Elgar remastered and renewed
In my recent post about the remastering by Warner Classics of iconic recordings from the EMI catalogue I reflected on how the concept of 'perfect' sound other than that heard at the instant of performance is a misleading fallacy. This is because it seems impossible to know what went on in the recording studio more than fifty years ago. But actually it is not quite impossible. A number of the remastered EMI recordings from the mid-1960s with Sir John Barbirolli conducting were produced by the celebrated recording producer Christopher Bishop; notably Elgar's Falstaff and Pomp and Circumstance Marches, and Sibelius' Third, Fourth and Sixth symphonies.
In the photo above taken a few days ago, the 91 year-old Christopher Bishop is hearing the remastered recordings for the first time in my home listening room*. (Also seen joining in the listening session is our nineteen year old three legged cat.) The verdict of Barbirolli's producer on the remastering was that it improved the clarity of the vintage recordings without detracting in any significant way from their quality. Christopher also praised Warner for their work in making these recordings available to a new generation of listeners, and also for their diligent documentation and presentation - the reissues use the original sleeve artwork.
This positive reaction gave me food for thought. In my previous posts I had been mildly critical of the remastering by Art & Son Studio, mainly because it reimagined the original sound balance. However Christopher's view was, no problem if this gives a fresh perspective on these wonderful performances, and I believe he is right.
It is so easy for all of us, and that includes me, to be hyper-critical of the big institutions in classical music. Today the art form is facing massive challenges due to fundamental cultural and technological change. Classical music needs all the help it can get, and that means encouraging as well as criticising the major industry players.
* In my auditioning system CD replay is from a Denon DCD-1700NE CD/SACD player through QED Audio 40 cables into a Rotel RA-1592 integrated amplifier (200wpc). The amplifier signals travel along Audioquest Rocket 11 speaker cables in bi-wired configuration to Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 803 speakers. Equipment is on a spiked Norstone Esse HiFi 4 rack with sorbothane footers. My listening room is purpose built and has very low ambient noise. All equipment is powered via a direct mains feed from the house's consumer board, via an unswitched mains socket with a high thermal stability fuse and custom constructed mains leads with professional quality IEC connectors.