Sunday, 11 September 2016

A Pox on Grails

Bog, 11-Sep-16

The only grail I own is this tiny cup. I won it at school in 1976 – yes, don’t laugh, in them days I was quite nippy – on account of being in the winning under-17s 4 x 100m house relay team. I was the anchor, and my charming comrades later regaled me with descriptions of my competitors gaining on me over the home stretch. Team sports? Humbug.

This, though, is definitely not a grail, despite what you’ll read if you ever try to buy a copy.

HMV CLPC 15 front

H.M.V. CLPC 15
Tchaikovsky, Borodin String Quartets
Haydn Quartet of Brussels:
Georges Maes, Louis Hertogh,
Louis Logie, René Pousseele
rec. 30-Aug-56, location unknown (Brussels?)

It’s a very good record, but not because it’s ‘super-rare’ or ‘the holy grail of classical collecting’ etc. etc. (That seems to be Pathé’s set ‘Mozart à Paris’ – and altarware-fetishists are welcome to it, as I’m more than happy with my EMI CDs, thank you very much. Yes, I know the Andante K.315 is missing.)

The Haydn Quartet’s discography is small, and all over it hangs this graily pall. As far as I know, these are the sum total of original issues:

Maurice Schoemaker String Quartet in D
Decca 143.383 (10-inch)

Marinus de Jong String Quartet No.4
‘in Antique Modes’

Decca 143.384, Olympia LPT 3312  (10-inch)

Mozart String Quartets in Bb K.458, F K.590

Tchaikovsky, Borodin String Quartets

Mozart String Quartet in G K.387
Telefunken LGM 65011, LB 6035 (10-inch)
rec. 4-Oct-52, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Peter Benoît Myn môederspraak
as ‘Haydn Kwintet’ with S.(?) Demoustier (viola II),
Nina Bolotine (mezzo-soprano),
and Suzanne Sternefeld de Backer (harp),
coupled with piano works played by Yvonne van den Berghe
Philips N 10495 R (10-inch)
(My thanks to ‘LPCollector’ for alerting me to this disc)

If anyone can add to the above, I’d be very grateful. Was Olympia’s de Jong the origination or a reissue? Did Olympia also issue the Schoemaker? (And what else was on Olympia?)

The Mozart quartets have been transferred from LPs and issued in Japan, by Green Door on CD (GD-2041), and by Mythos Lord (see?) on a variety of CDRs (NR-6046 plus various suffixes, depending I suppose on how much gold you require on your plastic). The Mozart and Tchaikovsky quartets have also been transferred from LPs and issued on CDR by Forgotten Records (thanks again to ‘LPCollector’ for alerting me to this disc).

In 1978, Belgium’s Fonds Georges Maes issued a 3-LP set entitled ‘Georges Maes een aandenken’ / ‘Georges Maes en mémoire’. It too contains the three Mozart quartets, plus the Tchaikovsky, and there’s other material from broadcasts. Somewhere in the Cave is a copy of this box, but I can’t lay my hands on it at the moment. If memory serves, which these days it tends to less and less, I believe the quartets are also taken from LPs.

I know of no other transfers, much less reissues from original master tapes. And that’s what makes me grumpy about this chalice-chasing. If everyone the world over who covets the Haydn Quartet’s LPs clubbed together, and put up even a fraction of what the originals cost, surely there’d be enough to mount a commando raid on the lock-up, extract the tapes, dub them and then slip them back, with a box of Milk Tray, before anyone notices? Or even enough to pay the men in suits – though I gather they’ve got greedy of late.

Still, this is a nice record, and I flatter myself that it has scrubbed up very well. I tried to leave in all the bow noises and chair creaks, and there’s some foot stamping and other noises off. The performances are simply lovely, and I very much like the close, dry, slightly boxy sound - that’s how most instrumental records were balanced until the present fashion for ecclesiastical bathrooms.

HMV CLPC 15 [2XLB 3] label [vignette]

I have now ascertained the recording date (see above ) but not the venue. My guess is Brussels, like the session(s) for the Quartet’s sole Telefunken LP, which I got from Michael Gray’s indispensable ‘A Classical Discography’.

I have also been put right about H.M.V.’s suffix –C export LP series – for which I’m very grateful to ‘Boursin’ (see comments, below). A few questions remain. Were these LPs routinely available in export markets, or only by special order? I mean, could one just walk into a classical record shop in Belgium in the later 1950s and buy this, or did one have to know about it and order it specially? Is that why are the Haydn Quartet LPs so rare? Seems a shame that even the Belgians didn’t get to enjoy one of their finest ensembles more. Clearly, I’ve a lot to learn. Further answers gratefully received!

HMV CLPC 15 back

By the way, don’t get me wrong: I’ve nothing against collectors – I am one myself – or original copies of obsolete recording formats. Clearly, where master tapes have been destroyed or lost (a sackable offence, in my view), an original is the only source of a recording. Even after being transferred, it should be preserved rather than being discarded, as so often happened in the past. Not only are transfer equipment and techniques constantly evolving, the originals are interesting commercial, aesthetic and historical objects. I know some people like to play original records on original equipment, and they can sound very good. I’d just prefer a digital reissue from master tapes – which, in any case, need to be preserved before it’s too late. That’s if the masters survive – shouldn’t we at least find out?

In the meantime, download the 8 mono FLACs, fully tagged (except for exact recording date – apologies), in a .rar archive, plus images, here.