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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Sextet No.1 in B flat Op.18 (1860) [31.02]
Pro Arte Quartet with Alfred Hobday (second viola) and Anthony Pini (second cello)
Recorded 1935




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. Whatís more the repertoire is just up the proverbial alley of historically minded connoisseurs.

Thatís certainly 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 Ė one of the consummate players of his day Ė 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 Hobdayís son-in-law, Albert Sammons.

The Brahms performance is something of a classic, and itís 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 Ė 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. Thereís an occasional hint of aggressive harshness to the first violin of Alphonse Onnou though this isnít 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 Soundís price structure.

Jonathan Woolf



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