One of the most grown-up review sites around

2020
53,992 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here

     
  
 

 

International mailing


 
Founder: Len Mullenger                                     Editor in Chief: John Quinn              

Some items
to consider


Chopin Edition 17CDs
now available separately
£11 post-free anywhere


TROUBADISC

100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas


Mozart Brahms
Clarinet Quintets


 

Recordings of the Month

September


Opera transcriptions & fantasias


TAKEMITSU MESSIAEN


Mozart Brahms
Clarinet Quintets


Schubert Symphony 9

August


Jean-Baptiste LEMOYNE


Enescu Ravel Britten


Debussy Images etc.


53 Studies on Chopin Études 1
Konstantin Scherbakov (piano)

 

 

 

From the MusicWeb International Listening Studio
A Special Audio Report: Britten’s
Peter Grimes

The original plastic
packaging from DECCA

We have not convened in the MusicWeb Listening Studio for several months because of the Covid lockdown. We also had the misfortune that a little while ago the Jeff Rowland amplifier exploded with a very loud bang, even though it was switched off. It was duly collected by Music Matters of Solihull who informed us the repair was likely to be in excess of 1500 and would take several weeks – we are still waiting. We were loaned a temporary amp of slightly lesser pedigree to be going on with (but still costing over 5000).

John Quinn was not able to join us so Len Mullenger and David Dyer sampled the new Chandos recording of Peter Grimes conducted by Edward Gardner. JQ will do a full review of this, so we decided to sample the sound quality of selected excerpts but did not concentrate on either of the main characters in their major arias – we have left John to do that.

The obvious comparison was the Decca recording with Britten conducting; an analogue recording from 1959. It was salutary to recall that LM first heard that recording by borrowing it from the Leeds Record library when he was still in the Sixth form at school! Old timers may remember that at that time Decca was experimenting with plastic cases rather than boxes. That did not last long.We are comparing this with the 2020 Chandos SACD CHSA5250(2) (although we only sampled the CD layer in two channels). The Decca engineer was Kenneth Williamson (Producer Erik Smith) with the Royal Opera House Orchestra recorded at the Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London; the Chandos recording was produced by Brian Pidgeon with the Bergen Philharmonic. The Chandos set was recorded in Grieghallen, Bergen.

So how does the Decca/Britten sound? Should it be firmly labelled Historic and put on the back shelf?

We started with the Storm interlude so we could get a measure of the recorded sound. We must say immediately that in isolation both are very good recordings and you would be equally happy with either. The Decca soundstage was wider but shallower, it was the more sonorous but still fully detailed. The Chandos had a more central sound but much deeper. It was spacious and with wider dynamics. The Decca gives more of an impression of an actual performance, giving a better idea of the structure of the music. The Chandos has a greater clarity. But LM actually found that too much. It reminded him of looking at a 4K Ultra HD HDR television: the picture is unbelievably sharp and detailed with enormous colour depth but is not something he would want to live with in his living room. The same is true of the fine resolution Chandos recording – it is an exhausting listen; but I reiterate we were only listening in two-channel sound, albeit in very fine two-channel sound. It is difficult to criticise the Britten recording and it is a much more comfortable listen.

One problem we had switching between the two recordings is that the Chandos is cut at a much lower level. This would not matter at all if you were just listening to one recording or the other continuously. However, when we were listening to ‘From the Gutter’ we found that having adjusted the Chandos to the Storm interlude it was then too quiet for the nieces and the orchestra was very quiet. Gardner seems to go in for very wide dynamics. The Britten was more constrained, allowing more of the orchestral accompaniment to be heard. Britten’s singers are also better integrated – the Chandos was over-detailed and more fragmented.

Both recordings were very good in the ensemble piece ‘Old Joe has gone fishing’. Grimes’ voice was more prominent in the Chandos. The nieces are well separated with more space around each person, but the Decca is easier to assimilate. In the Chandos, the singers in the chorus were more easily discerned and instruments were more sharply delineated; this is not always to the benefit of the overall picture which becomes too fragmented. However, throughout the Chandos percussion is splendidly realised.

We did listen to one solo piece – Grimes’ ‘Now the great Bear …’ Here we thought there was a clear advantage to the Decca. It is a difficult piece, although it was written specifically for the voice of Peter Pears: Stuart Skelton takes the title role for Chandos. We felt again that the Chandos dynamic range was too exaggerated, with the Decca sound staging being better. I can hear Brian Pidgeon echoing Robert von Bahr (BIS) that he only records what is there with no manipulating!

Our conclusion was that the Decca/Britten should certainly not be written off as Historic. We were listening to the original transfer on three discs. There was a later remastering at middle price but without a libretto. I have contacted Decca to say that this recording deserves to be re-issued as a Blu-ray Audio disc. It was a revelation when that treatment was given to the War Requiem. I received the following reply:

‘I passed the message on to the catalogue team and they said many thanks for the enquiry, it’s good to hear what might be of particular interest as they continue to progressively future-proof reference recordings for Blu-ray!’

All digits crossed.

We hope to resume normal service in the Listening Studio in the near future. Since our last session in February we have accumulated quite a backlog of new recordings in excellent audio.

Len Mullenger



Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and keep us afloat

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical


Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10


Nimbus Podcast


Obtain 10% discount



Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage



Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Postmaster
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger