There are historic recordings, and great recordings that just happen to be ‘old’, and if you log on to the website of CHARM (the Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music) you can download both.
There are 5000 sound files, transferred from original 78rpm discs held by the Sound Archive at King's College London. These excellent transfers aim to revive a broad range of mostly classical and often forgotten performers, avoiding where possible material already available on CD or online. Which means, for example, some fine examples of violinist Albert Sammons at the height of his powers playing a Schubert Sonatina and Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata, and the Serbian-born violinist Yovanovitch Bratza in various short pieces (Tchaikovsky’s Chanson Triste is especially beautiful).
A hugely entertaining Strauss-Parodie (by Mackeben) features pianists Karol Szreter and Mischa Spoliansky (film music composer and pianist for Tauber in Winterreise) and an orchestra led by Artur Nikisch’s son Mitja, and there’s a very ‘Weimar Republic’ Rhapsody in Blue from 1927 where Spoliansky goes hell for leather with Julian Fuchs’ Orchestra.
And there are many singers, with a special focus on Schubert songs, a CHARM project headed by Professor Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, and on British voices, chosen by Gramophone’s resident vocal guru John Steane. You’ll find the workaday sitting alongside real gems, and such novelties as Conan Doyle impatiently answering questions about Sherlock Holmes before moving on to his real topic, spiritualism.
The project started under CHARM, with a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and continued with support from JISC, but funds are now urgently needed to consolidate and develop the Archive, which stands both to entertain and to educate.