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St.Laurent Studio

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnaval Op.9 [23:01]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Melodie in E major Op.3/2 [3:49]
Humoresque in G major Op.10/3 [3:31]
Moment Musical in E flat minor Op 16/2 [2:55]
Prelude in G flat major Op.23/10 [3:18]
Prelude in E major Op.32/3 [2:21]
Prelude in F major Op.32/7 [2:14]
Prelude in F minor Op.32/6 [1:23]
Etude-Tableau in C major in C major Op.33/2 [2:18]
Etude-Tableau in E flat major Op.33/7 [1:49]
Daisies Op.38/3 [2:13]
Oriental Sketch [1:48]
Sergei Rachmaninov (piano)
rec. April 1929 (Schumann) and March-April 1940 (remainder)
ST-LAURENT STUDIO YSL 78-019 [50:44]

Experience Classicsonline

These famous recordings are part of the historical lexicon of great piano recordings, so I don’t propose to comment on them but to concentrate instead on the transfers.

This French-Canadian restoration outfit has been causing me headaches in that respect. I listen to one of their CDs and it’s excellent, albeit with a relatively high ratio of shellac crackle. In goes another one, of different music, and it’s terrible. There are scratches, there’s blasting, the sides don’t join. No wonder I squint coolly when I see a St-Laurent in the in-tray. How many copies do they work with? Probably only one. Fair enough if you only have one – St-Laurent isn’t alone in that respect by any means - but you’re then vulnerable to heavy usage, to their owners’ use of the wrong sort of needles, to blasting and peak distortion, to pitch waver if you’re not careful and so on.

This time I’m not at all unhappy. Yes, you’ll have an easier aural ride if you listen to Rachmaninov’s recording of Carnaval on Naxos 8.112020 where it’s coupled with Chopin’s Second Sonata and third Ballade amongst other things. But it won’t be quite as immediate an aural ride. St-Laurent prides itself on the immediacy of 78 sound and this could easily be taken as code for ‘straight transfer without any real restoration work at all’. I don’t think that would be quite fair however. If you line up this disc alongside RCA’s ‘Complete Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninov’ set, a 10 CD box with all his recordings, both as pianist and conductor, you will find a stark difference in philosophies. Frankly RCA, like EMI in many of its GROC and other releases, needs to take a good, long hard look at itself. In the same way that EMI is content to peddle often rather unattractive old transfers in contemporary boxes – vinegary old wine in new bottles – RCA really can’t be allowed any longer to keep going with its horrible over-processed and tubby transfers.

I much prefer St-Laurent’s work, limitations noted, to those by RCA. The sound is far more open. Going from one to the other is like opening a sonic window on a stifling day. Yes, those who dislike 78 restorations will blanch in any case at this restoration. But they are not really the market for a disc such as this. A more amenable kind of transfer is the kind of thing Naxos Historical does, in the main. But this disc fortunately doesn’t enshrine side-joins, so one can rest easy in that respect. I think St-Laurent has a considerable way to go yet to make their releases ideal for the collector. But I can say that in this release they have, at least, effortlessly outstripped RCA.

Jonathan Woolf








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