Pristine Audio is engaged with a restoration project in respect
pre-war Beethoven concerto cycle with Malcolm Sargent. They’ve already
issued their transfer of the Emperor
(PASC001 - see review
) and now here
The cycle has long since entered the canon of great performances, not least for
the rapport between soloist and conductor, for the expressive control evinced
by both men and the unexaggerated but eloquent control of the slow movements
in particular, which are subject to a sense of Schnabelian Time, something Einstein
might usefully have commented upon. EMI has reissued the set but the most price-friendly
way to acquire these particular performances has been Naxos Historical 8.110638
with the ‘encore’ of the Bagatelle in A minor, or Für Elise
you and me.
For his Naxos transfer Mark Obert-Thorn used ‘Z’ shellac American
Victors and made a fine job of it too. Andrew Rose of Pristine has utilised a
different approach altogether, given the ‘XR’ philosophy involved,
which is a root and branch reappraisal of the sonic weaknesses and implications
inherent in the original artefact and then a wholesale process of remedial work.
It’s the audio transfer equivalent, I suppose, of Luther nailing his 95
Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.
Rose’s notes are bullish about EMI’s set up of the day. Was producer
Lawrance Collingwood ‘schmoozing’ his stars and not paying attention
to what was going on, or did he have a ‘bad cold or blocked ears’ for
the sessions that contained the First Concerto and the Emperor, he asks waspishly.
I suspect that schmoozing was not a word familiar to LC - I doubt he frequented
the Borscht Belt in his spare moments - but it is true that the concertos suffer
from uneven recording quality. The Second came in 1935 and is very much superior
sonically to the 1932 First; on that there is little disagreement. The Emperor
which Rose has already transferred, was afflicted similarly. So given the inherent modus
of this company, a root and branch re-equalisation was to be expected.
The treble-boosted First concerto has been significantly stabilised now - you’ll
have noticed that the original recording had a rather torrid astringency on 78,
that was very apparent on an EMI LP transfer I sampled - the World Records box
set to be accurate. The piano/orchestra balance is now good, and with the tamed
treble the warmer contours of the sound can better be appreciated. There seems
to have been a graph-induced boost to the LPO basses in the Second Concerto,
and that gives solidity and weight to the aural picture.
Whether you prefer the laboratory corrected PA or the more intervention-free
Naxos is a matter for the individual listener. I can say however that the work
here has been carried out very well.