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Notes on Recent Finds, No. 19 - HDTT Adds New Bundles of Joy

02-05-2024 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 131

Bob Witrak of HDTT keeps mining the hills for superb vintage recordings on both tape and LP to release in high resolution digital. And new recordings from the master tapes, as well. It is amazing that the flow continues in virtually a never-ending flood of superb music. The skill with which Bob makes these transfers is almost unnerving in the excellence of his results. Here are some of the releases from the past few months that I have greatly enjoyed and highly recommend.

Howard Hanson, Symphony No. 2 "Romantic," Lament For Beowulf, Hanson conducting the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra. HDTT 1958 2024 (DXD, DSD256) HERE

This Mercury Living Presence title featuring Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 "Romantic" and the Lament For Beowulf is considered by many as one of the best-sounding releases from Mercury's Rochester, NY venue, and has long been considered one of the great Mercury Living Presence releases. Conducted by Hanson himself, it is also possibly the definitive version of the symphony.

This is yet another excellent release in what is becoming an outstanding series of transfers from vinyl by HDTT, sourced from an original Mercury Living Presence LP. The background is silent, details are highly resolved and the dynamics are outstanding. It is simply a superb release, both sonically and musically.

If you're not familiar with the music, but you enjoy large scaled orchestral music in the Romantic tonal tradition, you should get this album! If you already know and like this Mercury recoding, you should definitely get this VRR release. The sound quality is terrific.

Hanson, an American composer and conductor (1896-1981), wrote this symphony in 1930. Often referred to as the "Romantic Symphony" it is considered one of Hanson's most significant works. It is certainly one of his most well-known and frequently performed compositions and has continued to be well-regarded for its emotional depth, melodic richness, and orchestral color. 

Hanson wrote the accompanying "Lament for Beowulf" in 1925, and it is considered one of his early and notable compositions. Inspired by the heroic narrative of "Beowulf," an Old English epic poem that tells the story of the heroic Geatish (Goths) warrior Beowulf and his battles against the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon. The work is thus a symphonic eulogy for the hero Beowulf. 

And another HDTT album of music by Howard Hanson that I highly recommend is:


Howard Hanson: An American Romantic, Rochester Chamber Orchestra, David Fetler conducting. HDTT 1981 2016 (DSD256) HERE 

See Dr. David's glowing review of this Howard Hanson: An American Romantic album, transferred from the original Albany Records analog 2-track 15ips master tapes to DSD256.

The Sound of Horowitz, Vladimir Horowitz. HDTT 1963 2024 (DXD, DSD256) HERE

A treasure! This album was a beloved item in my vinyl collection and it is wonderful to have it available now in my digital library. HDTT provides excellent sound quality in this transfer. I'm very pleasantly surprised by the excellence of the sonics from the 4-track source tape—no background noise, good detail, frequency extension, and dynamics. A very nice sounding release all around. While not equal to the transparent sonics of some of HDTT's transfers from 2-track tape, this transfer is nonetheless eminently enjoyable. And, of course, it is Horowitz!!

Do you sometimes wonder from whence Bob finds these wonderful tapes? Often, music lovers find Bob and share their treasures with him. Such was the case with this release. An audiophile who posts on the What's Best Forum under the moniker "Tuckers" discloses in a January 19 2024 post:

"I actually helped bring this re-issued recording about. I found an New in Box unplayed reel-to-reel tape of one of my favorite records. The Sound of Horowitz was recorded in 1962, the same year I was born! I brought it to the HDTT label which remasters and re-issues classic recordings on the very latest ultra-high resolution equipment. I searched and as far as I could tell there have been no re-issues of this in the digital domain. The label agreed that this would probably be something that could sell! So today they released the album! And I have to say it sounds even better than I remember of the vinyl copies I have... I have at least 4 vinyl copies of this album, and they capture that liveliness well, but all have had some inner groove distortion and crashed a bit at the crescendos. This render of the tape version has none of that!" (Link to original post.  Thank you, Tuckers!)

Gilbert and Sullivan Overtures - Conducted By Alan Ward. HDTT 1958 2024 (DXD, DSD256) HERE

If you love Gilbert & Sullivan, or if you just appreciate supremely well recorded orchestral music, this release is a delight. Legendary Decca recording engineer Kenneth Wilkinson captures the sound of the orchestra beautifully, with detail, air, and dynamics. Recorded in Walthamstow Hall by the Decca recording team under contract with RCA in 1958, this album was released originally in the RCA Living Stereo series. And it is from an original "Shaded Dog" LP that this extraordinarily successful transfer derives. It is a testament to the excellence of HDTT's ongoing Vinyl Records Restoration (VRR) series. And, it is an excellent example of why we as music lovers owe such a great debt of gratitude to the work of HDTT's owner and mastering engineers, Bob Witrak, in creating such excellent tape and vinyl transfers of these superb recordings. That a transfer of an original Shaded Dog pressing can be this purely transparent and detailed is a wonderment. Just decidedly delicious!

Respighi-Rossini La Boutique Fantasque, Dukas Sorcerer's Apprentice - Georg Solti, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT 1957 2024 (DXD, DSD256) HERE

A pure delight of a recording! Solti's tempi and phrasing of La Boutique Fantasque are light, bright, engaging and beautifully lyrical. His Sorcerer's Apprentice bristles with tension and menace—and is rollicking good fun throughout. The sound quality is excellent. I completely forgot I was listening to a transfer from LP given the total absence of vinyl artifacts. The sound is fully early Blueback, but without groove noise, pops, ticks or inner groove distortion. This transfer is Bob Witrak's own version of magic.

Django, Modern Jazz Quartet. HDTT 1953-1955, 2024 (Pure DSD256) HERE

It is easy to understand why this Modern Jazz Quartet album is considered a jazz standard. With a lineup including Milt Jackson (vibraphone), John Lewis (piano), Percy Heath (bass), and Kenny Clarke (drums), one hears an all-star ensemble that performed together for over four decades from their founding in 1952 until their disbandment in 1997. The title cut, "Django," was written by the group's pianist and musical director, John Lewis, in memory of the Belgian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. The MJQ became known for their chamber jazz approach, often incorporating elements of classical music into their compositions and arrangements. The variety of styles aggregated across the various songs in this album is remarkable.

Recorded across three different sessions from 1953 to 1955, this album was first released by Prestige in two 10-inch discs, with the complete 12-inch mono LP not released until 1956 when Prestige finally entered the 12-inch LP era. Rudy van Gelder recorded the second and third sessions, and remastered the first.

The sound quality in this new HDTT transfer from a 15ips 2-track tape is stunningly good for the time in which original tracks were recorded, particularly Milt Jackson's vibes. 

Brahms Symphony No. 2, Herbert Von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT 1964 2024 (DXD, DSD256) HERE

Recorded by Günter Hermanns back in the times before DGG went completely multi-mike crazy, here is Karajan in top form (and before he started stretching tempi completely out of shape). So..., excellent Brahms conducting, great playing by the Berlin Philharmonic, very nice recording by one of DGG's best engineers, and a very very nice transfer by HDTT from a 2-track tape. Very hard to go wrong in acquiring this release.

If you're a Von Karajan fan, acquiring this reissue for your digital music library should be a no-brainer. Even for me, who think's HVK's best work was recorded during his days recording for EMI, this release is a pleasure. I'm enjoying it immensely. (Oh, by the way, it is bright. The strings will shred your ears a bit. Just go with it.)

For alternate versions of Brahm's Second, also available from HDTT, don't miss Bruno Walter's recording from 1960 in better sound quality and more congenial interpretation:

Brahms Symphony No. 2, Bruno Walter, Columbia Symphony Orchestra. HDTT 1960 2024 (Pure DSD256) HERE

And then there are also the classic performances of Wilhelm Furtwängler, Rafael Kubelik, Erich Leinsdorf, Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch, or William Steinberg—all available from HDTT (search link here). All amazing. 

Mozart Violin Concertos No. 3 & No. 4, Zino Francescatti, Bruno Walter, Columbia Symphony Orchestra. HDTT 1958 2024 (DXD DSD256) HERE

There is a genial graciousness to Bruno Walter's way with Mozart that is always appealing—one can simply relax into the warmth of Walter's interpretations. Francescatti delivers a masterful performance. But don't take this to mean all is sweetness and syrup. No indeed. There is strength and vigor to be found here, as well. But the combination is one of elegance and restraint. The transfer from on original Columbia 6-eyes LP is yet again a bit of Bob Witrak magic, once more delivering great sonics in the high resolution digital transfers to which I'm listening. Yes, it sounds like a Columbia 6-eyes LP—with tubey warmth and a bit less ultimate transparency than we've come to expect from 2-track tapes. But, there's nothing to fault here. I lived with and loved Columbia 6-eyes for decades. This is a pleasant return home, and better ultimate sound quality than I heard on those LPs given the utter background silence Bob gives us in these LP transfers.

Jazz Noir, Chad McCullough (trumpet), Reggie Thomas (piano), Joe Policastro (acoustic bass), John Deitemeyer (drums). HDTT IPI 2024 (Pure DSD256) HERE

Film Noir and jazz have been partners for decades. Elevator To The Gallows was famously interpreted and played by Miles Davis. Performed live before an audience by trumpeter Chad McCullough and his colleagues, this release, Jazz Noir, is an homage to such films. 

Master recording engineer Jonathan Horwich was once again present to capture this performance onto his custom Studer/Revox 8-track C-278. And, as he has accomplished so often over the years with the recordings he releases on his International Phonograph, Inc. (IPI) label, the musicians simply come to life in my listening room. This Pure DSD256 release is a transfer from Jonathan's master tape to DSD256 with no PCM processing. And the sound quality is stunningly good. How he does it is a mystery to me, perhaps the excellent acoustics of the venue, perhaps the custom equipment he uses. I'm simply reveling in the incredibly natural and lifelike sounds I'm hearing from these four musicians on stage.

HDTT writes "International Phonograph, Inc., is a small independent label that specializes in jazz. The company believes that the musician is best served when the recording quality is of the highest rank, which means for this company, analog tape. All of the recordings IPI makes that we use are made in almost all cases on custom tape recorders utilizing handpicked and custom microphones. The result is an organic, realistic presence unmatched by any other recordings we hear. Combined with an authentic and high level of musicianship on these performances, the listener hears a truly unique and unforgettable experience. We believe IPI is at the forefront of superior quality sound combined with the highest level of music."

This IPI release is another pure treat, and not to be missed!