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Notes from Recent Finds, No. 20 - More from HDTT

04-08-2024 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 132

High Definition Tape Transfers has released/reissued many superb albums over the couple of months since I last posted an update, and I keep being reminded of earlier releases I've not shared with you. So, here are a dozen I highly recommend.

Some may wonder why I continue a focus on HDTT for music. To those who wonder, my answer is simple. Bob Witrak is one of the best artist and content experts, with the deepest knowledge of recordings, whom I know. His selections are always of extremely high quality for both music, performance, and sound quality. And the depth of his catalog, and his continued discovery of new recordings, is astounding. He cherry picks among the best of the best from decades of recorded music. It simply doesn't get any better than this.

Music Of Sibelius - Morton Gould And His Orchestra. HDTT 1962 2024 (DSD256, DXD) HERE

Transferred from a 15ips dub of the master tape, this Lewis Layton recorded music of Sibelius is simply stunning in its impact and clarity. Morton Gould and His Orchestra deliver as rousing and dramatic a performance of Finlandia as any I've heard. And their performance of The Swan Of Tuonela is as heart-rending as any in the catalog. 

The album contains five of Sibelius' most famous works. In addition to Finlandia and The Swan of Tuonela, Gould includes Valse Triste, Pohjola's Daughter, Lemminkainen's Return. All are classic works and all are fantastically well performed here.

Lewis Layton recorded these performances on November 15, 16, 17, 1962 in Manhattan Center, New York City. It was released in 1963 by RCA in "Dynagroove, the Magnificent New Sound." Well... not so magnificent unfortunately. But, the source for this release from HDTT is a 15ips 2-track dub of the master tape. And it proves definitively that the poor sound quality associated with the Dynagroove era was actually a result of the EQ and disc processing that occurred after the music was recorded onto the masters. 

Original RCA Dynagroove cover.

Morton Gould is quite often given short shrift these days. But he was an immaculate conductor, with the ability to pull tremendous character for the music from "His Orchestra." He was also an accomplished composer. I encourage you to explore some of his own compositions such as Fall River Legend (Lizzie Borden story), St. Lawrence Suite, Spirituals, or Latin-American Symphonette (all available from HDTT).

Albums featuring compositions by Morton Gould available at HDTT.

Dvořák Symphony No. 7 - George Szell The Cleveland Orchestra. HDTT 1960 2024 (DSD256. DXD). HERE

George Szell had a marvelous sense of rhythm and propulsive flow. His pacing was always perfect, in my estimation. And with the Cleveland Orchestra that he built, one could find few better ensembles. Their recordings together continue to be highly competitive with the best in the catalog. The only challenge was the sound of the Columbia LPs, a bit of a monster of his own making, his own insistence. So, if you have only heard the LPs, then you have not truly heard Szell and the Cleveland. Columbia's engineers could indeed make excellent recordings—you just have to find them in the reel-to-reel tape incarnations where the equalization is far different than the LPs and the compression is no longer a factor.

And this is what HDTT gives us in this excellent transfer from a 2-track 15ips tape—natural timbre, no EQ futzing, no spotlighting, full(er) dynamic range. For some, the strings may be just a tad bright, but I think they are well balanced overall.

This is a marvelous performance of Dvorak's No. 7, and the sound quality is now a wonderful complement to the excellence of the performance. If you enjoy Dvorak, don't hesitate. Get this HDTT release!

Chopin: The Complete Works For Cello And Piano, Nathaniel Rosen and Doris Stevenson. HDTT 1976 2024 (DSD256, DXD) HERE

From the original Desmar master tapes, masterful performances by the great cellist Nathaniel Rosen and always superb pianist Doris Stevenson. This duo performed many outstanding recitals together and made some of my favorite recordings. Rosen has such a magisterial long line to his playing style; his work is simply sumptuous. And Doris Stevenson has a delightfully elegant touch, with a lightness and finesse that is to die for. Yet she plays with great power when needed. Most significantly, their partnership is a match of shared musical sensibilities that is rarely matched; never exceeded.

As noted in the release notes prepared by John Haley (who mastered the tape restoration), "Chopin (1810-1849) wrote relatively little chamber music, all of it featuring the piano as an important element and all calling for a genuine virtuoso pianist. His three works for cello and piano, two of which were inspired by his close friendship with the French cellist Auguste-Joseph Franchomme (1808-1884), consist of two early showpieces, (1) the Grand Duo concertant in E Major, B. 70 (on Themes from Meyerbeer's 'Robert le Diable') written jointly by Chopin and Franchomme, and (2) the Introduction & Polonaise brillante in C Major, Op. 3, plus the mature masterpiece, the Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65, dedicated to Franchomme. In the originals of the two earlier pieces, the cello part is occasionally overshadowed by the brilliance of the piano writing, and in these pieces Rosen plays arrangements by his illustrious teacher and mentor, Gregor Piatigorsky, who successfully reassigned some of the piano lines to the cello to more equitably balance the importance of the two instruments. Rosen's brilliant playing is perfectly paired with Stevenson's impressive pianism in all of these challenging pieces."

These Chopin recordings were made in 1976, before Rosen was awarded the Gold Metal in the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1978. He is heard playing his magnificent 1738 Domenico Montagnana (ex-Servais) cello, which he also plays in the Schumann Complete Works for Cello and Piano previously reviewed HERE together with more extended comments about these performers.

Robert Schumann Complete Works for Cello and Piano, my earlier review HERE.

The Sheriff by The Modern Jazz Quartet. HDTT 1963 2024 (Pure DSD256). HERE

Sourced from a 2-track, 15ips tape and transferred to DSD256 with no PCM processing—this is as close to the sound of the tape as we will get. Frankly, I've tried to differentiate between an original 15ips tape and a DSD256 transfer of that tape (using a high quality ADC), and I can't hear the difference. Our editor David Robinson says the same for his experiences. And, this tape is phenomenal—a joyful listening experience! 

You'll know whether the music is up your alley. If it is, you will likely be as delighted with this release as I am. The transparency is just marvelous. And, of course, the performers are as good as any group ever assembled, with Percy Heath (bass), Connie Kay (drums), John Lewis (piano), and Milt Jackson (vibraphone and vibraharp). As Thom Jurek states in his AllMusic review: "The Sheriff features the Modern Jazz Quartet in fine swinging form. The program is not as sharply focused as on some of the earlier Atlantic releases, but it is compelling nonetheless." 

For a real musical treat, listen the track 1, "The Sheriff" using HDTT's 30-second preview tracks. The music swings. And while it sounds good in the preview, is sounds vastly better in the Pure DSD256 download. Enjoy!

Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy. HDTT 1954 2024 (mono, DSD256, DXD). HERE

There is pure magic happening on this album—always has been. And this transfer from the LP is simply excellent: clean, detailed, great dynamics, and completely silent background. Track 1, "St. Louis Blues" has never sounded better to my ears. I never owned an original copy of the LP. My LP copies were all reissues, including the very excellent Pure Pleasure vinyl reissue (which I treasured). I am so happy to once again have this album in my music library; and in incredibly good sound quality. This release is a true demonstration of the excellence that Bob Witrak is achieving in this Vinyl Record Restoration series. It's just marvelous! (Can you tell I'm liking this? Oh, yes.)

David Oistrakh - Bruch Scottish Fantasy & Hindemith Violin Concerto, Redux II. HDTT 1962 2024 (DXD, DSD256). HEREHERE

These are two warhorses, but always enjoyable to hear. And David Oistrakh's performances are definitive. There may be other delicious performances by other outstanding violinists, but these performances are, in my opinion, the standard by which to assess all others.

I have the earlier HDTT release of this album and have been able to compare that earlier release to this new Redux II. And what a nice sonic improvement this is! Much improved clarity, much better definition. Gone is the murkiness that plagued the earlier release. I'm assuming we have a new and better source. If you love these performances as much as I do, then the upgrade to this Redux II is well worthwhile.

HDTT's summary of these performances is exactly correct:

"Listen just to the last few bars of the Introduction to Bruch's Fantasia—the physical sense of Oistrakh's ineffably beautiful tone is palpable. The performances themselves are superlative—Jascha Horenstein leads the London Symphony in a detailed accompaniment for Oistrakh's expressive performance of Bruch's Fantasia, and Paul Hindemith himself leads the LSO in an aggressive accompaniment for Oistrakh's muscular performance of his own concerto—but anyone with the slightest interest in the art of recording and remastering owes it to himself to hear this new Redux Series 2nd remastering."

And, if you don't have these performances in your library, obtaining this new release should be a no brainer.

Thank you, HDTT!

Sonny Stitt Blows The Blues. HDTT 1960 2024 (Pure DSD256). HERE

Sonny Stitt (1924-1982) was a great jazz musician. His relaxed blowing style just tickles my fancy and I enjoy hearing his performances whenever they show up in my listening queue. Naysayers complained throughout his career that he just sounded like Charlie Parker. How can that be a criticism? And to me, he is entirely his own musician even though his style falls within the broad Charlie Parker aesthetic. I find he always has something distinctive and uniquely his own to say in his performances.

Recorded in December 1959 and released by Verve in 1960, the album contains eight tracks, six of which are original Sonny Stitt compositions. His rendition of the classic "Frankie and Johnny" is an utter delight, with Stitt's very personal improvisations around the main themes.

And the sonics on this release just pull me in—from a 2-track 15ips tape to Pure DSD256, the sound is transparent, lively, and entirely seductive. Close your eyes and you're in the recording studio right along with Stitt and crew. Yes, it's that good.

Weber Overtures, Ernst Ansermet, L'Orchestre De La Suisse Romande. HDTT 1958 2024 (DSD256, DXD) HERE

Ernst Ansermet had a remarkable track record in Geneva with Decca and recording engineer Roy Wallace. When we think of the minimally miked "Decca Sound" these Roy Wallace recordings are the gold standard. On the continent, he stayed rather outside the drive to add more and more microphones to recordings. Well into the 1960s, the recordings he engineered retained the classic Decca sound that we hear in this excellent 1958 recording. This is another very successful LP transfer in HDTT's continuing VRR series. It sounds like the London Blueback from which it is transferred—a bit warm, a bit rounded, a bit tubey. In all, just luscious. And the performances are classic Ansermet. Filled with rhythmic vitality and wry humor. And there is nothing to complain about with the performance by his L'Orchestre De La Suisse Romande.

German composer, conductor and virtuoso pianist Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) remains a significant figure in the history of Western classical music, particularly in the realms of opera and orchestral composition. At the age of 17 he was appointed to the post of Director at the Breslau Opera where he immediately embarked to reform the Opera by pensioning off older singers, expanding the orchestra, and tackling a more challenging repertoire. But he did not seek to extend his two-year appointment as it did not allow him sufficient time to pursue his own creative interests, among which was falling deeply into debt. But, throughout, he continued a prolific course of composing.

Per Wikipedia, he moved on to be the director of the Opera in Prague (1813-1816) and from 1817 onward he was director of the prestigious Opera in Dresden. Notably, he worked to establish a German opera. This in contrast to the Italian opera which had dominated the European music scene since the 18th century. He saw great success, but, as with so many, he fell ill (tuberculosis) and died far to young in 1826. His operas, of which this album contains the overtures, impacted the future development of German opera (Meyerbeer and Wagner). And his compositions are referenced by later composer such as Glinka, Debussy, Mahler, Stravinsky and Hindemith. You will no doubt be familiar this Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, based on Weber's lesser-known keyboard works.

So, if you are not familiar with the music of Weber, here is an easy place to start your acquaintance! 

Albert Roussel and Roy Harris Symphonies No. 3, Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic. HDTT 1961/1964, 2024 (DSD256, DXD). HERE

These two Third Symphonies from French composer Albert Roussel (1869-1937) and American composer Roy Harris (1898-1979) are must-haves for anyone with an interest in modern orchestral music. Each of these works illustrate the intricate compositions and rich melodies that imbue the work of these two twentieth century composers who, in turn, influenced a broad range of modern composers. 

Albert Roussel was predominantly a classicist. His early work was strongly influenced by Impressionism, but his later work became more in his own personal style: formal in design, with a strong rhythmic drive, and with a dominant affinity for tonality. He retained a rather romantic aesthetic in his orchestral works. As such, he clearly is not a Stravinsky or member of Les Six. His Third Symphony (heard here) has been highly regarded and epitomizes his mature neoclassical style. As David Dubal writes in his book The Essential Canon of Classical Music, "Upon repeated listening, his music becomes more and more intriguing because of its subtle rhythmic vitality. He can be alternately brilliant, astringent, tender, biting, dry, and humorous...the Third and Fourth Symphonies are among the finest contributions to the French symphony." 

Roy Harris spent most of his career in teaching posts and residences at American colleges and universities, including the Julliard School of Music, UCLA and then at California State University, Los Angeles. In the course of his teaching, he was to influence and entire generation of composers, including William Schuman, H. Owen Reed, John Donald Robb, Robert Turner, Lorne Betts, George Lynn, John Verrall, Florence Price, Regina Hansen Willman, and Peter Schickele of P.D.Q Bach renown. (Wikipedia)

Listening to any of Harris' compositions, his long singing lines and resonant modal harmonies are readily apparent. This is particularly true of his Third Symphony. which seems to grow organically from the opening bars. The Third Symphony which joined the American repertoire during the same era as works by Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson. Harris composed over 170 works, but his symphonies seem to have made his greatest contribution to American classical music and his music was championed by Leonard Bernstein who recorded this Third Symphony twice.

This release is sourced by a 2-track 15ips tape and the sound is clean, clear, and dynamic. Another excellent transfer by HDTT.

Chopin Concerto No. 1, Rachmaninoff Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini - Gary Graffman (piano). HDTT 2024 (DSD256, DXD) HERE

Gary Graffman (1928) was a marvelous pianist who concertized internationally for three decades and made a number of legendary recordings, this among them. In 1977, he sprained the ring finger of his right hand. Because of this injury he began re-fingering some passages for that hand in such a way as to avoid using the affected finger. This altered technique appeared to aggravate the problem, ultimately forcing him to stop performing with his right hand altogether by around 1979. 

Thereafter, he joined the faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music, took over as the school's director in 1986, and added the title of President in 1995-2006. He has also served on the piano faculty of the Manhattan School of Music.

It is through his teaching and administration that he his often known, but his recordings are breath-takingly beautiful. They are filled with a marked intelligence and intentionality, with fluid grace.

His expert playing of these two famous piano works is superb. Munch and Bernstein's accompaniment is top-notch, adding a delightful touch to the performance. Chopin's piano concerto with Munch is given a lively, light and dancelike treatment—nothing overwrought here, just nicely balanced with an excellent forward flow. Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini with Bernstein is a complete contrast, as one might expect. In the Rhapsody we have a dark tension tension—a steel spring coiled tight and ready to spring at any time. But with brilliant moments of delicacy and fanciful delight from Graffman. When he plays the main theme, it is with great delicacy and beauty, but nary a bit of syrupy slop that so often mars other performances. Both works receive excellent, compelling performances from their collaborators.

Sourced from a 2-track, 15ips tape, the sound in this transfer is eminently clear and detailed, with a completely silent background. Highly recommended!

Gerry Mulligan Meets Stan Getz (Redux). HDTT 1957 2019 (DXD) HERE

This album from HDTT has been in my library for the past four years and I've been remiss not to comment on it before now. When two jazz artists whom I greatly enjoy come together, it lights up my day (or night). And this album certainly does that. It is a terrific collaboration of tenor and baritone sax playing, with the splendid backing of Ray Brown on bass, Stan Levey on drums, and Lou Levy on piano.

Recorded by Verve in October 1957, and also issued as Getz Meets Mulligan in Hi-Fi, this is the first time Getz and Mulligan performed together as the primary horns for a session. Even though this project proved very successful musically and both musicians had known each other long before it was recorded, they would never again play together in this format (at least on records). They trade horns on the album's first three tracks, allowing the listener a rare opportunity to hear Getz on baritone and Mulligan on tenor. The chemistry and energy here make for a hugely enjoyable listening session.

I'm not sure what Bob Witrak's source was for this release, but the sound quality is excellent. Don't even get me started on how poor the CD sounds by comparison. The clarity and resolution heard in the HDTT release is just vastly superior. No, you don't get the added 2 tracks found on the CD ("Scrapple from the Apple" and "I Didn't Know What Time"), but with this superior sound quality I could not care less. Highly recommended!

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 - Evgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT 1960 2022 (DSD256, DXD). HERE

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique" - Evgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT 1961 2016 (Pure DSD256). HERE

Evgeny Mravinsky's recordings of Tchaikovsky's Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Symphonies are perhaps my favorite recorded performances for each of these works. For me, none others achieve the level of excellence I find in his performances. All three are technically and artistically off the charts. Precise articulation of phrasing, sudden explosive releases of tension, penetrating explorations of intense emotional passages—all with a magnificent pace that superbly matches the content of the music.

In the Fifth, Mravinsky is intense, martial, and uplifting. But in the Sixth, he leaves the indelible imprint of a soul in despair, with perhaps a pinch of hope, or, if not, then a final resignation to fate. Even though there are many competing performances that are outstanding in their own rights, no one does it better than Mravinsky. Perhaps it takes a Russian to fully comprehend and communicate Tchaikovsky.

These are early 1960s recordings made by Deutsche Grammophon in Vienna. They are of the DG's Tulip LP era, predating DG's multi-miking obsession, and the sound of the orchestra is, accordingly, coherent with good sound stage imaging. HDTT's transfer from tape is impeccable, particularly with the Pure DSD256 transfer of the Sixth Symphony. Unfortunately, HDTT does not have a release on offer of Mravinsky's translucent recording of the Fourth Symphony, with its blazing power and fervent energy, to complete the triad. We can hope Bob finds a source one day.

Shall I say "urgently" recommended?