This superb performance of this masterwork was,
for a time in the 1950s, considered by most critics to be the
absolute finest version available, both for sound and performance.
"The least sentimentalised and most effective version",
said one. This may strike listeners today as odd since this performance
is by our modern standards a little slow and somewhat affected,
but the monumental power of it comes through nonetheless. The
slow tempo is possibly due in part to the need to make sure every
contrapuntal line in the choral part was clearly audible in this
monophonic recording. Scherchen’s principle during recording was
"Make everything audible." [Alles hörbar machen]
and to accomplish this with the technology of the time required
a number of adjustments to what had previously been standard orchestral
recording technique, including such things as highlight microphones,
particularly on the percussion; smaller choral groups; and very
close perspective overall. At the time the recordings were derided
by a few conservative critics as being too clear, too
brilliant, and too close, but by today’s standards they
are nothing of the kind. Scherchen and his engineers (most notably
Dr. Kurt List) stand as the fathers of our modern classical music
recording ethic; only Leopold Stokowski could claim to have had
as much (some would say a little more) influence over the way
we hear music today.
This is, of course, the "standard"
Süssmayer version. Orchestra, soloists, and chorus are all
excellent. Mágda Laszlo, who on some of her recordings
is a little strident in tone, has never sounded so clear and sweet.
My recollections are that this recording was originally very heavy
in the bass, and the bass in this transfer is adequate, but sounds
a bit rolled off. The highs, too sound somewhat cut back, and
I believe my practised ears detect the effects of an analogue
stereo tape recorder somewhere in the restoration chain.
This recording was never re-issued in the US
in the Westminster (S)WN 18000 series; apparently Westminster
lost the rights to it when the 5000 series pressings sold out,
and the rights reverted to Ducretet-Thomson; subsequently the
recording was issued on a Decca ("London" in the USA)
pressing, DTL 93079, which is how I once owned it. This later
pressing would probably have been a better venue from which to
make the digital restoration, but this is a very rare recording
indeed, and my copy was unfortunately damaged. Scherchen’s later
remake in stereo is not so distinguished a recording, and it is
available on a DG Universal CD. Ducretet-Thomson recordings are
apparently now owned by EMI, and some of them have been issued
on TAHRA CDs by Scherchen’s daughter, Dr. Myriam Scherchen who,
by the way, does not endorse this reissue.
I found this restoration to be greatly assisted
by a little added reverberation, just enough to open up the choral
sound but not enough to cloud the tone of the soloists, and that
is how I will listen to it.