Seal symphony

Basking seals were photographed on the Norfolk coast this morning. I have spent much time recently listening to Sir Adrian Boult’s 1960s/70s cycle of the Vaughan Williams symphonies in the most recent EMI CD transfers, and they sound quite magnificent – particularly the choral Sea Symphony. Transfer from analogue master tape to digital CD format should, in theory, be a straightforward process; but in practice it seems to be a black art with some transfers of recordings sounding noticeably better than others from the same period. Christopher Bishop, who produced all the original VW symphony recordings except for the Sixth, which was the work of Ronald Kinloch Anderson, visited us last week, and he commented on the outstanding sound from the latest EMI transfers when we auditioned them on my Arcam Alpha 9 & 10 and Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 803 audio system. Although in his 80s, Christopher still has very sharp ears and a commendable sense of self-criticism. When we auditioned some more of his work in the form of the recently released Sir Adrian Boult from Bach to Wagner box he commented unfavourably on his 1974 balance between strings and brass in the Rienzi Overture! EMI’s financial woes have been the subject of much negative comment here and elsewhere. But credit should go to the few committed people – particularly Richard Bradburn – who are working with the label to make so many classics of the gramophone available at such affordable prices, and in such high quality transfers. For instance I would have bet a lot of money – and lost – that Sir Adrian’s big band Brandenburgs would never be reissued again by EMI. And it is good to know that, to some people at least, the sound does still matter.

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