Pristine Newsletter - 26 September 2014   
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Ormandy's American Light Music  

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Pan American (arr. by Otto Langey)             
American Rhapsody  
Irish Rhapsody 
Selections from Naughty Marietta (arr. Harold Sanford) 
Selections from The Fortune Teller (arr. Otto Langey) 

HERSHEY KAY Cakewalk - Ballet Suite [notes] 
(adapted and orchestrated from the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk)

Recorded 1952

The Philadelphia Orchestra  
Eugene Ormandy conductor  


PASC 356 [69:10]



Classical CD Review    
Waltzes and high-steppin'. Eugene Ormandy didn't disdain the popular. Indeed, he conducted light music very well and with gusto and, of the conductors of the Fifties and Sixties Big Five (Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York) obtained the greatest popularity of them all, save Leonard Bernstein. Szell, Monteux, and Munch may have had respect, but Ormandy was loved. This CD from Pristine gives us at least one classic performance re-engineered in superb sound.

Victor Herbert, born in Ireland and raised in Germany, received thorough musical training. He became a cellist in great demand and began to compose. He emigrated to the United States and added conducting to his skills. He continued to compose, including among his works a cello concerto that inspired Dvor�k to write his own. Herbert's star, which burned brightly in its day and made him a wealthy man, has dimmed almost to extinction, a process notable after World War I. He became one of the founders of ASCAP, to provide intellectual-property protection to composers and lyricists. The general public today may still recognize Naughty Marietta's "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" and Babes in Toyland's "Toyland" and "March of the Toys."

The works here are essentially medleys, much like the clich�d Broadway overture. Hearing the show tunes before and after the curtain goes up, and possibly reprised in the finale enables an audience to remember them and possibly like them enough to purchase the sheet music or the recording after they leave the theater. "Pan American" Herbert wrote for the 1901 Pan American Exposition, held in Buffalo, New York. In A-B-A form, it uses two melodies which have little to do with one another. The first, a brisk march, probably represented the can-do spirit of North America, while a lazily syncopated habanera stood for South America (the Exposition tried to include each of the Americas). Herbert sets the second tune with all the understanding of Latin-American musical rhythm one expects from an Irishman raised in Germany.
The American and Irish Rhapsodies are essentially the same piece -- a medley of national and folk airs -- and differ only in the tunes used. After some 20th-Century Fox fanfares, American Rhapsody sings "Hail, Columbia!," an over-the-top "Old Folks at Home," "The Girl I Left Behind Me," military fanfares, "Dixie," the Ives favorite "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" and winds up with "The Star-Spangled Banner," which despite all the brass, cymbals, and swirling strings, seems pretty tame compared to Stravinsky's arrangement. Irish Rhapsody runs through tunes I don't know the names of, with the exceptions of "Believe me if all those endearing young charms" and "The pulse of an Irishman," but have heard before, mainly in the soundtrack to the movie The Quiet Man. Despite the routine of much of the music, Herbert nevertheless comes up with some moments so inspired that they show up the rest of the scores: "The Girl I Left Behind Me" tootles along to fife and drum, while an Irish war song barbarically marches over a reed drone.

Born in New Orleans and educated in Paris, Louis Moreau Gottschalk became one of the great piano virtuosos of his day, as well as a conductor and composer. His music divides in two -- sentimental frou-frou like "The Dying Poet" and scores based on the African-based dances of the Caribbean Triangle (New Orleans, Cuba, Haiti). He concertized in all these places and heard the music first-hand. The sappy stuff has disappeared down history's oubliette while the dances have survived, in large part due to Hershey Kay's Cakewalk ballet, which has become a light classic. Kay studied composition with Randall Thompson at the Curtis Institute and found remunerative work mainly as an arranger and orchestrator of musicals. He became one of the pre-eminent arrangers on Broadway, along with Robert Russell Bennett and Don Walker. I love his Broadway work, even when the musicals he worked on may not be up to snuff. He also wrote the occasional ballet for George Balanchine, of which Cakewalk is one. At the time, Gottschalk had become more or less a dead letter. Cakewalk helped revive interest. (Incidentally, for a good and entertaining biography of Gottschalk, try S. Frederick Starr's Bamboula!).

Kay orchestrates in a Modern manner, as opposed to a historically-correct one, and it sounds wonderful. Unlike Herbert, Kay never lets up on invention and wit. Bits of Charles Ives's "General William Booth Enters into Heaven" and Stravinsky's Petrushka, among other snippets, flit through. Legendary producer and engineer Mark Obert-Thorne points out the fact that Kay included traditional minstrel tunes in his score. He also argues that Kay orchestrates in a "Broadway" manner. Certain sections -- notably "Sleight of Feet" -- bear him out. But overall the scoring, though clean and economical and suited to a pit orchestra, has more in common with Piston than with the usual Broadway orchestrator. Mostly, the Broadway manner is Hershey Kay's Broadway, which included work on Bernstein's On the Town, Candide, Peter Pan, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, none of them exactly Gals and Gams. The non-Gottschalk provides respite while the Gottschalk injects the score with fizz and animal spirits.

Ormandy, because he loved schmaltz with a true heart, tends to save Victor Herbert from himself. As one example, "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" (which Madeline Kahn sang while having sex with the monster in Young Frankenstein) teeters over, but doesn't quite fall into, Sugar Canyon. Cakewalk, however, gets an electric performance, with Ormandy and his Philadelphians digging into almost every syncopation with vim. The sound in both improves immeasurably over the mono originals. Indeed, at times you might swear the disc spoke stereo, so rounded and clear is the sound. Hats off to Pristine once again.



Sept 2014  


Classical CD Review

3 OCTOBER 2014 

Available to all Pristine Streaming subscribers

New This Week:

Pablo de Sarasate

Acoustic G&T 78s


G&T 37930
Capriccio Vasco
G&T 37929
Introduction et caprice jota
G&T 37932
Introduction et tarantelle, op.43
G&T 37933
Miramar, op.42
G&T 37934
Habanera, op.21, no.2
G&T 37936
Zapateado, op.23, no.2
G&T 37937

Nocturnes, op.9. No.2 G&T 37938

Paritita in E minor
G&T 37931
Partitas, BWV1006. Prelude G&T 37931
Transferred from Opal LP by Dr John Duffy. Additional restoration by Andrew Rose 

This Week     Rozhdestvensky's Prokofiev
Essay            New Callas box set - what's the difference?
Prokofiev      The first full Romeo and Juliet  
PSXclusive   Sarasate's brilliant 1904 G&T acoustics  
Offer              Save 25% on American Light Music     
This week's new release
It's strange how you first encounter some pieces of music and some composers. I discovered that I knew far more of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana from its use in various TV advertising campaigns than I realised when I first played an LP of the work in my teens - it was an experience as much of continual surprised recognition as it was a journey of musical discovery.

Before this, my uncle's purchase in the late 1970s of an LP by the Japanese electronic musician Isao Tomita led me ultimately to a whole host of musical discoveries. Debussy had first found his way into my consciousness through Tomita's 1974 album of piano music, transcribed and orchestrated for early synthesizesr (as a composer Debussy was then considered a little too modern for my father's tastes, so he wasn't heard at home). Other music today still reminds me of some of those Tomita LPs I used to lap up as a teenager (they were often to be found offered cheaply at our local second hand record store, "Mr. T's Rock Stop", in Kidderminster, Worcestershire).

But returning to that LP of my uncle's, Tomita's 1979 RCA album "Bermuda Triangle". It was unusual in that rather than presenting a series of short works by a single composer, as he had on the Debussy album, or a longer piece (he tackled the likes of Holst's The Planets and Grof�'s Grand Canyon Suite), here he used a variety of sources to create a near-continuous musical collage, with sections of Sibelius, John Williams, his own compositions, and, above all, Prokofiev - his fifth and sixth symphonies, his first violin concerto, and Romeo and Juliet. To this day I can't think of "Montagues and Capulets" without hearing Tomita's now rather dated synthetic "orchestration".

Gennady Rozhdestvensky

Since then of course I've become acquainted with much more of Prokofiev's 1935 ballet music - though like many, including the first reviewer to tackle this recording for The Gramophone in 1961, through the various orchestral suites rather than from hearing the whole thing.

By the time Gennady Rozhdestvensky took the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra into the recording studio to lay down the six LP sides that make up this week's recording a number of others had already tackled the suites, including the composer himself back in the 1930s. But nobody had considered until then recording the entire work. Even today it's not a particularly widely recorded piece. And there are a good number of people who still consider the first recording to be the best - from a musical and performance perspective at least.

As I mention in my notes, it's somewhat unfortunate that the recording was made in mono - by 1959 one might have hoped for stereo, even in the USSR, but at least to a degree that can be ameliorated by the use of Ambient Stereo processing to give the recording some semblance of space, despite retaining the mono core of the orchestra.

I wrote last week about the backwards edit in the recording - something Rob Cowan picked up on in a Gramophone review a few years back too. It seems inconceivable to me that this wasn't down to some kind of mischief-making - it's a bit like editing a book and deliberately running a sentence back-to-front. You just don't do it - it's too obvious.

The backwards edit masked the fact that a short bit, approximately one beat of the music, was missing altogether. I tried several later recordings, appropriately "aged" to blend in, until I found one that sounded sufficiently similar to mix into the Rozhdestvensky, The Melodiya engineers picked up a lot of percussion at the point in question - mainly snare drum it seems - that is nowhere near as forceful in other recordings. It took a while to find one that was similarly percussive! And all for a single beat...

That aside, my role here has been to try and update the fifties Soviet sound. One senses that technically the Russians were falling behind their western counterparts in the recording business, but here XR remastering comes to the rescue of this now-lavish recording. I've picked a number of varying sections from the recording for our sample this week, totalling nearly 17 minutes of music. Have a listen - I think you'll enjoy it!

Maria Callas remastered?

There's been a surprising amount of fuss about a new Maria Callas box set recently. Music and tech blogger and MacWorld writer Kirk McElhearn noted its appearance on iTunes - "This is the first big classical box set I've seen on iTunes sold as a set" he wrote on Facebook this week. I've also seen it popping up on music websites - on Qobuz, for example, the music is being promoted with a picture of a box set, but it's actually being offered across individual albums in various formats up to and including ultra-hi-resolution 24-bit 96kHz lossless downloads.

A couple days ago I also received an e-mail on the subject from a Pristine Classical newsletter subscriber called Rob (who I'm sure is reading this), who wrote:

"Since you've tackled a few, when you get a spare moment, hoping to hear your appraisal of Maria Callas Remastered (The Complete Studio Recordings 1949-1969)."

I clicked on the link in Rob's e-mail, which took me to Amazon's UK website where the new set could be purchased on CD for �210.99. Bizarrely the same set can be bought on Amazon's French website for €199 - which is nice because Amazon currently reckons �210.99 equals €280.34!!! Eighty Euros is quite a saving - if you're in the UK and want to get the set check out Amazon's European websites first.

Anyway, it so happens that I already own, alongside a stack of original vinyl Callas albums, EMIs' last Complete Studio Recordings box set, released in 2007, which looks a lot like this:

It's also considerably cheaper right now - �77.38 (€108.81) on Amazon UK, or better still, €69.90 at Amazon France. (Tip: French buyers get cheaper Callas, it seems - the UK EMI box is 55% more expensive.) That's a third of the price of the new edition for French customers. So is the new remastered version three times better than EMI's old version?

(As an aside, a friend of mine with a vineyard in St. Emilion once remarked that Chateau Petrus, one of the world's most expensive wines, was made a mile or two down the road from his own, but cost 50 times more per bottle than his did. Was it better? Yes. Would he rather have one bottle of Petrus or fifty bottles of his own excellent Grand Cru? The latter, please...)

Sorry for the interruption - back to my question: is it worth, as a listener, paying three times as much for the new remastered set? In a word, "no", and I won't be investing my money in it. What I have done though is invested in some of the ultra-high-resolution download tracks - so you don't need to - and subjected some random samples to a few checks and tests. This also allowed me to follow up the (inevitably) speculative response I gave to an e-mail I received back in August from the music critic David Patrick Stearns:

"As you've no doubt heard, Warner/EMI is bringing out a Callas box with new remasterings taken from master tapes and I'm doing a story about it for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

To be honest with you, I like your remasterings better. It seems to me that the difference is this: Warner/EMI is trying to bring out all that's there on the master tape, the odd result being that Callas voice has rarely seemed so harsh to me."

So, what exactly do you get for your money? My expectations were admittedly low, and in my first test I wasn't surprised with the results. Yes, it's been transferred this time at 24-bits and 96kHz. No, it doesn't sound any different to the older EMI issue that's now a third of the price. (This was a track taken at random from a 1955 recording of Madame Butterfly - you'll be able hear my own take on this recording in a few weeks).

There was only one audible difference between the two: the new one was louder. Yes, turn your amp up around 5dB when playing the old transfer and you can have all the joy of the new one!

I concocted a track which began with the older transfer, cross-faded into the new version, then cross-faded back to the older one. With the levels matched I listened over and over again, on my studio monitors and on my headphones. I couldn't hear the joins and I couldn't detect any qualitative difference whatsoever. There was nothing at all to indicate that I was listening to a "new and improved" recording, however hard I listened, and I like to think my hearing is reasonably perceptive, given my line of work.

The 24-bit transfers have clearly helped the engineers to maximise the sound levels (they can set record levels a bit lower and then increase the final levels digitally to get the most out of a CD's 16-bit sound without bringing up any audible digital noise).

But what about those super-duper 96kHz sampled high frequencies? There's quite literally nothing there.

To be technically correct there is of course something there: a whole 26kHz of uninterrupted tape hiss from 22k up to 48k. Tape hiss, being random low level noise, has no practical frequency limit - if your tape heads can reproduce it it'll probably go on up and up, almost ad infinitum. But those microphones, those amplifiers, those mixers and those tape record heads in use back in 1955 did not go on up ad infinitum. They started to roll off somewhere around 20kHz, and by 22kHz you've pretty much reached the upper limits of what was captured. Which is as high in frequency terms as a CD can go, as it happens. Above that there was no musical content whatsoever on the 1955 recording. So there's no advantage to be had whatsoever in wasting money, bandwidth and storage space on a 96kHz version of the recording in question. There's plenty of music contained within the constraints of a standard 44.1kHz CD. But beyond that, the rest is noise.

Next I turned the clock back to 1953 and one of the most famous Maria Callas recordings of them all, Tosca - one of the first Callas recordings I tackled here at Pristine (PACO 080). This time there were minor differences to be heard over the previous outing on EMI. The pitch on the new transfer was marginally higher (closer to my own pitching than heard on the older transfer, though they're all close). There was also what appeared to be a slight boost in the treble.

But what was most interesting here was the new dynamic range - or rather the lack of it. With the loudest moments set up to match between the two transfers (leaving my own out of the picture for the time being) it was noticeable that the new transfer was louder in all the quieter sections. This suggests one immediate cause: compression of the audio signal to make everything appear louder. Not in the way Rock music does it - this is certainly subtle - but the irony here is that this new 24-bit transfer, which as such has much greater potential dynamic range, uses less of that range that the old 16-bit transfer did. By compressing the audio levels (and no, this isn't data compression as in MP3, don't be misled by the terminology), essentially squashing the dynamic range, this might (along with the equalisation) be part of an answer as to why my Mr Stearns felt that the Callas voice had "rarely seemed so harsh to me".

On the plus side for the new set? There's no denying the box set is lavishly packaged. So much so, one can't help but wonder whether this is where the budget for this project went, rather than spending lots of time and effort in the remastering suite (it doesn't take a genius to load up a tape machine and press play and record, after all). I may be wrong of course - this is speculation based on sampling two discs out of 69 - but it's informed speculation, it's measured speculation, and its tested speculation.

In making at least one recording subjectively "louder", by reducing its dynamic range, one might consider that the new release is in this respect actually inferior to its predecessor, still available at a third of the price. It certainly isn't using its full 24-bits, nor its 96kHz sampling rate (though it's possible that the later recordings might offer the odd cymbal crash the breaks the upper limits of the CD). And if other recordings simply invite you to turn up the volume a small amount in order to replicate the "new" sound, why buy the whole lot again - or rather, why not go for the cheaper set for as long as it lasts?

If packaging is your thing, or you want to splash your cash and get the "Mastered for iTunes" lossy download - at €149.99 here in France, still more than double the price of the 2007 EMI non-lossy CDs - then why not blow a couple of hundred on the set? It'll look very nice on your shelf. But don't throw away your old copies just yet, whoever remastered them...

Andrew Rose

Last week's release - in case you missed it:



Rozhdestvensky's magnificent world premi�re complete Romeo and Juliet in beautiful, XR-remastered sound


"[Rozhdestvensky's] is most definitely the version to have" - Gramophone, 2010

"The most characterful of them all" - Gramophone, 2013


 Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64


Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra   
Gennady Rozhdestvensky, conductor   




Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer:

Andrew Rose         


Total duration: 2hr 22:39
Recorded 1959                

Website page link: PASC 424    


Historic Review: UK LP, 1961

[NB. It would appear from the text that this first complete recording of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet was also the first time that the reviewer had heard the complete work, although clearly he was already familiar with the orchestral suites.]   


These new discs by the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra give what none of the previous records of the suites can provide-the music as it is danced. Sometimes the tempi are quite different from those indicated in the complete piano score, and then we can assume that either choreographer or dancers have altered the music for their own pur�poses against the wish of the composer. This, of course, happens in all ballets to some extent. Thus the cool music with the viola glissandi in the middle of "The Young Juliet" seems rather fast and insensitive for the composer's tranquillo marking, and "Masks" is surely too fast for the swaggering effrontery one expects of Romeo and Benvolio at the Capulets' Ball; musically I prefer Munch here. But it may well be that I am being hidebound, liking what I am used to, and perhaps I shall get used to Rozhdestvensky's tempi in time. He takes "The Maids with the Lilies" at little more than half the marked speed, but this I found very effective. The dance takes place outside Juliet's bedroom on her wedding morning (and I am glad to find no mention on these discs of those West Indian islands, the Antilles, which keep creeping into the Suite title), and there is a sense of forboding about the slow tempo that I like. The last two pieces in the ballet, "Romeo at Juliet's Grave" (Suite II) and "The Death of Juliet" (Suite III) are joined together on the Munch recording, but in the ballet they are separated by some ten bars of very dull transition. I suspect these were put in as an afterthought for some stage reason, (Origin�ally the ballet had a happy ending, and "The Death of Juliet" did not exist when the first two suites were written.) One cannot blame Rozhdestvensky for playing these bars, but inevitably the tension drops, as it does not in the Munch recording. Munch finds far more dignity in the marvel�lous development of the main Juliet theme in the last piece. Rozhdestvensky's excessive hurrying at the climax seems very unmusical, and it is hard to believe that any dancer or choreographer could have asked for such treatment here. But the final bars are quite marvellously played, and this perhaps is the most remarkable of many places where the authentic Russian version makes the earlier discs of the suites sound like men fumbling in the dark. I have mentioned the few places where the new discs seem to me to fall short, but I cannot possibly mention the innumer�able times when the playing is a revelation. This, after all, is how the Russians them�selves see this music, and they are more likely than anyone else to know best.


You can get to know nearly all the tunes by listening to the suites, but in them you get very little idea what Prokofiev does with those tunes. The ballet has an elaborate leit-motiv organisation, and the same tunes are repeated and transformed and devel�oped for dramatic reasons. The music that does not come in the suites, though not immediately so appealing, is often of the very greatest interest musically. Thus, if you like this ballet, and I do not see how you could fail to do so, there is everything to be said for having the whole of it. The three discs are provided with a timed synopsis which makes it quite clear just what is happening in each piece, and this is a most welcome innovation. The quality is not superlative. The violins sound rather thin at the top, and the playing itself is not always as streamlined as one might expect. Some of the sides are rather gritty at the start, and the level of Side 4 is a little lower than that of the others. All this suggests that things are much worse than they really are. By Russian standards the quality is goodish, and at no time did the deficiencies, such as they are, worry me.


The Gramophone, September 1961






Producer's Note

Rozhdestvensky's complete 6-LP-sided 1959 Moscow premi�re recording of the complete Romeo and Juliet ballet followed a number of outings of the work in its cut-down suites as it started to become more widely known. Reading through the various mentions it has received since then in reviews it seems to have retained a high musical reputation ("The most characterful of them all" - Gramophone, 2013), despite some technical shortcomings. Certainly Melodiya pressings were never the best!

But rather unusually for an orchestral recording this late in the 1950s it was made in mono, and had a rather restricted and harsh edge to the sound. This I've managed to tame considerably, alongside a more general opening out of the sonic palette, something that's particularly enjoyable with the extra space on the soundstage offered by the Ambient Stereo issue of this recording. I've also been able to add a sense of depth and fullness that was lacking in the Melodiya issues.

Finally I've fixed a curious anomaly found at around the point where Mercutio dies - a short section of reversed music that appears on all Melodiya issues from the LPs onwards that I've managed to source. This is the second instance of this I've discovered in Melodiya recordings of the era, which seems more than coincidental - though one can only guess as to the reasons for it. In this instance a short section of the music was actually missing once the reversed section had been corrected - a beat has had to be inserted from another recording to cover this gap, though it shouldn't be noticed by any but the most perceptive listeners.


Andrew Rose     

MP3 Sample

Various excerpts (16:39): Download and listen

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