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CD & Download: High Definition Tape Transfers

Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Hymn of Jesus (1917) [21:36]
The Perfect Fool - Ballet Music (1918-22) [10:39]
Egdon Heath (1927) [12:45]
BBC Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 15 March 1961, Kingsway Hall, London
Source used for transfer: Decca LP SXL6006

Experience Classicsonline

HDTT lists are always worth keeping an osprey eye on. You never know what they are going to come up with.
At one time HDTT used to source all their material from the commercial reel-to-reel tapes that in the 1950s-1970s were more popular in the USA than in the UK. Some of the sound they realised from these sources remains astonishingly vivid - a real buzz to hear. This CD derives from an iconic British Council-sponsored Decca LP. It was from the Beatles era when British classical music was pretty scarce in the catalogues.
The price you pay is a barely audible vinyl pre-echo. It would have been print-through if from an iron-oxide magnetic reel. It’s there to be heard - on headphones - at the start of The Perfect Fool music. The sound is sumptuously piled high and deep across an excitingly wide and lively soundstage. My CD player picked up a transient skip at 3.10 but otherwise the experience is as it should be.
Mention of The Perfect Fool reminds me that we really do need the whole thing recorded. It has been broadcast by Groves (1972) and Handley (1995) on BBC Radio 3 and you would have thought that at least the Handley would have survived from 1995. After that how about the complete opera Sita.
The Hymn of Jesus is a work of fervent oriental enchantment which has some things distantly in common with Szymanowski’s Song of the Night and Stabat Mater. Boult in 1961 directs an empathetic performance which moves rapidly from dimension to spatial dimension from great roaring combers of sound to mystical confidings. As an example of the excellence of the recording try 12:00 where the remotely tinkling piano is captured clearly yet without undue assertion. A second after the last note of the Hymn the transfer has picked up a stray low level pick-up click - just an isolated aural artefact. Otherwise this disc reminds us of the great things that were chalked up during the analogue years. The original LP can be counted alongside EMI’s achievement with the Elgar/Silvestri In the South. It’s also in the same league - surprisingly enough - as a glorious Beni Mora by Sargent/BBCSO (HMV BLP1101). That constantly stunning EMI 10" LP as thick as a plate - well almost. Such a secure and satisfying recording. The Egdon Heath is sombre and indomitable - an object lesson in Hardyesque grit and tragedy.
I have not compared the two but as a replica of the original LP which many old stagers will still have this HDTT disc could be compared with the 2 CD Decca Holst set from their British Music Collection (review review). The Decca also includes a generous selection of other Holst originals from their vaults.
The notes are sensibly printed black on white and are very legible.
HDTT should next consider resurrecting one of the finest analogue recordings of the first part of the nineteen-seventies: Horst Stein conducting the Suisse Romande in Sibelius’s tone poems on SXL 6542: a black-hearted Finlandia, a viscerally exciting En Saga and a Pohjola’s Daughter which is the aural counterpart to the glowing colours of an Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931) painting.
These are sturdy, well measured, well judged performances where a sense of rooted and dedicated rightness allows this brilliant and sometimes understated music to emerge naturally.
Rob Barnett 



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