Master Quality Reel To Reel Tape!
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The conductor Kurt Sanderling (1912-2011) first met Dmitri Shostakovich during WW2. Colleagues first, the men went on to forge a strong personal friendship that affords a unique insight into both the music and character of this most conflicted composer. Sanderling recorded most of the symphonies with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, which he led from 1960 to 1977, but it's his dark, deeply moving account of the Fifteenth with the Berlin Philharmonic that I'd want for my desert island. Originally issued on the BP's own label, it's well worth scouring the internet for a used copy of that recording - coupled with a genial performance of Haydn's Symphony No. 82 'The Bear'.
Of course there's plenty of competition in this, Shostakovich's most recorded symphony. Among the most satisfying Fifths I've encountered in recent years are two Euroarts videos: Leonard Bernstein's with the LSO in 1966 and Yutaka Sado's with the Berlin Phil in 2011. Both belong at the more volatile end of the scale, whereas Andris Nelsons' recent Boston recording - part of his ongoing cycle for DG - seems comparatively laid-back. I say 'seems' because behind its public clamour lurks a reading of remarkable intensity and insight that I found quite overwhelming. Indeed, that's probably the most revelatory account of this great symphony that I've ever heard, either on record or in the concert hall.
So, where does Sanderling's BSO Fifth fall in this spectrum? The first movement is certainly measured - perhaps spacious is a better description - but then there's a startling vulnerability here that I wasn't prepared for. Clearly this is not the overt, scruff-grabbing approach that one associates with, say, Bernstein, and some may find this thoughtful, proportionate reading a little too subdued. Those upward-winding string figures certainly aren't as anguished as they can be, but then there's no denying the quiet, compelling authority of this performance.
I was particularly taken with the lovely pastoral quality of this opener, its idylls circled by threatening storm clouds. If you're looking for extra angst and urgency you won't find it here; what you will encounter, though, is a rare transparency - witness that light, perky march tune - and sensibly scaled tuttis. In many ways this is a very musical reading which, like Paavo Jarvi's 'paradigm shifting' Seventh, reveals - and revels in - a lyricism that belies the composer's reputation for crudity and bombast. If that is what Sanderling is trying to highlight here he succeeds admirably.
The playing of this East German band - the fall of the Wall was still seven years away - is warm and plangent; the very refined recording, with plenty of air and detail, adds to the sense of a performance deeply felt and gratefully given. There's point and polish to the Allegretto, not to mention some beguiling string passages that bring to mind Mahler at his most easeful and bucolic. I realise this conductor's unhurried pace won't please everyone, but for others it's a wonderful opportunity to rejoice in the score's inner workings. And no, such instruction is not achieved at the expense of pulse or purpose.
As for the Largo it's both spacious and beautifully spun. Yes, there's a small hiatus at one point - a bad edit, perhaps - but that hardly matters in the presence of such exemplary musicianship. At times there's a Beethoven-like strength/stoicism to the lower strings, which contrasts most strongly with the pliant loveliness of the BSO woodwinds. Here, more than anywhere else in this performance, one senses these are personal utterances, not public proclamations, and that Sanderling brings us much closer to Shostakovich the man than most of his rivals do.
By the time we get to the Allegro non troppo it's as if we've come to the end of a long and very eventful journey. Sanderling really is a wonderful guide, revealing all the details and nuances that others miss. His finale is brisk and cleanly articulated - such attack in the violins, and what muscular timps - with no hint of the pale gestures or empty rhetoric that so often afflict this problematic finale. Like Nelsons he builds to that great coda without recourse to unnecessary artifice, so that when those mighty bassdrum thwacks arrive the effect is simply overwhelming.
This is not the only recording of Shostakovich's Fifth I'd want to own, but it's certainly one I'd welcome. More than anything else there's an openness to this performance, an honesty if you prefer, that illuminates the score in the most unexpected ways. Factor in a first-class remastering - no steely strings, bloated bass or coarseness in the climaxes - and you have a very special release indeed.
A fresh, unaffected Fifth, chock-full of insight and character; not to be missed.
- Dan Morgan
WHAT EXACTLY IS AN 'ORIGINAL MASTER TAPE'?
Good question. The term is sometimes misused or misinterpreted, so it's worth getting clear on what's what. When an album is recorded, whether in the studio or on stage, it will either be a multi-track recording using several microphones and/or different sessions to record each individual element separately (instruments, vocals), or a live or semi-live recording in which one or several microphones capture the performance as a whole. The recording engineers will then bring the various elements together, editing and mixing them to achieve the desired sound and to remove unwanted noise, culminating in the album's first final arrangement. This is the original studio master tape, of which there will be not just one, but several: each of these is considered an 'original master'.
This original master is then used as the 'blueprint' for all subsequent copies, pressings, remasterings, etc. But of course with each subsequent treatment, something of the original information and hence sound quality is lost. Which is why nothing sounds quite like the original studio master tape. It's the original source of the album in its completed state.
DOES HORCH HOUSE DO ANY KIND OF REMASTERING DURING THE COPYING PROCESS?
Absolutely not! Why mess with the best? The whole point of what they do lies in capturing the magic of the original analogue master tape in its purest, most faithful form possible.
'Remastering' can be compared to using computer software to edit an original photograph. The benefits are that you can remove unwanted marks or noise, clean things up, remove distortion and boost clarity. The downside is that in doing so, you often lose the natural essence of the original and the result can seem rather synthetic, lacking in real life character.
The unfortunate fact is that tapes, like photographs, do tend to age over time, and most analogue masters are now between 30-80+ years old.
So Horch House undertake a painstaking 'soft refurbishing' process, which is key to recapturing the original quality of a master tape.
CAPTURING THE MAGIC OF MASTER TAPE
How exactly does Horch House translate an original analogue master tape into faithful copies on reel-to-reel tape and vinyl records?
They use a process that's been meticulously researched and developed by their expert team of sound engineers, with input from some of the world's leading specialists.
The first step is to carefully assess the sound quality of the original master tape, which their experts do in great detail. The unfortunate fact is that tapes do tend to age over time, and most analogue masters are now between 30-80+ years old. What they're looking to do, therefore, as an integral part of their copying process, is to restore the sound quality back to its original level. They want you to hear exactly what the first sound engineers heard (and indeed the musicians themselves), on the day that the original recording was made. This is in stark contrast to any kind of 'remastering', which they most definitely do not do! They're not looking to 'improve' the recording in any way, but rather to return it as closely as possible to its full original beauty.
They call this their 'soft refurbishing' process.
HOW CLOSE ARE HORCH HOUSE COPIES TO THE ORIGINAL MASTER TAPES?
Horch House believe that they're as close as it's possible to get - not simply to the master tape in its current condition, but to that master tape's original condition. Thanks to their detailed 'soft refurbishing' process, their master tape copies could, in a sense, now be considered as better than the current originals because they've been lovingly restored to deliver the same sound quality that the originals had on the day they were first recorded.
WHAT ABOUT COPYRIGHT? ARE MASTER TAPE COPIES LEGAL?
All Horch House master tape copies are fully authorized, licensed and approved by the relevant record label/music publisher.
** It is standard practice in all recording studios to keep the tape "tail out". This reduces "pre-echo" and it means that the tape should be placed on the right hand side of the recorder, re-wound and then played.
- 2-Reel Tape
- Tape material: SM468
- Standard 10.5" Metal Reel
- 38 cm / 15 IPS-CCIR-1/4"-2Track-510nWb
- Production on Studer machines refurbished to factory specification
- Fully authorized, licensed & approved by the record label/music publisher
|Berliner Sinfonie Orchester|
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Nr. 5 d-moll op. 47
- Moderato - Allegro non troppo
- Allegro non troppo