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Well Chris I seem to recall even Mr Everard liked the new Quad valve amps but perhaps strangely I've never actually heard a Quad ESL; perhaps it's as well so I don't know what I'm missing! I think they'd be a bit big for my listening room too and my favourite amongst my valve amps, a kit built Audio Note 300B SE, wouldn't have enough power anyway.
This is fascinating, because I have been thinking a lot about this myself recently.
Eliza, I too do not like "old" piano recordings. No matter how superb a performance by Schnabel, Kempff in the 1950's or a young Clifford Curzon might be,as I listen there is always at the back of my mind " Thank goodness for modern digital sound, thank goodness for Hyperion, thank goodness for Andrew Keener and Tony Faulkner!" I would set my cut-off date as say 1960 rather than 1970, however.
But, now...with orchestral recordings we are talking about a completely different kettle of fish. More and more I am drawn to major-company recordings from say 1955 to 1970. Especially, I find Decca and EMI recordings from the later 5Os have a power, a beefiness, a simple and overwhelming musical impact that digital recordings to a large extent lack. Even 1950-1955 mono can be superb - I think here especially of Karajan's Philharmonia Walter Legge-produced Beethoven cycle on EMI -to paraphrase: "I can't believe it's not stereo!"
I recently acquired a treasure in the new Major Classics budget reissue series ( which appears to me to be a goldmine which I strongly and unreservedly recommend ) of Barbirolli's classic Hallé Elgar performances on EMI from 1953 to 1957. The 2nd Symphony is mono, of the Karajan- Beethoven vintage...superb. The 1st symphony is early stereo, 1956 - absolutely mind-blowing. I have a number of digital recordings of this work and to me on none of them does the sound come close to the Barbirolli. The strings are sweet and rich, channel-separation and clarity of orchestral lines excellent, and the cymbals and percussion crashing and banging in the second movement so thrillingly loud that I feared for my speakers.
So for me "old" piano recordings - no. "Old'', at least 1950s old, orchestral, a very definite yes please can I have lots more.
Stephen, Christchurch, NewZealand
Pleased to see you have not deserted us Stephen. Interesting you should mention Tony Faulkner as I was reading an interview with him recently. He still prefers Quad ESL 63s for his monitoring and still uses Neumann M50 valve output microphones as used by Decca & RCA in the 60s. Some he apparently bought at auction in New York were used by Lewis Layton on some of the early RCA Living Stereos.
He also commented that at a recording sesion with John Lill in the Henry Wood Hall a few years ago he set up a refurbished Studer analogue recorder alongside his digital equipment and at the playback session much to their surprise, he, Lill and producer John Boyden all preferred the analogue master.
I have been doing a critical survey of various works in my collection as to sound quality.Mostly I have been listening to orchestral recordings.I find myself more impressed with the old stereo recordings.They are on the "usual suspects" of labels,i.e. Decca,RCA,Mercury Living Presence,etc.The Planets,Daphnis et Chloe,Mahler`s Symphonies 2,4,6,9,Bartok`s Music For Strings,Percussion and Celesta(Dorati/LSO on Mercury has to be the most vivid orchestral recording ever!),Berlioz`s Symphonie Fantastique,etc.The modern digital orchestral recordings are often too "polite" and diffused sounding.Ironically,I find that many of the early stereo Decca Ansermet recordings,for example,have more presence and life than the digital Decca recordings of Dutoit in the same works.That Bartok recording I mentioned even surpasses the Reiner RCA Sacd version.The Linn label does make incredible sounding sacd recordings these days.
By a strange coincidence, one of the the other Major Classics reissue I bought was the Ansermet OSR Nutcracker and Swan Lake...and I came to exactly the same conclusion when comparing them to Dutoit's digital recordings.
The rest of the civilized world might be interested to know that we have in New Zealand a chain of giant stores known simply as The Warehouse. There are six of these in Christchurch. You go in, take a trolley and buy,for example baby food, nail varnish and a large bag of fertilizer. You then make your way your way to The Entertainment Department, where diligent searching, often on your hands and knees or atop a ladder, can unearth pure gold. This is where I bought the Major Classics,new..at $NZ6 each for a double CD ( about three pounds sterling). I estimate I have bought well over 500 superb new CDs in this way over the years. A lot of them are probably end of lines, deletions,which the good people who run The Warehouse assume are dross and therefore sell for next to nothing. Recently there wes a swag of Telarcs, no less, including Mahler 7 and 8, Previn Rach. 2 and Tchaik.5 etc etc..for $5 each. Living in Earthquake City does have its compensations.
Finally, a challenge. Make a short list of solo piano recordings where you feel that sonically the engineers, producers etc have got it all right, or nearly all right. In other words the best-sounding solo piano CDs of all time (NOT performance, sound). Here is a dozen off the top of my head to get you started:
Six of Hyperion's finest: Demidenko Liszt Sonata, Legends, Scherzo and March; Hamelin Rzewski; Hamelin Medtner Sonatas; Hamelin Reger; Hough Brahms Sonata and Ballades; Osborne Debussy Preludes.
Six from the rest: Lilya Zilberstein, Liszt DG ( recorded in the Jesus-Christus Kirche, reissued on Australian Eloquence and as close to piano sonic perfection as I have heard); Lilya Zilberstein Rachmaninov Op.32 Shos. Sonata 1 same venue, almost as good; Alice-Sara Ott Liszt DG ; Barenboim Chopin Nocturnes DG; York Bowen Piano Works, Joop Celis, Chandos; Kissin Chopin Preludes RCA.
On a related matter. It's amazing (and sad) how widely recording quality could vary in the past (eg.,1950s). A negative example is the Furtwängler Ring with RAI - that should have produced a good quality sound at the time, given that it was recorded in a (radio) studio, but it sounds flat, nowhere near what it must have sounded like. On the other hand some of his war time mono recordings (10 years earlier!) from the Philharmonie in Berlin sound fabulous, as does the 1954 Walkure.
Going back closer to what is currently being discussed here, we can all almost tell the recording label from the sound quality. I can certainly distinguish DG from Decca. I wonder whether recording labels follow a certain internal rule book when it comes to placement of mikes, mixing, etc., rather than aiming for "the best" (which of course is highly subjective...). Not only orchestras have "their" sound, but recording labels do too... to some extent...
One studio recording of Furtwangler`s that the recording engineers did work magic was the classic Berlin recording of Schubert`s Ninth on DG from 1952.Wonderful sound!I have yet to hear a mono Columbia recording that doesn`t sound dim and tinny.A lot of my favorite recordings are those Mercury Living Presence records engineered by Bob Fine.He used three omni-directional mikes.Amazing results.
One series of piano recordings that I would nominate would be the complete piano works of Grieg on the Bis label and performed by Eva Knardahl.They are analogue recordings-good performances.Very vivid and lifelike.
Thank you for this because I know our Public Library hes some of these Bis Grieg recordings - I have never borrowed them but will now do so. Interestingly, the 3 complete recordings of Grieg's Lyric Pieces that I have ( Oppitz, Austbo, and Steen-Nokleberg) are all magnificently recorded and would grace any list ot "the best" ( The Steen-Nokleberg is one of Naxos' most successful efforts).
Oh yes most definitely, each label does have its own sound - for a large variety of subtle reasons, I suppose.
Interested, too, in the mention in the wide variations in quality of "old' recordings. The same is to me just as true of modern digital ones. I have raved about Hyperion. But there are poor Hyperion solo piano recordings. A paticularly nasty one is the first volume of the Howard Liszt series - The Waltzes. I just can't listen to this - which I want to because the music is fascinating and the playing excellent. It is a widely-held view that Ashkenazy declined as a pianist during the 80s and 90s. Whether this is true or not, what did decline sharply was the quality of the recorded sound Decca afforded him. Partly I believe this was due to the use of ill-chosen venues in Switzerland (Ashkenazy's choice?) which sounded to me totally unsuitable for piano recording. Two particular horrors are the digital Schumann Fantasy and Faschingschwank ( Vol 6 of his (in)complete Schumann cycle), and worst of all his remake of the Chopin Preludes and 3rd Sonata, where every nuance of dynamics, tone, pedalling etc is simply killed off by a recording of unbelievably lifeless and unmusical flatness. Ashkenazy's "revival' with the Bach 48 and Diabelli coincides with a return to good old British venues - in this case Potton Hall.
So every age has its good and its bad , but I still think we are all very lucky to have what we have. Eliza, what a brilliant topic you chose for your post!
I don't think the labels "have their own sound". Hi-fi equipments most of the time do have!
With my current hi-end one, every recording sounds as "natural" as it can be. I do have some preferences for some labels for the "dynamics", "ambience", detailed recordings and other features they might have as a kind of their trademarks.
Just listen to (almost) any recording of Exton, Triton or Crystal (all Japanese ones) and every single recording will become the strongest contender for the most superlative recordings.
Despite there are some (lately more) good reissues (often even in SACD) of old recordings, for the CD format (not the LP), the modern recordings, particularly from labels with consistent standards, have clearly the upper hand, as far as all the aspects of sound are concerned. In every field, including the Orchestral, Choral or Opera.
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