L'Histoire du Soldat
is proudly announced front and
back of this release, but this is in fact the Suite
that piece, which would otherwise have included a narrator and
a good deal more incidental music. It would have been intriguing
to read more about those involved with, and the circumstances
of this recording, but aside from the session date and location
the notes for this release only go into the genesis of L'Histoire
in its original form.
What the HDTT label does is source out-of-copyright analogue recordings
on two or four track reel-to-reel tapes in the best condition
possible. These are then 'painstakingly remastered with the
finest state-of-the-art equipment and techniques available.'
For audiophile enthusiasts there is a full list of equipment used
in the remastering chain. The disc is presented in a DVD case,
so a collection from this label will by default take a position
separate from your other discs.
The recording is indeed a fascinating one. The 'presence'
of the musicians is such that you get the feeling that they are
in your living room with you, so close are they recorded. This
is in contrast to my reference comparison, that directed by Stravinsky
in 1961 with the Columbia Chamber Ensemble, available in Sony's
massively indispensible 22 CD box; Works
of Igor Stravinsky
. This is still pretty direct and with a
similar wide separation of some instruments, but with a rather
larger acoustic. With the Ars Nova ensemble you get every throbbing
resonance of the bass drum, a sense of every hair on the violinist's
bow, and the grade and thickness of the clarinettist's reed
down to the last millimetre. Snare drum and some of the other
percussion is placed a little more sympathetically, and trumpet
and trombone are also moved just far enough away from the microphones
to prevent balance problems and distortion. There is one place,
in the 11th
second into track four, The Royal March
where the trumpet and bass drum together just push the limit over
saturation, so this must have been one of the problems with engineering
this piece in such a way. The bassoonist comes off less well in
the balance and could have done with a little more 'oomph'
by comparison with most of the other players. There is some mild
tape hiss, but this only becomes apparent at high volume and is
healthy evidence that the high frequencies haven't been filtered
out of existence. Eagle-eared listeners will also notice a soft
hum in the right channel which kicks in 3:24 into track three,
. This seems absent elsewhere.
is also a nasty edit 0:52 into track 6, the Three Dances
where the violinist leaps to the right rather disturbingly. He
leaps back at 2:01, no doubt due either to some chopping between
takes, or sources.
The performance occasionally lacks a little of the refinement
and accuracy of Stravinsky's Columbia Chamber Ensemble players.
The sheer jazzy swing they get in virtuoso numbers such as The
is priceless, but where the Columbia players
evoke a Benny Goodman atmosphere of polished professionalism,
the Ars Nova ensemble has a raw energy which seems to come closer
to the Faustian concept of the piece as a whole. The musicians
here certainly have the chops to deal with Stravinsky's often
angular melodic figures and virtuosic passagework, but with such
a close recording every slight blemish is cruelly exposed. These
are remarkably few by the way - as I say, this is very much a
crack ensemble, and as the makers say, you're not going to
find this rare and gloriously tactile recording anywhere else,
so fans of the piece and its evolution should be very much aware
of this release. In short, audiophile collectors will get plenty
of kicks from this recording, and with good stereo separation
and accurate instrumental colour this is a model recording and
performance for students and experts alike.
There is always a risk in dredging up old and forgotten recordings,
that they are old and forgotten for a reason. This is clearly
not the case with the Stravinsky, and is also almost not true
of Robert Zeller's conducting of Respighi's Rossiniana
This is neither a bad recording or performance, though there are
some funny artefacts which come through on this transfer. I seem
to hear a bit of 'pumping' - the kind of effect one used
to get playing Dolby B encoded tapes through Dolby C circuitry.
The effect is not so extreme here, but I have a feeling that either
a certain amount of compression has been used to cut down on noise
of one kind or another, or that the original 4 track tape had
less to offer in the way of a reliable upper register. Either
way, the recording is good enough, but not quite as vivid and
engaging as the Stravinsky. The same goes for the performance,
which is a bit heavy going. Much of the thing sounds a bit measured
and careful, and I miss the wit which can and should come through
from places in this score. Zeller has a good feel for melodic
shape however, and as you might expect from an orchestra which
has the words 'Vienna' and 'opera' in its title,
the soaring lines work well, and dance-like elements sound authentic,
if not always entirely balletic. Where it all comes to life is
in the Tarantella
where the orchestra whoops up a storm.
All in all, the Respighi is a fine filler for the Stravinsky,
but won't be the main selling point for this release. No mention
of the work or the recording is made in the inlay notes.
I am very enthusiastic about this initiative to revive old recordings.
Like preserving old buildings, once they're gone, they're
gone forever, so anyone who puts as much effort into restoring
and releasing such unique treasures - warts and all - has to be
applauded. These productions have an attractive handmade quality,
though listings of movements and timings would be useful. I would
challenge one arguable claim: '...your CD or DVD-A was individually
'burned' in order to realize superior sound quality to
stamped, mass-produced versions...' Is this true? I'm
no expert, but I would have thought differences in encoding and
error-correction rates might have an effect, but not the technique
used for storing the data. No matter, I've enjoyed this L'Histoire
greatly, and will no doubt be pointing it out as
a reference in future.