is my fate to début* as a reviewer on Musicweb International
with a decline pretty much certain; downhill all the way.
It is not my fault. This disc is perfection, an anomaly
which has broken Holt’s Law.
Gordon Holt, a founding editor of Stereophile
that the sonic quality of a record was inversely proportional
to its musical worth. He observed that a Heifetz or a Gould
gets recorded on a hissing domestic tape deck in mono whilst
the audiophile labels issue direct-cut masters of John
Smith playing an Asian percussion symphony coupled with
eight tracks of his soprano wife with her uncle on the
piano. Where were CBS and RCA looking when high-fidelity
started in the 1950s?
the British Decca company was another matter – a fact which
is no secret to collectors. On vinyl, during the golden
era of the 1960s and 1970s, the sound was incredible but
Holt’s Law always prevails. Decca was usually let down
by vinyl pressing that progressed little from shellac.
Audiophiles used to curse the pressing plant - said to
be in New Malden.
how can I prove the provocative claim to have the ultimate
record as the subject of my first Musicweb review? Simple!
A record is a combination of its programme content, its
artistic performance, and as a plastic artefact, its production
quality – in other words its engineering or sound merit.
As I have stated, in the history of the gramophone a combination
of the Laws of Murphy, Sod, and Holt something is always
less than perfect.
No record gets five points from
the Luxembourg jury under all three parameters.
is all about the music, as you know, and under programme
content, are you going to give four-and-a-half stars to
these two piano concertos of Wolfgang Amadeus: “Could have
tried harder?” or “Too many notes!” Yes, well, the truth
is that the scores simply fell from Heaven, whether or
not one agrees with Salieri’s alleged observation that
God had wasted the talent. Cinq points
for the disc’s “programme content”. Can’t get the tunes
out of my head!
who can best perform it? If you die and go to Heaven try
Clifford Curzon and Ben Britten. See if they can come down
to the studio with the ECO sometime next month. Five points
for assembling the dream team, then, and do not demote
Britten as a conductor just because he is better known
as a composer.
about the sound quality? “The studio” was The Maltings
in Snape, a barley barn in Suffolk converted by Arup Associates
into one of the finest concert-halls in the world in terms
of acoustics. The performances were taped by Kenneth Wilkinson,
one of the engineers who created the Decca sound.
the records were poorly pressed. Many of the tapes are
now on CD and although I am not amongst those audiophiles
who dislike the 16-bit format it is a glass ceiling which
limits the detail and dynamics, the ambience and acoustics,
the transients and tempos, the contrasts of timbre and
the subtleties of musicians interacting. For this we need
the audio equivalent of High Definition plasma screens.
Enter SACD, DVD-audio and maybe Blue Ray in the future.
TEAC Corporation has long worked to perfect 16-bit sound
and under its Esoteric company makes very high-precision
and expensive players compatible with SACD and DVD. The
newer formats are largely ignored by mainstream labels
but used by those who strive for perfection. This suggested
to TEAC the idea to produce hybrid CD/SACD issues which
went on sale in Japan a few years ago. As a music-lover,
the company’s president, Mr Motoaki Ohmachi, decided to feature
great heritage recordings. The first projects with RCA
involved Günter Wand conducting the symphonies of Beethoven
and Bruckner. As licensed limited editions, I can now only
mention them in passing. They sold out very quickly in
Japan. And yes, they are amazing. The third issue was a
single CD/hybrid/SACD comprising Beethoven overtures conducted
by Sir Colin Davis; a few copies remain.
will mention that I am fortunate to possess what may be
the record reviewer’s ideal system comprising Esoteric’s
CD/SACD player, valve amplifier, and matched Tannoys -
which TEAC have distributed in Japan for over twenty years.
I live almost down the road from the Tannoy factory. Many
studios voice their productions on Tannoy monitors which
using the unique “dual concentric” drivers - basically
unchanged since 1946!
to TEAC’s software, we hear rumours of repertoire in the
pipeline but already announced are two more tapes from
Decca: the Dvořák New World
and Manuel de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat
Here’s the link
discovered the price. At US$60 these are hardly cheap thrills,
but thrilling they are. The Mozart is simply etched into
my brain; after one playing I can’t stop humming the tunes.
You can’t order through the record trade; they are distributed
by TEAC and their UK agent is Symmetry
, a Hi-Fi Distributor. I understand that the price here in
Britain will be £29.95
of these discs will be purchased to show off Hi-Fi systems
and they are 95% as good on CD players but the music will
prove infectious. Mozart’s joy is what the world needs
now. Music is the message from TEAC; hi-fi is the medium.
With Holt’s Law broken, this is one of the most sublime
and supreme accomplishments of the recording angel.
* Editor's Note: this review actually appeared as
Jack's second review on MWI.