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Your first para is correct Parla for today's recordings because the major labels no longer have their own teams who knew their venues, which were striclty limited, intimately and how and where to position their artists and microphones, but not for recordings made half a century ago. B Wells has mentioned the Mercury team. Decca generally used Kenneth Wilkinson in London, Gordon Parry in Vienna & Roy Wallace in Geneva whilst EMI had the Legge/Larter parnership and later Bishop/Parker. The Geneva recordings are noticeably different from those made in Sofiensaal or Kingsway with less reverberation and a deeper richer bass.
I have no problem with the excellent sound on many modern chamber or instrumental recital recordings, no doubt because there are many more acoustically suitable venues for such programmes than there are for full orchestras, since the loss of Kingsway & the Sofiensaal and the trend to so-called live recordings for reasons of cost. Was it not Gordon Parry's Sofiensaal Wagner recordings you were recently praising?
Come on, Parla: if you really can't hear the difference between the recordings made by Decca (Culshaw, Wilkinson, Parry etc.) in the Sofiensaal, by EMI in Kingsway Hall (Walter Legge), and Philips (Volker Strauss/Concertgebouw), then you should be worried about your equipment!
As 33lp says the differences between the major companies' offerings are much less nowadays but your statement that "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", cannot be allowed to stand. There are indeed some excellent recordings, plenty of mediocre ones and some dreadful ones. And "all aspects of sound" superior. No, sir! I think you are teasing us!
Stephen, I have been thinking about your suggestion of a list of the best recordings of the piano. I must say I find it almost impossible though. Is there such a thing as the sound of a piano, except in very general terms? The sounds of the pianos as played by Kempff, Gilels, Richter, Arrau, Horowitz, Schiff, Pollini, Kissin, Brendel (all pianists I've heard) are so worlds apart, not to mention the different makes of piano, and the not inconsiderable adjustments made by the piano technicians for the players. Perhaps a fairer question would be, which pianists have received the most faithful recordings. Personally I think that each of these pianists has been well recorded at least in some of their recordings. Probably if you you don't like the sound of (say) Kempff in any of his recordings (have you tried the Decca stereo recordings of Chopin?) then perhaps you don't like the sound of Wilhelm Kempff. Arrau has been beautifully served by Philips, less well by Columbia. Of course there are many pianists I've never heard 'in the flesh' especially the younger pianists, now that I'm no longer in regular reach of major concert centres. But at least for the pianists I know the perfect recording is the one that most faithfully captures the sounds I heard in the concert hall or recital room.
33lp, a question (or perhaps someone else knows). How are the elaborately miked multi-channel data currently used for most 'live' recordings stored. Is only a mixed-down version stored or is each channel (i.e. feed from each microphone) stored separarely, permitting a remix at some future date? Any idea?
Chris, I was going to say exactly the same thing to Parla, but didn't dare! You example comparing EMI/Legge with Decca/Wilkinson is a very good one...(but now Decca and EMI are one and the same..well well autres temps autres......whatever......)
As to my "best piano recordings", what I meant was recordings which in their own right provide a very satisfying listening experience, in this case satisfying because you can at least believe it is a real piano you are hearing. This is how I judge recordings, because a live concert is a live concert, a unique experience which cannot be exactly reproduced now matter how good your equipment is. My list was of piano recordings which I can listen with immense satisfaction time and time again ( the chances of my hearing any of the pianists in my list live in Christchurch is now virtually nil anyway. ) The best Hyperion piano recordings satisfy me, in general, more than any others..but after playing the whole of the Zilberstein/Liszt disc twice since I praised it here I definitely think it beats all-comers.
Stephen, Christchurch, NewZealand
OK Stephen, I take your point! And I've just noticed in your favourites list Liszt played by Demidenko on Hyperion. I did hear him play that programme live in the Wigmore Hall, then bought the CD of course. I strongly second your choice: but what performances too. Not only the sonata but the two Legends too. Dare I say it, the finest performance I've heard since Kempff! And the recording sounds as exactly like the concert as one could hope for. Hyperion really is a treasure. Long may it continue!
Definitely, I didn't intend to "tease" anyone, Chris. I just styated my listening experiences as you all do.
I have all (or almost) the recording releases of the Solti's "Ring" from the very first on CD till the very last, the Deluxe Limited Edition (I never managed to get the Limited Edition SACD one on Esoteric), and I can assure you I can see clearly the difference between...them. So, I don't know whether I have to praise or blame anymore Culshaw, Wilkinson, Sofiensaal, Gordon Parry or Decca itself.
When I said that the new recordings have the upper hand in all aspects of the recording, I meant that th product is superior compared to a reissue, where the modern "witches" try their magic to..."enhance" (see change) the original sound and "hide" (cover) the deficiencies of the original.
I can list a series of very important works re-released many times and each time with an enhanced (but slightly different) sound. At least, with modern recordings, you know what the actual product is.
Finally, 33lp, I didn't praise recently some "Gordon Parry's Sofiensaal Wagner recordings", but the actual final product, as it was just now released.
Stephen, I think you are probably right about the absolute cut off being closer to the 1960s. I was just listening to the Arrau Beethoven (Philips/mid 1960s) and the sound is terrific; you can hear the hiss of his patrician breath quite clearly. The piano is rich, plummy and astonishingly realistic.
But I can't remember hearing anything from the 50s - on the piano, that is -that didn't sound pretty rotten........
You also mention orchestral recordings from this era. One of my problems here is that the instruments don't always sound like the real thing. Massed violins, in particular, typically have a plasticy, sythetic sound - especially in the higher registers. But there may be exceptions, I suppose......
I don't doubt Parla can hear differences between his various versions of the Ring. Every recording, digital or analogue is subject to manipulation and the views and decisions of the transfer engineer.Have you, Parla, compared any of these CD versions with LPs played using a turntable, arm, cartridge and phono stage of quality equal to the rest of your expensive kit? In the early days of ICRC magazine when it was a Gramophone publication a panel of critics and producers would compare a CD of a well known recording with various LP pressings including the then new ones from Speakers Corner. They always noted differences between the various versions but always ended up preferring one of the LPs to CD.
I have often wondered for example if artificial reverberation is added to Chandos's Manchester BBC studio recordings (particularly Handley's Bax). I have two Sony CD transfers of Beecham's Sea Drift which are so different they could almost be a different recording.
In the early days the balance engineer had to get it right at the recording session when Decca & EMI would produce a 2 track master tape. Mercury and sometimes early RCA Living Stereos used 3 microphones, did no mixing at the session and made a 3 track mastertape. This was then mixed down to 2 tracks at the disc cutting stage or today at the digital mastering stage (though some have been put out more recently in the original 3 track form on SACD).
I know less about today's recording techniques (and am open to correction) but as I understand things many more microphones are used, each being recorded on a separate track on a multi track master recorder. The whole is then assembled on the editing computer where balance between instruments of the orchestra and any soloists can be altered at whim along with retakes inserted, errors corrected and artificial reverberation perhaps added. Even speeds can be varied without altering pitch (unlike with analogue systems). Much more manipuation is possible today and to answer Chris's question I presume this is the technique used for so-callled "live" recordings which are usually computer assembledges of various performances perhaps even with retakes added. Far easier to do on a computer when in analogue days editing meant physically cutting up tapes and splicing bits together again.
Whether the multitrack originals are held for future remixes I don't know, probably they are.
The BBC can still produce good sound too from the right venue. I thought today's lunchtime live Wigmore Hall recital with Lloyd Weber & John Lenehan playing Ireland & Delius sounded absolutely glorious on FM.
Great solo piano recording (audio quality, besides being superb performance): Chopin Nocturnes by Ivan Moravec (Connosseiur Society 60's recordings).
PS: An orchestral nugget: Kertesz VPO New World Symphony, in its Esoteric label CD incarnation.
So, 33lp, I guess we may converge now. I never claimed that old recordings, originally issued as LPs, sound better than the respective CDs. There is an exception in some very successful transfers, particularly in SACD, but I can agree that the "original" product is generally better or preferable than any other "transformation" of it. By the way, before turning to CD, I used to listen extensively to LPs, with my old but quite good system (Linn Sondek, Van den Hull, Musical Fidelity and then early Krell and B & W 801).
My view from decades of listening is that original recordings on CD (and recently on SACD) are better (sometimes far better) than old recordings transferred to CD. I don't compare LPs with CDs: they are different products after all! Of course, there are exceptions to the rule...(normally, when the performance is so good or legendary that it is quite hard for us to accept a mediocre new one may sound...cleaner, more natural, more detailed, with better dynamics etc.).
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