sometimes digitally compromised set of the 48 is one of the
landmarks of the gramophone. Once past the etude like over-velocity
of the opening Prelude one succumbs to the necessarily personalised,
intellectually concentrated and profound intensity of Fischer's
music making - never over romanticised or too free, never subject
to too much rhythmic compression. It's a necessary historical
benchmark for a collection.
But as with my review
of Menuhin’s 1930s Bach recordings in this GROC series I have
to register grave disappointment with these transfers by a restoration
engineer I otherwise admire, Andrew Walter at Abbey
I dug out some of
my 78s of Book I and also Keith Hardwick’s LP CHS 7631882 and
did some comparisons. What’s going on with this series? When
it comes to 1930s material – I can’t speak much more widely
than that – something wicked this way comes.
Once more “noise-shaped via the Prism SNS system
for optimum sound quality” is the name of the game. To my ears
this noise-reduction sauce is ruinous but perhaps its raison
d’être is a lowest common denominator one. It seems to suck
the life force out of recordings, to remove room ambience and
to induce tiredness in the listener. As with the Menuhin I actually
felt more and more tired as I suffered successive Books.
You can actually
hear the noise reduction rumbling into action before Fischer
plays a note, before even the shellac crackle dimly starts.
The excessive concentration on piercing treble frequencies misrepresents
Fischer’s tone; Keith Hardwick’s work was more genuinely reflective
of the original 78 and was warmer and more pliant across the
range. The shellac noise is also more “natural” on the LP; this
mad current obsession that some companies
have with suppressing it is plain barmy. You can hear the qualities
of No.3 Studio, Abbey Road,
in which Fischer recorded, quite clearly in the Hardwick work,
which of course is predictable given that the original 78s were
being respected as artefacts.
With the GROC incarnation
you hear no real room ambience at all, just a piercing white
light that promotes a tonally diffused, unrepresentative approximation
of Fischer’s playing. There has already been one poor CD transfer
of the 48 and we really don’t need another.