The Wagner Journal

From Cylinders to SACD: Simon Trezise examines technical aspects of recordings old and new

From Cylinders to SACD: Simon Trezise examines technical aspects of recordings old and new

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Reviews Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Act III, conducted Böhm, Dresden, 1938 (Hänssler, 2 CDs); Overture (Rienzi), Preludes to Acts I and III (Lohengrin), Overture and Venusberg Music (Tannhäuser), Prelude, Good Friday Music, Symphonic Synthesis by Stokowski (Parsifal), Preludes to Acts I and III (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), conducted Stokowski, 1926–40 (Andromeda, 2 CDs); Act I, Act II Scenes 3 and 5 (Die Walküre), conducted Walter, Vienna, 1935 (EMI, 1 CD); Overture (Der fliegende Holländer), Overture and Venusberg Music (Tannhäuser), Ride of the Valkyries (Die Walküre), Forest Murmurs (Siegfried), Prelude, Transformation Scene (Act I), Flowermaidens’ Scene (Parsifal), conducted Knappertsbusch, Vienna, 1950–53 (Preiser, 1 CD); Das Rheingold, conducted Fisch, Adelaide, 2004 (Melba, 2 CDs); Die Walküre, conducted Fisch, Adelaide, 2004 (Melba, 4 CDs); Der Ring des Nibelungen, conducted Haitink, Munich, 1988–91, reissued 2006 (EMI, 13 CDs).

November 2007, Volume 1, Number 3, 99–106.

With seemingly unlimited technical facilities now available for the restoration of historical artefacts, such as paintings and recordings, it is possible to discern a laziness and complacency in the execution and reception of the re-minted work. A recording is, in some ways, unknown and unknowable. From the recording process to dissemination, there is no perfect version of a 78 and cylinder. In its own time it was played on a hundred different types of reproducer, with different needles, sound boxes, horns and loudspeakers. Its effect in a large reverberant room would be quite different from that in a snug living room in an apartment, and the taste of the listener might have been brought to bear on tweakable aspects of the sound spectrum such as volume and frequency response. For the modern transfer engineer the choices are correspondingly diverse, and the question of whether a transfer is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ must be partly a matter of taste, even in matters of pitching, for one cannot always be certain which A the musicians were tuned to or, in some cases, what key they were supposed to be performing in. 

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