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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

William Primrose Collection - Volume 1
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Harold in Italy H68 (1834) [41.09]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky, recorded Boston, 1944
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)

Viola Sonata (1922) [26.56]
Harriet Cohen (piano), recorded London, 1937
William Primrose (viola) with accompanists as above
DOREMI DHR 7708 [68.08]


We now have a wide range of transfers of Primrose’s first Harold. I’ve recently reviewed the first instalment in the new Naxos Great Violists series, which featured just that recording, the 1937 Boston/Koussevitzky, and judged it superior to the Dutton transfer. Naxos used the LP pressing, whilst Dutton preferred to transfer from the original 78s. To complicate things we have another entrant in the shape of Doremi’s own first volume in their Primrose series. It was first issued in 1998 but seems to have been given renewed coverage in their latest series of issues from that imaginative company presided over by Jacob Harnoy.

Given the competition the differences in transfer philosophy still remain. Doremi has, like Dutton, opted for the 78s as source material. But this was a difficult set with which to deal as the bass frequencies frequently congealed and the lack of string separation, especially in the earlier part of the work, can lead to severe congestion. Naxos preserve more surface noise but there’s greater aeration in their transfer and they score over both Dutton and Doremi in middle to higher frequencies and in clarifying those lower ones as well. So as a recommendation here it’s certainly to Naxos that one should go.

What complicates things is that Naxos added the first Primrose-Walton Concerto recording and the Casadesus-Handel forgery. Doremi has the Bax Viola Sonata with Harriet Cohen. This well-known, brisk recording, made in 1937, was the first such commercial set to be issued of the work; the earlier Tertis-Bax Columbia was never issued at the time and only reappeared on a Pearl LP. Pearl in fact has it in their current CD catalogue and it’s this that is the rival to Doremi. Pearl’s transfer is very much in their "frying-tonight" tradition – a lot of surface noise and shellac hiss but also retention of higher frequencies and a minimum of intervention. Doremi has used noise suppression to limit the crackle, which also means that the fullness has been dampened and Primrose’s tone colours can suffer as a result. The two offer diametrically differing approaches.

Of the two I prefer the Pearl but I can imagine that some will welcome the quieter surface noise of the Doremi. In any case their Harold-plus-sonata programme is an attractive one, fusing Primrose’s recordings from his earlier, pre-Heifetz self in the days when his tone was full and broad. They’re certainly amongst the violist’s most significant recordings and all admirers will want them in their collection.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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