The question here
is transfer quality. These are such well known and admired traversals
that commentary is pretty much redundant and Primrose admirers
tend to concentrate on the superiority or otherwise of the Goehr,
pre-War London Casadesus/Handel or this American 1946 remake,
and the various recordings Primrose left of the Walton and Berlioz.
All are pretty much self-recommending whatever your particular
preference, notwithstanding the changing timbral nature of Primrose’s
tone - its greater, tensile Heifetzian quality and faster vibrato
in the post-War years.
To business then.
Is it this Mark Obert-Thorn transfer of the Casadesus/Handel
the preferred one or the Rick Torres for Biddulph? You can find
the Torres transfer on LAB146 devoted to the great violist’s
recordings and you will find that it is palpably inferior to
this Naxos. The new release has greater body, immediacy and
definition and catches Primrose’s tone with greater fidelity.
As for the Walton I can only compare this latest transfer with
the last EMI LP pressing, on Treasury EH2912761. Naxos certainly
preserves more surface noise but, pound for pound, shilling
for shilling, the Naxos edges it by virtue of its greater presence,
without any artificial spotlighting.
There’s a difference
in transfer philosophies when it comes to the Berlioz. The leading
contender is Dutton CDEA 5013 in which Mike Dutton used the
78s to transfer. But Mark Obert-Thorn has gone for a transfer
from LPs with their wider dynamic range. It’s a move that has
paid off in this instance. The Naxos sound is brighter, and
captures far more of the frequencies enshrined in the recording.
In fact the Dutton sounds positively subterranean next to the
newcomer with congealed bass frequencies all too honestly retained
and an amorphous sense of the Boston Symphony’s string section.
With the Naxos you can very readily appreciate the string choir’s
separation and the greater sense of aeration in their transfer.
There’s also some scrunch in the Dutton that one doesn’t find
with the Naxos.
Given the competition
A/B listening hands the palm to Naxos. The release also inaugurates
a new Great Violists series, which is very welcome. Primrose
has been well covered in re-releases, though can someone please
find evidence of his Fricker and Rubbra concerto performances?
In the meantime can I hope that Naxos gets to grips with Lionel
Tertis’ imperishable legacy. Biddulph has announced a set of
his Columbia 78s but his earlier acoustic Vocalions have been
shamefully treated over the years. It’s time for a recording
engineer and a company with vision and commitment to get to
work and restore that body of recordings to the living catalogue,
where it belongs.
see also Review
by Christopher Howell