It’s very useful
to have Moeran’s complete commercial recordings on 78 on one
disc. The bulk of the recording time is thereby dedicated to
Heward’s 1942 recording of the Symphony but one should on no
account overlook the big string trio, not least in this performance
by the best British string trio then performing. Add to this
Heddle Nash’s minstrelsy in two songs and the stalwart John
Goss and the Cathedral Male Voice Choir – most acoustically
recorded, one electric – and you have a fine conspectus anyway;
vocal, instrumental and symphonic.
These are all classic
performances. The question here revolves around transfers. Dutton
issued the string trio in an all-British chamber music disc
[CDAX8014]. Divine Art’s transfer engineer Andrew Rose notes
that Jean Pougnet’s violin is rather “shrieky” from time to
time and he has tried to tame what he assumes is a recording
characteristic. Pougnet did have a rather tense vibrato however
and it was a recurrent feature of his performances – listen
to the Delius Violin Concerto with Beecham - though one seldom
detrimental to his music-making. So the ethos here is far more
interventionist in tonal matters, trying to tame the top of
Pougnet’s register, but it’s that much more immediate than Dutton’s
rather more occluded sound.
This is an impression
solidified by the Nash song performances. These are on an all-Nash
Dutton disc [CDLX7031] and sound better with Divine Art where
the sound is more present. The John Goss songs run from serio-comic
to impressive. Rose wryly conjectures that the performers might
have been half cut in the first track but I suspect incompetence
or unfamiliarity with the recording medium. Goss had a hollow
voice and was vocally rather undistinguished but he had a real
feel for the style. There’s also a very high tenor in the group
accompanying who gives the Cathedral Choir a distinctive sonority.
The Symphony bears
something of the same kind of restoration work that one can
hear in the Trio. The bass line has been strengthened and the
percussion seems to have brought forward as well. EMI’s transfer
of the Symphony was open sounding but had a torrid and rather
undigested crackle; Dutton’s was once more prone to cloudiness.
Divine Art’s work has subtly re-aligned the orchestral sonority.
The strings are warmer whereas with EMI the Hallé strings can
sound rather shrill and tonally starved. Which aesthetic you
prefer will depend on your view of interventionist re-adjustment.
I can say however that the work here has been carried out with
proper care and consideration.
What we need now
is a first-ever release of the premiere of the Moeran symphony,
a performance of which has apparently survived. It would make
a fine companion to this welcome disc.