Design Review: Volume 4, Issue 1 (July-August 1951)
The collector of records (or at least of major works) is by now squarely on the horns of a dilemma. Long playing or short playing? The question is a vexing one because one important chain of companies (Decca — Brunswick — Capitol) have embraced L.P. and all that it implies, while another (HMV-Columbia — Parlophone) has so far chosen to remain aloof, despite persistent, and no doubt reliable, whispers about backroom experiments with the new medium. Meanwhile each combine is pouring out records of music not attempted by the other, and the ‘short playing’ releases by E.M.I. (the trade-group name of the HMV — Columbia organization) offer by now a real problem. Should one pass over some excellent ‘normal’ issues in the hope that they may eventually appear in L.P. form? A case in point is the recent appearance of two superlative Beethoven recordings — the fourth symphony, done by Furt-wangler and the Vienna Philharmonic on HMV DB9524–8, and the first piano concerto, done by Gieseking with the Philharmonic orchestra under an anonymous but seemingly expert conductor on Columbia LX8732–5. Speaking personally, I should be content with these, even in four-minute sections, for I cannot believe that Decca's forthcoming version of the symphony (London Philharmonic under George Solti) or any version they may contemplate bringing out of the concerto, would prove markedly superior to the performances under review, L.P. notwithstanding. I have never heard a recording yield up so much of what is in the score of this heavenly symphony. The performance by Furtwangler has not failed to draw the fire of English critics, whose notions of how Beethoven should be played have never agreed with those of the German conductor and doubtless never will, but all who are prepared not to be prejudiced by a most individual approach to the music will surely find very much to delight in. Likewise in the C major concerto Gieseking gives a sparkling performance which is backed up by the orchestra as ably as it has been recorded by Columbia's technicians.
Other ‘standard’ issues may be accorded brief mention before passing to the excitements of L.P. — Heifetz and the London Symphony under Sargent give a highly polished account of Elgar's concerto (DB9532–7). It all sounds rather urgent and in some ways seems to lack repose, but nobody who admires this magnificent music will wish to pass the set by. The late Dinu Lipatti made a faultless set of Bach's Partita No. 1 (LX8744–5)–a set which may well become a gramophone classic and potentially belongs in every serious gramophone collection. Another issue worth everybody's attention is that of the Brahms' Symphony No. 2 in D major as played by Fritz Busch and the Danish State Radio Orchestra (HMV C7792–5). By fitting (mark, not cramming) the work on to four discs in the plum label category, HMV have managed to produce a complete Brahms' Symphony for twenty-four shillings — a far from negligible factor in these days of soaring costs. This recording will thus be more than ten shillings cheaper than the imminent L.P. version by Furtwangler. One is glad to note that the Danish set is excellent in every way, both as performance and recording.
The supply of long-playing discs can hardly be termed plentiful at the moment, but there are enough on hand to make a few generalisations. This I do with some diffidence, as technical experts are loud in their claims that no one has a right to criticise L.P. unless heard on the most super-equipment, which mine is not. However, I have in the past few months listened to some 50 L.P. discs on some half-dozen machines, many of them built to the most elaborate private specifications.
The only faults I have been able to notice are minor ones — a slight fuzziness in the upper orchestral strings in certain recordings, odd ‘popples and crackles’ throughout the length of some discs, and a consistent, but more annoying, ‘swish’ in the running of one or two page 22 discs that were obviously (to however slight a degree) ‘off-centre’.
In the few cases where it has been possible to compare both L.P. and ‘normal’ records of the one performance it has always been found that any added clarity the ‘78’ may possess is more than balanced by the almost complete lack of surface noise on the L.P. Here are a few notes on the more interesting issues (all Decca):
Brahms: Sonata in F minor, op. 5, Julius Katchen, LK4012. A magnificently powerful performance of a great sonata (unobtainable on records since Percy Grainger recorded it in the late 'twenties). Note the really tremendous range between pp and ff — and the truly startling piano tone; more like the real thing than almost any recording I have heard. Berlioz: Three extracts from ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Royal hunt and storm from ‘Les Troyens a Carthage’. Pan's Conservatoire Orchestra, conductor Munch. LXT2512: Here we have a ‘miscellaneous’ record which offers, on the whole, an intelligent programme. The note on the cover makes it clear that the sequence of the ‘Romeo’ pieces is (1) Reverie and fete, (2) Love scene, (3) Queen Mab Scherzo. Is it unreasonable to complain that we cannot play them in that order without lifting the pickup halfway through a side? However, the disc is surely a ‘must’ for all lovers of the music of Berlicz
Bloch: Sacred Service. London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra conducted by the composer. LXT2516. A most successful recording of soloists, chorus and large orchestra. Nobody need be deterred by Bloch's reputation as a ‘modern’ — this music is suitably straightforward and melodious. For many of us it opens up an entirely new world of religious music. It might be pointed out that the ‘Sacred Service’ in the Jewish ritual has a significance comparable with that of the Mass in the Christian church, and that this Service of Bloch's, being scored for such large forces, approximates more to the style of ‘concert’ religious works such as Verdi's Requiem. This is one of the longest of long-playing discs — the equivalent ‘78’ issue of the work covers six twelve-inch discs.
Haydn: Symphony No. 101 (Clock). Suisse Romande Orchestra, conductor Ernest Ansermet. LX3009 (ten-inch). This compact little record contains the symphony neatly on two sides and there is no break in the middle of the slow movement, as unfortunately happens in one or two other cases). The performance is quite first class and the recording very pleasant indeed.
Reviews of other recent records must be held over in the meantime.page 23page break