Accidental Stereo: Reconstructed Recordings, 1929-1933 = SAINT-SAENS: Carnival of the Animals – excerpts; STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring – excerpts; TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique”; RAVEL: Bolero; ELGAR: Cockaigne Overture, Op. 40 “In London Town” (conclusion) – Olga Barabini and Mary Binney Montgomery, pianos/ Philadelphia Orch./ Leopold Stokowski/ Boston Sym. Orch./ Serge Koussevitzky/ BBC Sym. Orch./ Sir Edward Elgar – Pristine Audio stereo/mono PASC 422, 74:03 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
“This remarkable release, a collaboration between Mark Obert-Thorn and Andrew Rose, brings together almost all the known “accidental stereo” classical recordings onto a single release. Using new technology and new techniques brilliantly to [conjoin] 78 rpm sides cut from different microphones, [Pristine recreates] authentic stereo sonic imagery before stereo had been officially “invented,” more accurately and convincingly than has ever been possible until now. The results are incredible to hear, taking you back 85 years in a way that mono recordings simply can’t.” [This occasionally occured when a second standby recording was made with a separate lathe and separate mic somewhere else – hopefully close by for a decent stereo effect when combined in sync…Ed]
Wait until you take a dip into this shimmering Aquarium from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals from 27 September 1929, followed by Personages With Long Ears, and Cuckoo in the Heart of the Woods! The orchestral definition has a presence that might strike him with a sense of historicity as eerily modern. The Stravinsky (24 September 1929) excerpts from the Adoration of the Earth sequence – four excerpts – proves just as tangibly and barbarically alert, perhaps made even more penetrating when we think how few years separate Stokowski’s reading from The Rite of Spring’s world premiere.
The Serge Koussevitzky reading of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique (14-!6 April 1930) proves the major beneficiary of the stereo process, although the middle of the first movement Allegro non troppo reverts to monaural sound briefly. Koussevitzky has his own ideas about tempo, occasionally applying a deliberate marcato where others traditionally have moved more impulsively. The famous 5/4 Allegro con grazia moves with a refreshed (stereo), persuasive lilt that has always made the Koussevitzky experience in Tchaikovsky captivating, hued with a sense of tragedy. When the stereo effect activates, the deep resonance of Koussevitzky’s favorite bass fiddles underlines a potent urgency in the reading. The Allegro molto vivace (stereo/mono) boasts the BSO’s quicksilver virtuosity, a real showpiece in orchestral discipline. The definition is good, but not exemplary, as I feel the flute of Georges Laurent could be better accentuated. The BSO brass, however, ring out with virile authority. While in mono sound, the final movement , Adagio lamentoso, conveys enough natural pathos to have satisfied our need for sympathetic intensity in this epic symphony.
I well recall having purchased RCA LM 1012, the Ravel Bolero/Mother Goose combination with Koussevitzky and his BSO, in a record shop in NYC, just off of Broadway and Eighth Street. Georges Laurent’s flute (in mono sound), naturally enough, introduces the Bolero main motif over the snare and pizzicato strings, and we await the startling revelation of sound to emerge for what had originally been intended for Ida Rubinstein’s choreography. Or perhaps you still prefer Carole Lombard and George Raft. At 4:30, the music opens, stereo, at the bassoon solo, and the result simply astounds. Virgil Thomson once criticized the Koussevitzky sound as “over trained,” but that canard fades quickly in the throes of a fine interpretation of one of the most basic of musical staples.
Finally, Elgar the conductor leads Elgar the creative giant in the conclusion of his Cockaigne Overture (14 April 1930) from the Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London. Aggressively bubbly, the music swings and cavorts with ripe gusto under a firm hand. When Elgar calls upon his big guns in brass and string polyphony, the effect proves colossal. Kudos, once more, to Obert-Thorn and Andrew Rose on this one.
[I did an NPR piece on accidental stereo many years ago, and in fact All Things Considered was normally mono at that time, but they broadcast it in stereo to play my piece. It centered around Brad Kay of Venice, CA, who had discovered some Ellington accidental stereos and went on to research some classical ones as well. He also had the Elgar conducting Elgar, but EMI wouldn’t allow him into their vaults to find more because they said it was “just a hoax.” He also thought a number of Toscanini recording sessions were accidental stereo but wasn’t allowed into their vaults either. Kay synced up his two channels using one recorded to tape and the other on a 78 turntable. However, the technology used by Pristine now eliminates all guesswork and has discovered that some of the recordings previously thought to be accidental stereo actually used the same mic and therefore are not. You can see whether or not there is stereo spread on the display, so there’s no room for doubt…Ed.]