Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lyrical Lyrita SRCS 34, Holst, Various Works, Imogen Holst Conducting

Lyrical Lyrita Series: 

SRCS 34

Gustav Holst

Lyric Movement for Viola and Small Orchestra, Brook Green Suite for Strings, Nocturne for Strings, Fugal concerto for Flute, Oboe, and Strings, St. Paul's Suite for Strings

Imogen Holst conducting
The English Chamber Orchestra

Pressing: mid-sixties Decca half speed

Condition: EX

Stampers: 2K/2K



Performance:

Keeping things in the family, this disk features the composer’s daughter conducting.

Holst composed the opening piece, the hauntingly beautiful Lyric Movement for Viola, along with the Brook Green Suite in his last 18 months. The emotional warmth of these pieces is largely absent from his earlier music.

“Holst (1874 - 1934) was an introverted, ascetic individual, a fastidious craftsman, and a person with something of an interest in the mystical and transcendent. His artistic outlook was restless, and prompted him to search for and change to new styles several times. This means that there is not much similarity between this delicate, personal music and his famous suite The Planets, though there are moments with the same mystical contemplation found in some parts of the earlier work.

The period during which he wrote The Planets contains his most brilliant and colorful orchestral work, including his most popular music with such pieces as the Japanese Suite, Beni-Mora, the Suites on English Folk Songs, St. Paul's Suite, and the ballet music from The Perfect Fool. There is a nearly ten-year gap between the last-named work and his next orchestral composition.

Holst was unprepared for a sudden burst of fame that occurred in 1920, when his choral/orchestral work The Hymn of Jesus bowled over its first audiences and stimulated the first full public performance of The Planets.

Now the girls' school music teacher who liked nothing better than holidays when he could go write music in his soundproofed music room at St. Paul's School, found himself in demand both as a conductor and composer. He came to resent this fame, and to turn from the lush, colorful style of the music that brought it to him. This progress accelerated when a heart problem compelled him to drop much of his work and move to the countryside. There is a gap in his output in nearly all genres in the mid-1920s.” (Joseph Stevenson, http://www.allmusic.com/composition/lyric-movement-for-viola-amp-chamber-orchestra-h-191-mc0002361174)

Holst composed the Brook Green Suite for Strings for the junior orchestra of St. Paul’s. “The "Prelude" is based on the descending C major scale; in fact the cellos cover it in two octaves! The "Air" sounds as if it was based on English folk song, but most likely it was not; Holst had become so acquainted with folk song during his life that a lot of his created melodies were very similar to them (take for instance the choral piece, This Have I Done For My True Love, which audience members thought was a folk song arrangement when in actuality the melody was Holst's own.) The structure of the "Air" is reminiscent of the counterpoint of The Lyric Movement, full of enharmonic relations and somewhat austere. This is a trait of most of his later works.” Per Imogen, the finale, Dance, borrows from a puppet’s show tune heard while holidaying in Sicily. (http://www.gustavholst.info/compositions/listing.php?work=25)

From her father’s manuscripts, Imogen selected the slow movement from the unfinished arrangement for strings of his Moorside Suite for brass band. This Nocturne for Strings is a fitting end to the late work of Holst on side A.

On Side B, “The Fugal Concerto is just that, "fugal," but not a fugue. But the reference to Bach is not left at that; the slow movement is a witty parergon to the slow movement passacaglia of the Bach’s Fifth keyboard concerto, particularly in its oboe arrangement as the sinfonia to Cantata 156.” (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Sept06/Holst_SRCD209_SRCD223.htm#ixzz2tie0DeAC)

Finishing side B, each of the ever popular St. Paul's Suite’s “four movements is a treasure of its own, although the first movement, a Jig, has the strongest effect.” (Andrew R. Barnard, Amazon Review)
Here is a well done rendition of the finale, ‘The Dargason’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQevo7M4gm8

Sound:
And what sonic splendors has the Decca team provided us under Lyrita founder Mr. Itter’s auspices? (The Decca team is unknown, so we assume Kenneth Wilkinson.) Well, to begin, SRCS 34 is only the fourth stereo release which means it is early and the original pressing would allegedly be a half-speed mastered solid state affair. Yet the cutter head used was primitive compared to the later Neumann SX-68 and SX-74 with its pristinely cut, perfectly transduced high frequencies beyond 20,000 Hz. My copy does not have a flip back cover, but my pressing is a 2K stamper matrix which to my ears is not the work of the later above Helium cooled Neumann’s. And life is not so simple to say that the Neumann setups were completely superior as the electronics of the cutting amps would have evolved also, with the general trend away from discrete transistors to integrated circuits and more cost efficient manufacturing. (I’ll stay away from the early half speed Decca/London tube pressings which were not Lyrita and which command big dollars and do sound best generally, despite the inferiority of the cutting heads.) Well for this LP, this early pressing exhibits the best sound I’ve heard from a Decca type pressing of this era (I am including the Decca/London catalog).

We do not have the incredibly pristine extended treble presentation of some of the later Decca pressed Lyritas, but we do have much of this lyricism and this lyrical purity extends down more into the midrange. This lyrical Lyrita purity is a wonderous sound of sublime perfection extending down from the Heavens of the highs. I’ve never heard the likes of this sound from a Decca/London release (or anything else for that matter). The pristine lyricism is here and one wonders what a later pressing, either Decca or Nimbus might offer. The sound quality works extremely well with the works on this release with the St. Paul’s Suite standing out in my mind, but I was somewhat distracted while listening to much of the rest by some highly interesting posts on our site.

This record does get an Honorable Mention in the Supreme Recordings hierarchy and I can see why as the sound floor performance is not top class (though remarkable compared to similar aged Decca/London releases). Bass and dynamics are good, but certainly not great. I do believe this reviewer's system and perhaps the Maestro Salvatore’s system to a greater extent do miss some of the splendors that my good friend the Quadophile’s system can do with these LP's (Basis, Lyra Delos setup with a couple of very interesting preamp combinations and a wonderfully matched amp for the Quads.) My own system is resolving bass and sonic definition better than the quads with a more extended treble presentation, but the Quadophile still achieves better sound overall. I just heard this LP via Quads, but will revisit with side B this time. I certainly would bump it up a notch to the maestro’s Basic List.

I’ll be throwing on some recently acquired Supreme Recordings accolades Decca/London LP's to see if some of these match this lyrical presentation. These typically have a slightly ‘recordy’ sound that did intrude some on the LP under review particular when presenting copious amounts of treble energy. This treble distortion and the ‘recordy’ sound may not be one in the same as the Neumann cuts on Decca or Lyrita rarely distort, though the ‘recordy’ sound persists on the Decca/London LP's (thankfully not to Lyrita, so far in this journey).

A very nice LP sonically, but I have heard better Lyritas. These are special performances with Imogen at the helm of rarely recorded and very stimulating Holst works. A sonic gem for its time which leaves one wondering what the auspices of Mr. Itter entailed.


Performance: 5/5                                                                                    Sound: 4.5+/5



11 comments:

  1. Meles, another fine review and thanks for all the background. This is one of the TAS Super Discs, along with its predecessor 33. Wilkie engineered this one, done at Kingsway. I found out that I have three different kinds of Deccas in the first 10 stereo Lyritas!
    Here is a little list:
    Catalogue SRCS Album Label Cutting Recorded Issued Engineer Venue
    31 trifold groove 1K 12/65 9/66 Wilkie Kingsway
    32 trifold groove 1K 12/65 9/66 Wilkie Kingsway
    33 strip flat 2K 1/66 10/66 Mailes Kingsway
    34 strip flat 3A 3/66 5/67 Wilkie Kingsway
    35 trifold groove 1G 7/66 5/67 Locke/Parry Kingsway
    36 strip flat 1L 11/67 10/68 Wilkie Kingsway
    37 trifold flat 1L 11/67 10/68 Wilkie Kingsway
    38 strip Dutch Ring 3R/1L 12/67 10/68 Harvey producer West Hampstead
    39 trifold flat 1R 12/67 10/68 Wilkie Walthamstow
    40 trifold flat 1R 1/68 10/68 Wilkie Walthamstow

    What it looks to me is that the groove pressings correspond to the era of the second groove Deccas (ED2 in Furop's notation or the 'Made in England' groove). The flat pressings are ED3 or Made in England flat. The oddball is my copy of SRCS38 which is clearly a Dutch ring - pressed in Baarn, probably in 1980 or 1981, so very late. It has the Decca information in the deadwax, but no stamper (as in the letter at about 3 O'Clock from the word BUCKINGHAM). So I will be looking for an earlier pressing. I have to listen to it, since these pressings were the ones which drove Itter to go to Nimbus. BTW, the record label says Made in England, though clearly it was not. I have a few late Decca SXL6000's that have the same problem - they are clearly Dutch pressed but still say Made in England rather than Made in Holland.

    I will be seeing Mike Mailes in June (who did the engineering for 33) and see what he remembers. You can see that Wilkie did almost all of these, with Mailes doing one and Jimmy Locke/Gordon Parry doing another. David Harvey produced all of these as well as most of the early Lyritas. He probably handled the engineering for 38 as well. The recording information comes from Philip Stuart's excellent and comprehensive discography on the CHARM website. He published it on line in 2009 and has since updated it, but not made the updates publicly available.

    Larry

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    1. Larry,
      Cool. I think it would be very interesting to here from Mr. Mailes about what might have made Lyrita unique from Decca? I wonder if Mr. Itter had any input on the process. I went to the Charm website and don't see anything there currently on Lyrita.... aah... I found it under downloads, Philip Stuart Decca Classical Discography, 1929-2009, http://charm.cch.kcl.ac.uk/download/download.html This information is amazing as it exceeds what they show on the CD releases from a few years back. I love seeing the recording hall information as those are famous well known halls. I just search for the keyword Lyrita and I can jump through or the album code. Nice, nice!

      It would be awesome to know about LP mastering. I particularly find the half-speed area for the first ten years of stereo very interesting. I do believe it was all the way into the Lyritas.

      I did some quick listening last night to my doubles and then concentrated on the early Lyrita. I have no groove pressings and it looks like they are possible only for the first four stereo titles (to SRCS 35). I wonder if there is one iota of difference in what the engineers were doing between ED2 and ED3 at this transition. I suspect that for Decca/London release that an ED2 (groove) of something put out in 1964 would sound different from an ED3 (flat) pressing of the same title made about four years later. I am not sure what it means for early Lyrita. With Decca/London it seems the narrow band roughly coincides with the advent of the helium cooled Neumann cutters.

      As far as listening results, in a nutshell, I think for these early releases the earliest pressing might be worth searching out. From listening to my doubles I am not a fan of the early Neumann Decca cuts. They don't seem all that dynamic and I'd absolutely go for an ED2 or ED3 whenever possible. ED4 would be Neumann on Decca and I think by 1975 these were with the upgraded SX74 with its pristine high frequency cutting. I'd stay away from these early Neumann and I am not sure when they might start with Lyrita. Perhaps there is something in the wax that would help differentiate. That label size difference is very curious.

      I listened to some of the later pressings in my comparisons. As stated before I was not a fan of the odd non-Decca typeface pressings. However, the hand written lettering pressings (EMI) are impressive. They may seem bright, but I suspect this is a result of the extremely tight, clean, and deep bass foundation giving the highs an added crispness. My Moeran cello concerto EMI press did quite well versus the decca pressing. The decca had nice body to the cello, but the EMI was quite extended with much more lyrical Lyrita highs and really conveyed a nice silkiness in the upper registers of the cello. Other EMI presses I played last night were always much bigger and more dynamic sounding then there decca counterparts.

      continued....

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    2. The nimbus also did well. At first they sounded a bit diffuse, but I did a major room tweek while playing the esteemed Arnold Dances. In the back wall of my listening area I have a closet in one corner and a small bathroom in the other, with another door to the hallway towards the center of the back wall. Just closing all three of these put the hall sound and all dynamics through the roof with SRCS 108 Arnold Dances. This really made the nimbus Arnold come to life. I'd been messing with this before and with the decca lyritas the doors definantly gave better sound with more hall sound. I'd forgotten to shut them and did so about midway through side 2 and my jaw hit the floor. I'll have to give the EMI pressings another listen as well as some of the Decca in this environment. I listened to my Boult Marches Nimbus (SRCS 73) which was that funny pressing without the typical nimbus label indent pattern (just the groove at 5/8 inch from center). It was crazy dynamic. I definitely need to relisten and will do some more tonight. It looks like tomorrow I get to listen to the Quads and we'll see how much Lyrita/classical the jazz loving Quadophile will put up with. The jury is still out on the different Nimbus (swayback versus switchback) and I may not have enough data points to do anything, but guess....

      Just found a cool hit on the internet on this swayback at 1.5 inches:
      " ‘We have found some items you are seeking, but I thought I'd add an extra note of clarification. I have just spoken to the owner of the Lyrita label, and he assures me that the criteria for recognizing Nimbus pressings are not quite as you put it. The marking or engraving of the disc with the words "Nimbus" merely indicates the metal parts were made by Nimbus. Nimbus pressings can be recognized be a second concentric ring on the label about 2" (actually 1-1/2") out from the centre hole. This is a less distinct ring than the sharp cut close to the centre hole? Most titles (all except SRCS 65, 68, 71, 83, 102, 107, and 121/2) are now out of print? We have some of the other Lyrita numbers you list, but they were not pressed by Nimbus and probably never have been." (I’ll note for the readers that what we care about are the metal parts which is who mastered the disc and controlled most of the sound. Based on this I’d say all of the EMI mastered stuff was Nimbus pressings. SRCS 73 above is mastered by nimbus, but pressed by someone else. Nimbus pressings tend to have quieter surfaces.)

      "You (and/or 'arold Moores, et al) miss-out the info that Polygram (Phonodisc Ilford pressing plant, Roden St) pressed Lyrita for a short period after Decca's New Malden factory was closed-down.

      You can find Decca masterings with the Polygram-style metalwork for SRCS 109 (Uncle Arnold's Dances) and as used for Polygram-eras Decca LP's - coupled with a 1979 Decca mastering..and SRCS 69 ('erbert Howells) with the hand engraved matrices...all dating from 1980/81.

      Easily identifiable as Phonodisc pressings, due to the flat/raised label edge."
      (Larry, I think this might be the dutch pressing you are referring to? Not sure what a flat/raised label edge means.)

      I've got a lot more listening to do before my opinions will be completed, but I find the Neumann SX68 Decca pressings to be problematic on my system at this point. They just do not always deliver enough lyricism in the highs, nor dynamics. The handwritten EMI and Nimbus masterings seem to be more consistent and are always quiets since they are typical Nimbus swayback pressings.
      I just found I have two nimbus pressings of SRCS 33 Bliss Music for Strings, so that is almost all of the early ones in some shape or form.

      Regards,
      Miles

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  2. Meles,

    Thanks for the detailed review! This is an album of really wonderful music. I've got a special attachment to the St. Paul Suite, since we played it in our high school orchestra my freshman and junior years. I learned both the first and second violin parts, and it was a lot of fun to play and perform. While I don't believe I own the Lyrita, I happen to have the Musical Heritage Society reissue, which I picked up at a Friends of the Library in the suburbs of Washington, DC for 10 cents. It sounds great, though I haven't been able to compare it to the original. I'll be interested in reading your thoughts about the other Lyritas on your list.

    AQL

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  3. Just a quick response. Miles, thanks again for the extra info on the Nimbus pressings. I had heard that there was a difference between the having Nimbus stampers (with the block NIMBUS in the deadwax) and just having Nimbus do the pressings with the hand written stampers. The wide ring was supposed to be an indication of Nimbus pressing, but not necessarily Nimbus stampers. I think that is consistent with the info you have. Arthur, as far as alternatives, since the Lyritas are sometime hard to get, MHS did quite a few and Harry Pearson likes the Bax Symphony 6 as one of his Super Discs in the MHS issue. There was a company in the early '80's called HNH IIRC (maybe it was named for Harvey N Hunt or someone with a similar name.) Absolute sound did some comparisons between their Lyrita issues and the Lyrita originals. Usually it was very close. If you can find them, they should be cheap and good. I remember getting a few, back then, but shortly afterwards, I started going to London and also there were importers of Lyritas and I could get the originals.

    Larry

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    1. Playing srcs 38 Finzi. 3R/1L 77 Decca press based on date on liner. Same stamp as your Dutch. PolyGram? Very, very effective record. Sounds like they reused the early stampers for later pressings in some cases. A midrange crooner to make a deccaphile proud.

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    2. Larry ,
      Played nimbus srcs 33 Bliss Music for Strings and it was electric. Great nimbus sound with tremendous life. Gotta spare.

      Meles

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    3. Hi Larry,

      Thank you very much for the info on MHS! Good luck with your mini shootout this weekend. I have been wondering whether or not to dish out the dough to get the Analogue Productions reissues. There are only a handful that I would really consider purchasing, and they would be ones for which I have the originals. Please let us know your impressions. The ones available that I would consider would be the Reiner Respighi Fountains and Pines of Rome (do you have the 1s/1s for comparison?), The Reiner Sound, and Reiner's Pictures at an Exhibition. For $30 a pop, I'd have to pick carefully, since I was able to get my copies of the originals for quite a bit less.

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    4. By "got" for less than $30, I think you meant stole! 1s/1s pines, don't tell me you got a copy of that for less than $30! I don't have original Reiner Sound (rare). It might be possible to get the Reiner Pictures under $30 if one is lucky.

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    5. Actually, I don't have the 1s/1s Pines. I've had later stampers but never the 1s/1s. It's a rare bird. The Reiner Sound I got for about $24. The Reiner Pictures I acquired two copies 10 years ago, one which I bought for $1 and sold, the other I was given by a friend.

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  4. I have a 1S1S of 2436. It isn't in great shape, but I got it for around $100! The others I have seen within the past few years have all been in the $500 range. I had one I picked up in the mid '90's before I knew about the differences between 1S and later pressings. It was $3.98 as I remember. Unfortunately, I traded it for a bunch of Mercuries, before I knew better to keep it! I have been digitizing my collection (details upon request) and was able to get rid of the egregious pops out of the 1S1S. Sounds very good now in digital playback.

    There is a big difference between the 1S and later pressings both in price and sound quality. As you probably know, when RCA first released 2436, people complained that their players couldn't track the deep bass. So RCA recalled the 1S records and recut the record to get rid of the problem bass. So it explains both the difference in sound quality and rarity of the 1S. I bought a Decca pressing of the British version - but it doesn't have the low bass. Chad's new release does have it. For $30 that is a steal.

    Larry

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