DE FALLA: The Three-Cornered Hat (complete ballet) – Barbara Howitt, soprano/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Enrique Jorda – Everest 35mm mag film recording reissued as Classic Records HDAD

by | Jul 25, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

FALLA: The Three-Cornered Hat (complete ballet) – Barbara Howitt, soprano/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Enrique Jorda – Everest 35mm mag film recording reissued as Classic Records 3-channel HDAD2019 (CD/DVD-V audio/DVD-A audio), 37:30  ****:

RCA’s Living Stereo and Mercury’s Living Presence recordings from the 1950s and early 1960s get all the attention among concert music audiophiles, but a third U.S. label was just as successful in capturing impressive, natural recordings of masterful performances.  That was Belock Instruments’ label Everest Records. Bert Whyte was recording engineer for many of them and most were recorded using 35mm magnetic film with motion picture film recorders rather than audiotape.  (Mercury also used 35mm film for a few of their recordings.)

As occurred with both the Living Stereo and Mercury series, transfers to the CD medium were first offered during the 1990s. Many of the Everest 35mm masters were transferred to Super-Bit-Mapped CDs in l994 by the Omega Record Group, which then owned the label.  They did a very good job of it too. The original CD also had a second selection not included in this new reissue: Bartok’s Dance Suite. Sadly, they are no longer in print, and used ones sell on eBay for upwards of $30-$40.

This is one of the first of a series of Everest 35mm reissues as multi-format HDADs (Hi-Def Audio Disc) by Classic Records. Each HDAD comes with a second disc which is a standard CD of the same material. (Too bad so many experts had to repeat the whole process of playing and restoring the original 35mm mag films again 12 years later, but back then there was no hi-res format and no way to reproduce the original 3-channel recordings.)  Bernie Grundman handled the re-mastering, Len Horowitz of History of Recorded Sound restored a Westrex 35mm mag film player and Kevin Halverson of Music Electronics handling the preparation for DVD and authoring of the discs. The more robust mag film was found to be still in excellent shape, unlike some audiotape of such vintage.

The music is some of Falla’s most energetic and tuneful.  The 11 sections of the complete ballet revolve around merriment in a small village when the despotic old governor of the province tries to seduce the wife of the local miller, and is outwitted. There are a couple sections with the soprano soloist, and many featuring flamenco-like percussion and stomping rhythmic punctuations. Jorda, being Spanish, has a terrific feel for the sense of this work. The venue was the acoustically-sought-after Walthamstow Assembly Hall in London. And the original recording was three-channel – with the mag film media allowing much greater width for each of the three tracks, plus the five-times-greater thickness of the carrier, meaning much greater freedom from print-thru.

The options offered by the DVD are many: If you only have a standard DVD-video player, you choose the side of the disc with the blue ring labeled DVD-video.  Then you select on your on-screen display either the two-channel option, which is 96K 24 bit, or the three-channel Dolby Digital option.  Usually the button marked Top Menu on your remote will bring up the proper display.  If you have a universal or a dedicated DVD-A player the liner notes instruct you to choose Group 2 from the remote control – after inserting the disc with the blue ring uppermost. Well, no Group 2 ever came up on any of my DVD players – only Group 1. I accessed the proper playback for DVD-A using Top Menu. Your choice here is between two-channel 192K/24 bit and three-channel 96K/24 bit.

I found the Classic standard CD discs sound exactly identical to the l994-5 Everest CDs.  The two-channel Dolby Digital option sounds very slightly better on some selections.  When you move to the three-channel DD option you get a tremendous improvement in impact, soundstage spread and depth, as well as a more transparent sound.  Moving to the two-channel 192K DVD-A option didn’t seem as large an enhancement as I had expected.  It was only the three-channel 96K option that really took the music to a new high of involvement and excitement – though it was only a slight improvement on the Dolby Digital three-channel.  I think it is clear the proper reproduction of the center channel adds an immense amount to the playback.  If you only have access to a standard DVD player don’t sweat it, but if your surround setup is of the 4.1 variety – without a center channel – you will realize only a small improvement on the standard CD from the 96K two-channel option. The double-disc package retails for about $25.

— John Sunier

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