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.


  1. Hi Nick,

    Thanks for this!

    Parenthetically, it's pleasure to find someone else who hates the current fashion for cavernous sounding recordings.

    1. Dear Buster, My pleasure! Thank you too for your continued and far more generous offerings. I'm glad we think alike on that score. All the best, Nick

  2. Didn't know that you were "Grumpy"... Thought it was someone else!! Anyway, thank you for this wonderful performance of this particular Tchaikovsky Quartet. As I said, this far outweighs the Borodin's reading, which was my first encounter with the work. I loved the music so much that I couldn't stop listening to it. But the French/Belgian School of String players is outstanding, as is this reading. Just love this!

    1. Yes, I am he... Thanks for your kind words, and I'm very glad you like it! All the best, G

  3. A lovely surprise to find you back online again and a lovely recording. I think it maybe a bit later than you surmise. Forgotten Records reissued the Mozart K.387 and K.458 and the Tchaikovsky on FR634. On the back of that CD they state that K.458 and the Tchaikovsky were recorded in 1958 but that can't be true for the Mozart as CLPC 14 was reviewed in The Gramophone in November 1956. As the reviewer didn't mention CLPC 15 one might assume that it was a bit later than this : 1957, say? FR634 acknowledges the tribute album and says that its CD was digitally remastered from the LPs, so no master tapes used there either.
    There does appear to be another recording by the members of the Quatuor Haydn, but augmented to a quintet backing Nina Boltine in a recording of Peter Benoit's Mijn moederspraak on a 10" Philips LP (N 10495).
    Intriguingly the BBC Third Programme broadcast a performance of Debussy's quartet by the Quatuor Haydn in August 1950 but this was presumably a BBC recording : I wonder if it still lurks in their archive?

    1. Thanks so much for all of this. How funny - having a dim memory of something, I searched Forgotten Records, but only for Borodin, the one composer who was overlooked! (I wonder why?)

      And I searched Gramophone too, but - no, I won't bore you with my sorry failure. As for the Benoît - fantastic, thank you. I'll update the mini-discography.

      The Quartet seems to have broadcast quite a bit for the BBC - I found listings from July 1949 to October 1959, plus a broadcast of K.590 from CLPC 14 in late 1963. I suspect these would mostly have been live relays - I doubt any were recorded, but one could look into it.

      A more promising source of broadcast recordings would be Belgian radio itself, and local archives. I found one quite substantial listing of archive holdings but didn't pursue it, as I'm more interested in commercial records (not that I've anything against broadcasts, they're just a different beast).

      Thanks again and very best wishes, G

    2. Just to say, thank you again - I've now found the recording dates of both this (see above) and CLPC 14 (11-May-56), and added the Benoît LP to the mini-discography and the fr CDR to the list of transfers.

      Very best wishes, G

  4. You've got the HMV export LP series all wrong. It is the last "C" in the alphabetic prefix that indicates the export status, and it was EMI's code letter for export issues – on all its labels – that were not intended for any one country in particular. So it's no wonder that you have it as Ireland here and India there, or that the sleeves are in English!

    "The Overseas List" was EMI's own in-house term for these issues. They were available to order in Britain too, and often even reviewed in magazines such as the Gramophone, but were not generally advertised. The "C" does not probably stand for any word, although "Continental" has been suggested.

    In the case of HMV, the ALPC, BLPC, CLPC and DLPC series are merely the export equivalents of the familiar domestic HMV LP series:

    ALP = 12-inch premier
    BLP = 10-inch premier
    CLP = 12-inch secondary (mainly non-classical, and a few shillings cheaper)
    DLP = 10-inch secondary (ditto)

    EMI's code letters for individual countries were as follows:

    E = India
    F = France
    G = Greece
    H = Holland
    I = Ireland
    J = South Africa and Rhodesia
    K = Denmark
    L = Spain and Portugal
    M = New Zealand
    N = Norway
    O = Australia
    P = export issues equivalent to a domestic release (but usually changing the label name due to trademark restrictions; e.g. HMV releases pressed on the Odeon label for export to countries where RCA, not EMI, owned the Nipper logo)
    Q = Italy
    R = Belgium
    S = Sweden
    T = Turkey
    V = Austria
    W = Germany
    Y = Finland
    Z = Switzerland

    These could be either precede or follow the domestic prefix. Thus there are French FALP and FBLP series, but the 7-inch EP series' equivalent to the British 7ER is not F7ER but 7ERF.

    1. Brilliant, just what I needed - thank you very much! Where else is this written down, apart from by you, above? In WERM, I suppose...

    2. Nowhere this exhaustively, I'm afraid. There is a tentative list of the code letters in Robert and Celia Dearling's The Guinness Book of Recorded Sound (1984), but they missed about half of them. (Although a fun read, the book is full of errors and omissions, although they had Brian Rust to help.)

      The rest is just accumulated knowledge from 30 years' record collecting. Of course it helps that many releases in most countries' local series were manufactured in these countries themselves, with the main EMI factory at Hayes only being involved when this was not possible for some reason.

      Also, I forgot to mention that the code letter can even be somewhere in the middle of the prefix: e.g. Columbia 33CX becoming 33CHX or 33WCX.

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  6. Thanks for posting these enjoyable performances; the sound is very naturally balanced.
    (By the way, K315 and K299 from the Pathé Mozart à Paris set were reissued on a Japanese Angel LP - HA 5079.)

    1. My pleasure, thank you for your kind words!
      (Yes, I've also seen that K.315 in a Japanese LP reissue of the whole set, Angel EAC 30120-26 I believe, and I have Green Door's transfer from the original issue, on GD-2038.)
      Very best wishes, Nick