Editorial for December 2009
Published on December 1, 2009
Our December drawing/giveaway is for Harmonia mundi’s new 30-CD Sacred Music Box set, which will go out to three lucky Audiophile Audition readers in early January. The Limited Box Edition (which we reviewed here) is a gift beyond compare, especially for lovers of vocal and choral music. Just a small sampling of the performers: Andreas Scholl, Rene Jacobs, Ian Bostridge, Alfred Deller, William Christie, Paul Hillier, Kent Nagano and Philippe Herreweghe. The recordings include 111 cornerstone works of western sacred music. Go Here to Register. Remember: we need your address in order to ship.
The 12 lucky winners of last month’s drawing/giveaway – the 2L double Blu-ray & hybrid SACD discs of both the Grieg Piano Concerto and other works (with soloist Percy Grainger), and the 2L compilation The Nordic Sound – were:
John Thomas, Chicago IL; Wm. Ettouati, San Diego CA; Dan Ferguson, Puyallup WA; George Huges, Atlanta GA; Don Keehn, North Royalton OH; Bret Mitchell, Stockton CA; Chuck Habenicht, Englewood CO; Joe Clarkson, Covington WA; Hang-kien Kwan, Huntington Beach CA; David Sacks, Cambridge MA; Alan Norberg, Warwick NY; Michael Blaszkiewicz, Gibsonia PA. Congrats to all!
by Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio [www.pristineclassical.com]
(former BBC Senior Studio Manager)
A paragraph in the Blech Tchaikovsky review in our newsletter left me scratching my head somewhat, in particular the following paragraph:
"…it is worth noting at this point that, in contrast to the remarkably ‘real’ sound produced by the other sections of the Berlin State Opera Orchestra on this recording, its brass sounds quite ‘tubby’: it certainly does not gleam and, in Tchaikovsky’s biggest emotional rushes, fails to ring out over the rest of the orchestra as we expect… Is this a deliberate characteristic of Blech’s interpretation or perhaps just a deficiency in the recording process? As Private Eye magazine frequently puts it, I think we should be told. [But we are not: both the CD notes and the ‘full notes’ promised on the Pristine Audio website ... are silent on the matter.] "
I emailed fellow remastering engineer Mark Obert-Thorn on this question, and he’s equally bemused. There are a number of possible answers here, almost all of which are well-nigh impossible to check without having either been at the recording itself or having detailed technical notes which cover the recording. Given that I’m all-too-frequently to be found scrabbling around merely to identify what year a recording was made, let alone its venue or precise date, the question of whether or not the Berlin orchestra’s brass section had stuffed their scarves and socks into their instruments’ horns in October 1930 seems to be something beyond either my or Mark’s powers of research!
It was particularly pertinent to read this particular paragraph, as my recent work on the transfer and remastering of Bloch’s Israel Symphony has shown quite how backward some of the record companies still are when it comes to merely making their recordings available, let alone any detailed technical information about them.
The Symphony has been recorded some four times – our issue is the 1952(ish) première. It was recorded again in the 60s and the 90s, and most recently by the Slovak Radio Orchestra for ASV in 2003. Because my LP version has no track information or bands, and because I wanted to use a modern reference recording to check the tonal balance of the older recording as part of the XR remastering process, I set out to find one or other of the two more recent recordings.
First stop was eMusic – a Google search having suggested the ASV recording was to be found there. But when I searched eMusic I found nothing. I returned to Google and yes, there was the link, but when I clicked on it I was told that the recording was unavailable for download in my country (France). The same thing is true, it turns out, for those in the UK – and I suspect therefore for the rest of Europe. It seems Google has picked up on the U.S. eMusic listings, where the album can be downloaded. Likewise, U.S. downloaders can get it from Amazon as a set of MP3s, as well as from a number of other outlets, but once again these are not available in the UK or France. I’ve no idea about whether it’s on iTunes in the USA – but there’s no recording of the Israel Symphony listed there for me either.
OK, so what about getting the CD itself? In the UK this can be bought for £4.99 with the possibility of free delivery. In France it’s a 11.45 Euro CD import that’s currently out of stock and will cost me several Euros to get delivered at some unknown time in the future unless I spend another E. 9.55 with them to qualify for “free” delivery, on some unspecified future date.
I had thought that the Internet and its music download services were designed to stop this sort of thing. ASV was originally an independent UK record company. It was bought by Sanctuary Records, another UK independent, in 1999 – ironically we were in advanced discussions with Sanctuary in 2006 about offering some of their recordings to download on our site. The whole Sanctuary Group was then swallowed up by Universal in 2007.
Yet a rare recording of the Bloch, released by this British company in 2003, is unobtainable as a CD in a country 22 miles away, and is completely unobtainable in Europe as an MP3 download, despite there being multiple outlets for it in the U.S.
We read a lot about Internet piracy and illegal downloads. Sometimes I wonder whether simply not being able to obtain a legitimate source of a film or a recording leads people who might otherwise happily part with their cash into the hands of the pirates. In a discussion I had recently about the possibility of downloading English language movies here in France I did some fascinating research to try and find out what was actually being pirated. Looking at the figures at the notorious "Pirate Bay" website, it appeared that the then-most-popular pirated film was being disseminated by more than ten times the number of people as the most-pirated music album. Nearly 30,000 people were counted as being involved in the "sharing" of the movie – and no doubt many more were downloading it and not "sharing" it, each one of them a potential lost sale for the film company. By contrast, the top pop album of the day could barely muster 3000.
A rather obvious thought struck me at the time – that pop album could be legally obtained as a download just about anywhere on the planet. By contrast, the movie could not – as a download. The result where there’s a legal option appears (from this exceptionally unreliable survey) to be a 90% reduction in piracy. Perhaps the film industry should consider this? After all, what technical reason is there for, say, 20th Century Fox not to have a global download site where, for around the price of a DVD (or perhaps a little less), anyone can go and purchase a movie as a download? It seems that until something like this happens the pirates are here to stay.
As for me? I didn’t resort to piracy – though whether anyone’s likely to be offering dodgy downloads of an obscure work by Ernest Bloch on the file-sharing networks is perhaps questionable. I bought the UK CD from Amazon, then had it shipped to my friend in the UK, who copied the required audio from my CD onto his computer and sent it to me over the Internet. In the draconian world of copyright enforcement this is almost certainly an offense; in the bonkers world of copyright restriction it was the only way I could find out where the second movement of Bloch’s Israel Symphony started and finished. I probably won’t listen to the ASV recording again – I much prefer our own remastering.
December 09 is our 130th issue, and features our recently re-designed web site for improved navigation and enhanced appearance. We’re also publishing more and more disc reviews. All of them – often over 120! – are added throughout the month as they are written and received, usually on a daily basis. The most recent reviews appear at the top of each Section Index. The Home Page lists the five latest published reviews, the Section Index lists the past two months of reviews, the Archive goes back to June 1, 2005, and for all reviews by month prior to that you need to click on the Old Archive, which goes back to 2001. The Disc Index lists all past reviews.
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