Sunday, 1 November 2015

Not waving but WAVing – and DAWing

Columbia 33CX 1244 front [Vuescan, reduced]

Brahms String Quartet in B flat Op.67
Quartetto Italiano:
Paolo Borciani & Elisa Pegreffi (violins),
Piero Farulli (viola), Franco Rossi (cello)
Columbia 33CX 1244
(rec. July 1954 or January 1955?, Milan)

Sorry, I’ve had this blasted record almost ready to go for weeks… Unfortunately, entropy is wreaking havoc in the Cave. Some of my old audio kit is finally breaking, but I’m too mean to throw it out and buy replacements. So I rummage around at the back of the Cave for older kit to press back into service – which my aging brain can only half-remember how to connect and operate. And then I’m too lazy to face the resulting cumbersome workarounds anyway.

So what happened is this: I started digitally cleaning up a transfer of this really lovely LP which I’d made quite some time ago. It seemed to be going swimmingly – until the second movement, which turned out to be riddled with nasties. The third was little better – and then, to add insult to injury, I found two minute but audible drop-outs. (Until a few months ago, I dubbed all LPs onto CDRWs in a semi-pro CD recorder, which has finally died. It did very occasionally leave drop-outs, as did ripping the CDRWs to my newer PC.) Blast – I’d have to fire up my ancient SCSI-based SADiE DAW (‘digital audio workstation’), on an almost equally ancient, incredibly noisy XP PC, with barely less noisy external SCSI enclosures, and see if I could remember how to do the fine editing that was second nature to me for so many years!

Well, today I finally did it, and here’s the result. The drop-outs have gone, though I suspect I’d have done a better job in my younger days. The pops, clicks and thumps are gone too, though there’s still quite a lot of surface noise – well worth it, if you ask me: this is a wonderful performance of one of my favourite string quartets. I surprised someone just last week (now, who was it?…) with the fervency of my love for the Brahms quartets, which only increases the more recordings I hear (I can’t remember the last time I heard one in concert). And of the three, Op.67 is closest to my heart, with its the perfect Brahmsian combo of gruff bonhomie, sometimes anguished lyricism, cross-rhythms, moments of stillness, and always the long but comforting shadows of the past… The Quartetto Italiano plays it beautifully, emphasizing the lyrical side, taking plenty of time over the reflective bits, but with plenty of thigh-slapping gusto in those ‘hunting’ passages that also remind me of a Tyrolean Plattler.

This is a reproach to EMI (now Warner) for allowing so much of the Quartetto Italiano’s superb legacy of Columbia LPs to slumber unheard for so long. Universal has a lot to answer for, too: yes, the Quartetto’s  later Brahms appeared on mid-priced CDs, but not its Schumann, coupled with the Brahms on the original Philips LPs. (That was issued on CD only in Japan – as usual…) Universal is at last making good, its big box of the Quartetto Italiano’s supposedly ‘Complete Decca, Philips & DG recordings’ (including the Duriums, I hope?) due out any day. But no sign of the like from Warner…

Columbia 33CX 1244 back Vuescan, reduced]

Sorry if these sleeve scans seem a funny colour – my monitor shows everything too pink, so I don’t know what to believe (I wish I wasn’t too stupid and lazy to learn colour calibration). There’s also disagreement about the recording date. One rather good Quartetto Italiano website says January 1955, but the selfless and highly respected discographer Michael H. Gray says July 1954.

Download the 4 mono, fully-tagged FLACs, in a .rar file here.

I’ll now have to record LPs (and 78s, I hope, soon) either onto my newer PC, which is fab – but I won’t feel happy working while I’m dubbing, as even the best machine is prone to glitches if it has to do two tricky things at once – or onto my old SADiE, which means cables trailing under my feet. And it puts the occasional digital splat across the audio, and I don’t like the sound of the A-D converter I’m now using, as much as the one in my Sony DAT recorder, through which I used to feed the signal into my CDR. Nope, I’m just going to have to get some new kit…