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CD REVIEW



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Pristine Classical

 

 

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No.6 in E minor (1948) [32:54]
London Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, February 1949
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC072 [32:54]

 


This is my latest encounter with Pristine Audio’s new XR technology - a claimed miracle of the transfer engineer’s art. Go to www.pristineclassical.com for specifics. They claim that pre-1945 78s now have their audible upper frequency range increased from between 5-6 kHz to somewhere between 11-13 kHz actually going further, boldly announcing that these transfers render “all previous transfers and restorations … entirely obsolete.” Since the firm has been embarking on a wide programme of XR restorations this is a defiant claim. A modern recording of the work in question is taken and utilised it as a reference file – as was the case in the bass-stiffening and percussion-enhancing in the famous Heward Moeran Symphony recording released on Divine Art. I’ve reviewed his XR work on Kathleen Long’s post-war, 78-based, Fauré Deccas (see review) which I liked, was disappointed by the Thibaud-Cortot Kreutzer sonata (see review), remained solidly ambivalent about the Weingartner Eroica and noted the interventionist implications of the piano work in Hüsch’s Schubert – though here the sonic improvements in immediacy were certainly apparent.

Unfortunately I don’t have the commercial 78 set of the symphony with which to do some back-to-basics comparison work - nor the EMI CD transfer. There’s a Pearl transfer but it’s not directly relevant in the context of comparisons. So I worked with the EMI LP on ED 2902581, which included both scherzi and Jean Pougnet’s A Lark Ascending. This is rather strange one to choose for XR work as one can think of a raft of recordings that would sound more immediately startling given XR treatment. The 1949 VW 6 was extremely well recorded for the time and the visceral immediacy of the sound has always been a big point in its favour. In a sense then this opening salvo of XR issues has somewhat soft-pedalled by choosing the Weingartner and this Boult though I note that next - and last - on my listening duties is the Schnabel-Sargent Emperor Concerto, which has clearly involved hard work from the information provided on the site. Even the Thibaud-Cortot Kreutzer was not badly recorded. A much stiffer test would have been the slightly earlier Sammons-Murdoch Kreutzer, which was not brilliantly recorded and is crying out for its first CD restoration. This VW actually doesn’t represent anything like so difficult a consideration.

The EMI LP scores over the XR in the second movement in openness of sound. It sounds like the XR bass has been subtly reinforced and maybe the percussion section has been spatially enhanced as well, by virtue of reference to a modern recording. In the Epilogue I actually find that it’s the XR’s turn to have a more open treble. Pristine has retained much more surface noise throughout, and it’s most audible here of course, but the benefit is that the ear adjusts to the whiskery hiss and takes advantage of preserved higher frequencies.  There’s really very little in it as regards the LP/XR test.

I’m not quite sure what this has proved. The XR is a good piece of work but it doesn’t really displace the EMI – it sits alongside it as a viable transfer alternative. Not having heard the CD transfer I can’t offer an absolute judgement but on the basis of the LP work the provisional conclusion must be that the XR is highly effective but not necessarily outstanding.

Jonathan Woolf

 


 


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