Translators of foreign
fiction are notoriously hard done by. If they’re mentioned at
all it’s usually to point out some assumed error. Otherwise,
magically, it’s as if there is no intermediary between the author
and a reader of his work, as if the translator were some benign
representative of the authorial text. They frequently don’t
even appear in reviews of the novel. It’s not quite the same
thing with transfer engineers. They try to refine the signal
and present it optimally. When they work with discs going right
back to the early 1900s the chances of having ones own discs
for comparative review are small, if indeed one can play 78s.
When those old discs have seldom, if ever, been transferred
to another medium – LP principally – then the bemused reviewer
will often take refuge in his review with the well worn cliché;
the transfers by Mr X are excellent, lifelike, full of presence,
splendid - take your pick.
All of this is a preamble to saying that
I like Lani Spahr’s transfers. A lot of big name engineers have
recently been cutting treble and going for mid-range frequencies
and I’ve been spending much of the last year waged in a losing
battle with them. Spahr’s are very much to my taste – open and
airy, dealing sensitively with shellac noise but never thinking
that its removal is the answer, and with a really forward presence.
I dug out my 78 set of the Goossens/Spencer Dyke Quartet Mozart
Oboe Quartet for comparative purposes - recorded for Compton
Mackenzie’s National Gramophonic Society not, as per the notes,
National Gramophone Society – the only mistake I could
find. Once again, a thoroughly successful transfer. The difficult
question of pitching seems to me to have been very convincingly
dealt with as well. So my first salvo is a word of praise to
the “backroom boys” at Oboe Classics – like translators they
should be honoured. My second is to Geoffrey Burgess whose notes
are fulsome and full of the kind of specialist detail that enhances
a historical project such as this. Biographical detail fuses
with technical, tonal and expressive analysis in a compact and
articulate way. Photographs of the artists are included as well.
Issue numbers are given and sometimes matrix numbers as well
– with recording dates where known. All of this should be par
for the course for this kind of disc but you’d be surprised
how seldom it is. Full marks to this company for treating its
material with such respect.
The discs are rare
examples of the oboe on record. The 1903-08 sides register with
real immediacy – the 1908 Caesar Addimando positively leaps
out with amazing impact - so one needn’t fear as to the sound
quality. A number of the pieces in the set are duplicated so
one can compare and contrast performers and arrangements. Paul-Gustave
Brun makes a strong impression with his fast vibrato but adroit
musicianship whilst Georges Longy has real panache in his excerpt
from before the First War. One can contrast the Goossens/Dyke
Mozart with the far better known Goossens/Léner recording (available
elsewhere) – and note the differences in portamento and rubato
There are excerpts
from Bach’s Sinfonia in B flat played by three different oboists
(Blanchard, Labate and an anonymous player) as indeed there
are in the case of the slow movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto
– probably Fritz Flemming for the Kreisler/Blech, and then Goossens
for the Kreisler/Barbirolli, and Tabuteau for the 1945 Szigeti.
Gillet’s Satie with Koussevitzky is very slow indeed and the
copy issued has a bit of grit (unusually).
Fascinating to hear
the hot-off-the-press Milhaud, a baroque tribute so deftly done
by Myrtile Morel, and to eavesdrop on Mihalovici’s Sonatine,
also new, and played by Louis Bleuzet and Thomas Eran c.1937-39.
A fine piece of music as well. The strong French contingent
made a big show in the Handel – where Marcelle de Lacour sounds
to be a big admirer of Landowska from the sound of her harpsichord
and where Louis Gomer makes a persuasive case for the oboe in
this repertoire. That wonderful artist Henri de Busscher turns
up on some exceptionally rare American instructional records
playing orchestral extracts and is well worth hearing.
There’s a full half-century
of the oboe on record here. It’s a most accomplished undertaking,
compiled with care and expertise, and a bedrock disc for those
taken by the instrument.