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The Electric Recording Company and Their Reissue of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major

10-21-2015 | By Andy Schaub | Issue 81

"The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older, 
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death."
—From "Time" by Pink Floyd

So, first, you might ask, where have I been and why I am not talking about digital music servers, instead reviewing a vinyl reissue you can't buy anymore—at least not new—without an original pressing as a point of reference? Those are all good questions and deserve an answer. You're not likely to find one in this article. Let's just say that I have been busy, that I have moved again and have my reference system set back up, and that I simply couldn't afford to pay $8000.00 for an original Columbia pressing of Leonid Kogan and the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra under Constantin Silvestri performing this seminal piece by Beethoven.  So instead I did some research and asked for some help from my friends. I listened to several performances of the same Violin Concerto on CDs loaned to me by one friend, and another (the Shaded Dog with Heifetz) on original vinyl as well as a couple of other reissues of the Kogan on vinyl loaned to me by another friend all as relative measures of goodness. 


The question I really wanted to answer was whether I would be willing to pay $500 for any ERC (Electric Recording Company) reissue of a famous LP that would otherwise cost more than my amplifier. The short answer is yes. However, I need to establish a little context so let's jump into the way back machine and talk about early 2015. I had just left my job at a Silicon Valley startup and was taking some time off to clear my head while I decided what to do next. The last time I needed to clear my head this much, I went to London, specifically to the West End (which has changed so much in the last 25 years) to think. Wine bars and cafés have replaced all the vinyl shops. However, a classical vinylphile friend told me about Dave Parsons and classicalvinyl.com, which is based in London, so I got hold of Dave and arranged to meet him at the loft where he keeps his old Decca SXLs and a Quad 57-based system to audition a few LPs.

Dave is an extremely kind fellow and picked out a few of the rarer Decca SXL-2000 and 6000 series LPs he had on hand for me to hear, all in pristine condition, generally in 150-200 GBP range. I loved each one of them and agreed to purchase 3 or 4 (have since ordered as many more from the States via the classicalvinyl.com website), at the same time receiving his last promotional copy of the Kogan Beethoven, leaving him with one retail copy to sell, which I think got snapped up rather quickly. After many attempts to get my hands on an original pressing of that same performance, I punted and got those CDs and other LPs from my two friends who are still waiting to get their media back. My first observation of the ERC Kogan Beethoven is that, like the rings on a tree, you tell the age of original recording by the amount of high-frequency information it has, or does not have, but that really has nothing to do with the quality of vinyl I got or its packaging, which surpassed pristine and fell into the super awesome deluxe range.

I will say that of all the recordings I heard, the Kogan performance itself was not my favorite, my heartstrings (no pun intended) pulled farther by recordings featuring the violinists Shumsky and Ginette Neveu. Even the Heifetz did not fall at the top of the heap for me, although an original Shaded Dog was certainly a treat. Between the Heifetz and the Kogan, I might pick the slower and more romantic Kogan, not at $8,000, but at $500 for the ERC reissue, most definitely. To explain, ERC does use the original master tapes and an all analog playback and cutting chain that they got, as I understand it, largely from Russia and restored with newer parts and wiring and, yes, I do believe it uses "valves" or tubes, and I do think you can hear that adherence to pure analog in the reissue. This is not a 24/192 PCM remastering or a DSD rip of the analog master tape on a restored Studer reel-to-reel tape deck. This is hard-core analog. Here is some background information on the ERC mastering process, in video form.

I suppose the most telling sign that I liked the reissue came as a bit of surprise to me when I went to the ERC site to review some details about the Beethoven Kogan LP and saw that they had reissued some mono recordings of Starker playing the Bach solo cello suites and, even at 300 GBP (that's $463.35 at the time of this writing) for every two suites, meaning 900 GBP or $1390.05 to get all six, I'm thinking about ordering the set before all 300 copies go out of print, never to be pressed again (really, for sure, honestly, not like Classic Records).  I wish I had heard an original pressing of the Kogan and could tell you how the reissue compares, but clearly I felt impressed enough that I'm thinking about picking up the Bach set before they disappear into history, so I think that's the highest praise I can offer. Sure, you have to eat and pay rent, and these prices are normally what you pay for originals, not all analog reissues, but as Ferris Bueller famously said, "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."

Kindest regards,