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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Seven Piano Pieces
Impromptu No.2 in F minor Op.31 (1883) [3.41]
Nocturne No.6 in D flat major Op.63 (1894) [7.04]
Barcarolle No.2 in G major Op.41 (1885) [5.55]
Nocturne No.13 in B minor Op.119 (1921) [6.40]
Barcarolle No.1 in A minor Op.26 (c.1880) [4.37]
Nocturne No.4 in E flat major Op.36 (1884) [5.57]
Thème and Variations in C sharp minor Op.73 (1895) [12.28]
Kathleen Long (piano)
rec. London, 1951
PRISTINE AUDIO PAKM015 [46.22]


Pristine Audio has unveiled its new XR technology and this is one of the first of the batch to reach me for review. Others include the Thibaud/Cortot Kreutzer Sonata, the 1936 Weingartner Eroica, Boult’s 1949 Vaughan Williams 6, the Schnabel-Sargent Emperor Concerto and Hüsch’s Die Schöne Müllerin. I’ll be reviewing them all in due course. And I reviewed the pre-XR transfer here some time ago. As it shares the same catalogue number, but has different booklet artwork, and as it the earlier transfer is now presumably withdrawn by the company, it would be prudent for collectors to note the changed state of play. I’ll reprise the comments on the music, which is entirely the same, and then add my comments on the new transfer philosophy.

I happen to be delighted to see Kathleen Long’s early 1950s Decca Fauré recordings once more available. The correspondence on these performances “in another place” prompted me to dig out her 78s. This involves not just the slew of Mozart recordings she made for Decca, some of which have been collated by Dutton on an all-Long disc, but also her first recordings. She began her career in the studios recording for Compton Mackenzie’s National Gramophonic Society (N.G.S.). Whilst even then she was pegged as a Mozart specialist she was also to record Bach. As an aside someone should really get to grips with the N.G.S. discs, the market for which may well prove small, but the recordings of which - not always perfectly recorded it’s true - did enshrine some outstanding traversals of often unusual repertoire.
 
Long was for some time probably Britain’s leading exponent of the French repertoire. An allied assurance can be seen in her recording of the Third Delius Sonata with Sammons (Dutton) and in altogether less wistful form in Walter Leigh’s Concertino. Her Fauré recordings were not many but they were well received; I believe that this is the second of her recordings of the Thème and Variations. As one might imagine, her technical competence is high, though not infallible. She sounds especially harried in passages in the Fourth Nocturne.

She’s a direct exponent of the repertoire, clear-sighted, architecturally sure-footed, tonally bright. She may be considered bracingly extrovert where others prefer pastel. In this performance of the Nocturne in E flat major she hammers away in the treble – maybe the rather unhelpful original Decca set up exaggerates it – and points bass rhythms with a certain ebullience. Turn to the recordings of Germaine Thyssens-Valentin, made a few years later in 1956, and we find a totally different sound world; caressing, slower (always slower) and with subtler colouration. That very open Decca sound is present throughout but especially the Sixth Nocturne where Long can sound too urgent after immersion in Thyssens-Valentin – though she does bring a forceful romanticism to bear.
 
Long’s view was a consistent and entertaining one even if I find her rhythmically muddled in the B minor Nocturne. With the Barcarolles she tends to play the blunt outspoken guest to Thyssens-Valentin’s more coy and rhythmically more teasing host, the one rather rushing and the other wryly amused. Try the G major for an explicit contrast of that kind and the A minor Barcarolle for moments where the French player’s hinterland of expression proves too great and expansive for the Englishwoman’s. In the great Thème and Variations we hear Long’s clipped and highly accented approach bringing no-nonsense authority – though note that she gets through the theme in 1.38 and Thyssens-Valentin in 2.15, an indicator of their expressive responses throughout.
 
The performances were originally released on two ten-inch discs. Pristine Audio has embarked on wholesale XR (Extended Range) restorations which are claimed effectively to double the range of electric 78s and to be equally effective in recordings made later in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s. I will leave you to pursue the complexities and scientific ramifications by going to the company’s website - www.pristineclassical.com.

These are difficult Deccas to deal with. The earlier transfer had a hint of stuffiness at the treble but was otherwise clear. The XR effect has been to make the sound very much more “present.” Noise reduction has given the sound a certain omnipresent “steeliness” but to compensate the definition is more palpable; as a result the performances have a greater aural profile. This is my first experience of Andrew Rose’s latest XR work – he has utilised a modern recording as a reference file for these new transfers in much the same way that he did with his transfer of the Moeran symphony. He claims his XR work will make all previous transfers “entirely obsolete.” This is a bold claim and I’ll be investigating it in the other releases to come.

Jonathan Woolf


 


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