Pristine Audio has
started making inroads into the consciousness with their series
of downloads and discs. Available in differing formats these
remastered discs offer an intriguing array of MP3, Standard
or Premium CDs. What’s more the repertoire is just up the proverbial
alley of historically minded connoisseurs.
the case with this 1935 Brahms Sextet, performed by the light,
wristy Franco-Belgian Pro Arte Quartet and the addition of some
solid roast beef in the shape of Anthony Pini – one of the consummate
players of his day – and Alfred Hobday, scion of the British
Viola School. Though Hobday was by some way the oldest of the
musicians he is tonally congruent with his colleagues and demonstrates
once again his impressive credentials as a chamber player; one
of his other few leading statements on disc was a 1915 Columbia
recording of a Mozart String Quintet with the London Quartet
led by Hobday’s son-in-law, Albert Sammons.
The Brahms performance
is something of a classic, and it’s one that has been reissued
a number of times, the last being on Biddulph LAB093 in a transfer
by Ward Marston. Comparison between the two shows the wide range
of transfer aesthetics to be encountered in a busy reissue market
place, especially one in which the majors seem to have fast
lost commitment to pre-1945 material.
Put simply Biddulph
preserves the lightness of the original with resultant shellac
crackle – surface noise with a quite open, aerated sound - whereas
Pristine Audio has gone in for noise suppression to a considerably
more widespread degree. Shellac rustle is suppressed and the
focus is on the middle frequencies. So there is rather a boomy,
big sound here, rather rugged and tending almost to the chamber
orchestra in sonority. There’s an occasional hint of aggressive
harshness to the first violin of Alphonse Onnou though this
isn’t habitual. The effect is to convert the characteristic
lightness of bowing of the group into something rather heavier
and less flexibly coloured.
I am sure that many
will welcome the fine work in removing the extraneous shellac
crackle but to my ears the Biddulph more accurately reflects
the sonority of the performers. The short playing time is reflected
in Pristine Sound’s price structure.