britain be sitting on the only reliably locatable (copy) master tape?

Sorry, I’ve been rabbiting on, and it’s time to cut to the recording itself (6 fully tagged mono FLACs, in a .rar file, here). As soon as I put it on, I knew it was a good ’un, despite the technical problems. These include very audible pre-echo, edits, drop-outs (of which the worst is at 2:21-ish in Concerto No.2) and a high hum. The second movement of Concerto No.6 has been scalped (4:05); and the balance is unrealistic, with the flute close enough for us to hear a lot of key-work and pad-smacks - and the harpsichord’s even closer. I’m too lazy to download the score but I’m sure I hear misreadings here and there (at 4:27 in No.2, is that really the right note at the top of the upward phrase?); and in places Veyron-Lacroix slightly over-elaborates the continuo, at one point adding Dart-like canonic responses to the flute part.

Felsted L 89003 back

[For some reason, the sleeve bills Concerto No.3,
‘Il Cardellino’ (or ‘Gardellino’, ‘The Goldfinch’),
as being in G, when it’s in D – isn’t it?]

But the vitality and freshness (and, in No.5, tender delicacy) of everyone’s playing more than make up for all that. And I like being able to hear Rampal clearly, since his virtuosity is so breath-taking, debonair and well suited to the music. In October 1954, The Gramophone rightly praised Rampal but was a little sniffy about the ensemble’s ‘stinginess in numbers’ and ‘prosaic … style’ (incidentally, why was de Froment not credited as conductor? Maybe he didn’t?). To me, now, the ensemble’s small size and ‘prosaic’ playing sound prophetic, a reminder that performance practices varied more in the past than melioristic accounts of the 1970s & ’80s baroque boom would have us believe. And we can only know that by hearing these old records.

So: national libraries of the world, unite and dig this stuff out from under the dogs in the mangers; you have nothing to lose but simplistic conceptions of the past. I’m not suggesting that record company archives should be expropriated. But what if, instead of collecting mainly pressed discs (test and published), national libraries and archives were allowed to remaster the unloved, forgotten productions of their countries’ record labels, so that music-loving readers, researchers and discographers could enjoy them (only in reading rooms or on the institutions’  intranets) free of the dirt and damage of decades, in sound which does justice to their often surprising and delightful contents?

Oh, and I almost forgot – this was the first complete recording of Op.10 and it includes the first recordings I can trace of No.2 and No.6.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Nuper doctus, saepe dolens

Pots on terrace at night, 28-Aug-13

Once again, as so often before, I must apologise for my long silence. I suspected that finishing and submitting my thesis and finally being awarded a PhD would not make me more efficient, dynamic, proactive etc. – and I was right! Since getting the degree in July I’ve done… very little. Except: buy more 78s, LPs and CDs, a new laptop, books and DVDs and, not least, unnecessary camera gear (I have bad GAS*) – unnecessary because, as you can see, it hasn’t improved my photography. Instead, I should be buying the audio equipment I need to transfer my 78s.

To give you an idea of my accumulation of stuff, here’s the subject of this post, posed in a corner of the clutter that has increasingly taken over the Cave during the last six and a half years:

Lachrimae in front room, 3-Sep-13

Dowland Lachrimae (1604)
Schola Cantorum Basiliensis Viola da Gamba Quintet:
August Wenzinger (treble viol)
Hannelore Müller, Marianne Majer (tenor viols)
Jan Crafoord, Johannes Koch (bass viols)
Eugen Müller-Dombois (lute) 
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 1C 065-99 604
rec. date & location n/a, p.1962

This is one of the latest LPs which can scrape through Europe’s restrictive, regressive and rentier-minded revised copyright legislation. Although I wonder if it wasn’t recorded slightly earlier than the publication date stated on the sleeve: the grainy stereo sound gives off a whiff of the late 1950s which can’t be entirely due to my transcription. It’s from a much later, German Electrola pressing; the first issue was in France, on Harmonia Mundi HM30623 (mono only, I believe). The group certainly recorded one LP in France, in Paris in April 1958 (also, as far as I know, issued only in mono, on Erato LDE 3083, which I have and hope to transfer and share). On the other hand, this sleeve credits WDR’s Alfred Krings as producer, so maybe I’m talking rubbish. Still, if it was recorded in Germany, does anyone know why wasn’t it issued there (or in stereo) until 1978?

It’s less strange than regrettable that this LP has never been reissued on CD, since I reckon it was the first complete and ‘proper’ recording of that masterpiece of English consort music, Lachrimae. Earlier efforts were either incomplete (a pity, in the case of Dennis Nesbitt’s fine but slightly abridged disc, which I transferred and shared elsewhere some years ago) or monkeyed about with (much as I admire Thurston Dart, I still don’t understand why he recorded early consort music, including Lachrimae, using quasi-orchestral forces). Here, we have the ensemble which I find best suited to this music, a five-part viol consort with lute.

And not just any old ensemble: a group of true pioneers, whose director had been recording Baroque ensemble music on period instruments since the 1930s. August Wenzinger badly needs a biographer – shockingly, the SCB makes little of him on its website, though it does have a special room in its library named after him and his colleague Ina Lohr (what’s in it?). I was lucky enough to meet not only Wenzinger but also the wonderful Marianne Majer and Hannelore Müller, all three at the latter’s house outside Basle, not long before Wenzinger’s death in 1996 (I’m not sure if the others are still alive). I must write about that experience some other time, or you’ll never get through this post.

Now, while I respect and admire Wenzinger for his achievements and legacy, here his tuning and tone are occasionally a little off, to my ears; and, like many of his recorded performances, this might at first strike you as a little dry and uninvolved – Nesbitt’s recording was notably more expressive. Although Lachrimae is recorded complete, I would have liked all repeats. Still, there’s more than enough evidence here of the Swiss group’s deep love of and absorption in what is one of my favourite works of any genre, time or country. If you’d like to know more about Lachrimae – much more, about its content, context, prehistory and reception and everything else you can think of – you simply must read Peter Holman’s slim, superb monograph in the Cambridge Music Handbooks series.

Front room, 11-Aug-13

“You never know when it might come in handy…”

The more I listened to this neglected record, the more I enjoyed it. And I listened a lot – I nearly went mad cleaning up the LP. That’s the trouble with stereo, you see – not only does it not benefit from the magical noise-reduction effect of monoing, there are individual nasties on each groove wall, which have to be hunted down and dealt with separately (that is, if ClickRepair hasn’t already done it). This recording is also closely miked (unlike the swimmy ones DHM would soon make in the Cedar Hall of the Fugger family seat, Schloss Kirchheim), picking up frequent touches of bows and fingers on strings – which are often hard to tell from vinyl clicks and pops. The close perspective doesn’t do the playing style many favours, either, helping the fairly constant vibrato to muddy the sound. Other problems remain, such as occasional slight drop-outs (not surprising, since this LP was mastered from a 20-year old tape) and audible edits.

This post has also taken me much longer than usual because I had serious problems uploading the files to my storage site. I’ve had a free account there since 2008 and rarely had any trouble uploading my transfers. But when I tried to upload this a couple of weeks ago, absolutely nothing worked. The site’s opaque and misleading error messages made me think its policies had changed and I needed to start paying – so I did (there was a special offer). Well, whad’ya know? Still couldn’t upload anything, not even the smallest image or a message to Customer Support.

After a long call to the US (friendly enough, despite the standard
‘Switch everything off and on again’), it dawned on me that my ISP is to blame. Grumpy emails are often labelled as luncheon meat by other ISPs’ servers, if not bounced back, since my company is apparently black-listed as hosting real purveyors of such viands. Which? recently reported that it enjoys a ‘Customer score’ of 47%. And my upload speed? 0.5 Mbps, which amazed my Customer Support person. Sure enough, when I went to a fellow-collector’s cave, I was able to upload the files via his internet connection without a problem. I’ll be switching soon. Ideally, I’d like to switch countries - notoriously, Britain’s broadband provision is among the worst in Europe, never mind everything else that’s wrong with it.

Anyway, download the 21 stereo, fully-tagged FLAC files, in 2 .rar archives, from here and here.

Broken vase in front room, 13-Sep-13

Fools are everywhere…

*GAS = Gear Acquisition Syndrome