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

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Forgive them, Father, for they have not a clue…

Front room, M8   Hexanon 50mm 1.2, 17-Aug-12 [largest]

A corner of the Cave
(snapped by Grumpy, with his lovely new lens…)

William Byrd
Music from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book
Fritz Neumeyer (harpsichord)
Archiv 13 026 AP (rec. 24 & 25 May 1954)

Once again, many apologies for my long silence. I’ve been finishing a certain pressing task – which, I’m glad to say, is finally done: last week, I sent off my thesis to be printed and bound, for submission to the examiners. They now have 8 weeks, poor chaps, to read all >ahem!< 86,184 words (not including footnotes or appendices)…

While I was desperately trying to focus my thoughts, I found myself craving mostly modern music: Birtwistle, Berio, Boulez, Dufourt, Grisey, Haas, Ligeti, Stockhausen, and I forget who else… plus a lot of Stravinsky, as ever: I finally learned to love his Concertino, for instance, thanks to a cracking DG disc of his shorter pieces, superbly performed by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

We also spent two weeks in New York, where we witnessed Hurricane Sandy, and I was lucky enough to meet fellow-blogger Squirrel. He and his marvellous mate received me most hospitably, plying me with tea and delicious home-baked cookies. Their Nest is in a fascinating neighbourhood, which Squirrel guided me round most informatively. Then we went to a concert of Scottish and English viol music and songs, ravishingly performed by New York-based viol consort Parthenia, with the counter-tenor Ryland Angel. I see they’re repeating it this coming Tuesday (14 January) in Greenwich Village, at St. Luke in the Fields, 487 Hudson Street – do go if you can!

So, no time for LP transfers (though I’ve been buying 78s aplenty). Also, my ‘main’ PC suddenly died, disrupting my audio workflow; and my new hobby (photography – bad, for a spendthrift like me) demands that I invest in some new hardware, for digital image-processing. So I’ve  got to do some techy research before I take the plunge. One thing I can tell you right now, though, and for free: I’m not touching Windows 8.

Still, I have some transfers on the stocks, so, in homage to Squirrel and Parthenia, here’s one to tide us over until I get back into those grooves. (Also, we’re away in New Zealand until early February.) Not the greatest harpsichord playing, but it is one of the earliest LPs devoted entirely to Byrd’s keyboard music I know of. The best performance here, for me, is of The Bells.

1 Praeludium to the Fancie [BK12]; Fantasia [BK13]
2 Fortune My Foe, Farewell Delight [BK6]
3 The Bells [BK38]
4 The Third Pavian [BK14]
5 Galliard in D 'Sol Re' [BK53]
6 An Almane [BK89]
7 La Volta [BK91]

The 7 mono, fully tagged FLAC files are in a .rar archive, here.

So what’s with the the title of this post? Well, a kind visitor to the Cave just alerted me to the fact that another harpsichord LP, of the same vintage (Jean-Claude Chiasson playing Couperin on Lyrichord), has become the first of Grumpy’s droppings to fall foul of the censors: it is now marked ‘©  This file is copyrighted and cannot be shared’. They’re wrong, actually, but never mind.

The large record companies have lost the plot so completely, that I’m almost past caring. Though it made me very cross when I saw an upload by Discobole, of orchestral music by Chabrier conducted by Jean Fournet – in 1952, for goodness’ sake –, blocked with the message,
‘Permission Denied. Not provided by submitter by Not provided by submitter can be downloaded from one of these fine retailers.’
I can’t work out if the lack of a modern commercially available alternative was down to the ignorance of the sad snitch who grassed Discobole up, or of the company which supposedly ‘owns’ Fournet’s recording (it doesn’t: the LP entered the public domain about ten years ago, which is why Naxos has been able to reissue it).

Something similar happened to an upload by Damian, of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Serenade conducted by Franz André, but that time the message was along the lines of, ‘Buy this from Orinoco, played by the False Claims Orchestra on the Lobbyist label’. I have absolutely no time for piracy but this is not it. The sheer bad faith and idiocy of this procedure are breath-taking. Grumpy is getting grumpier by the hour.