“Musica de Venezuela” – Bolívar Soloists – [TrackList follows] – Berliner Meister Schallplatten Direct-Disc vinyl BMS 1308 V [www.berliner-meister-schallplatten.de] *****:
(Juan Manuel Gonzalez, v.; Rodrigo Bouza, v.; Luis Codero Jr., viola; Pablo Bercellini, cello; Johane Gonzalez, doublebass; Efrain Oscher, flute; Nigel Shore, oboe; Dario Marino, clarinet; guest: Cruz Marin Rosas, cuatro)
What a pleasant surprise. After thinking that direct-discs were totally passé in these days of 45 rpm vinyl and hi-res Blu-rays and downloads (except for a few blues vinyls put out by Acoustic Sounds in Salina, KA), here are a dozen or so newly-recorded direct discs of classical, jazz, pop and in-between stuff from a German label which is tied in with the highly successful Speakers Corner audiophile vinyl reissue company. By the way, this is not be confused with direct-to-disk, which refers to the more modern procedure of recording a digital file direct to an optical disc or hard drive. Analog direct-to-disc eliminates the problems inherent in up to four generations of tape, including wow and flutter, hiss, and limitations of dynamic range. (In fact one of these direct discs had such a wide dynamic range that I was forced to add weight for the first time to my SME tonearm to track the grooves properly.)
The producers of this disc heard the Bolivar Soloists on tour in Germany and visited them to explain, first of all, exactly what direct-disc was, and then whether the ensemble would want to go thru the tremendous blood-pressure-raising pressure of recording a whole side of an LP with absolutely no editing and no breaks between tracks. The group not only agreed to it, but also recorded a second direct-disc album, which will be out from Berliner shortly. It is of seven tangos by my personal hero Astor Piazzolla.
The notes talk about a six-man group and there are six on the cover, but there are nine musicians listed above. Nevertheless, they are great and fully up to the pressures involved in direct-disc recording. The producers say they tested mic setups etc. with tape first, then during the actual recording session (with a small audience in the Berliner studios), they made three masterings on the Neumann lathe for the first side and two for the second side. Between the four and five tracks on each side of the direct-disc one can hear subtle sounds of the ensemble getting ready for the next track. (That’s one of the immediate cues as to it being a direct-disc.) Because of requiring wide groove spacing due to not being sure what dynamics will come across from the musicians, most direct-discs only contain from 9 to 15 minutes on a side, and even less for those few done at the 45 rpm speed. Another pressure is worrying whether all the instruments will stay in tune thru four or five selections straight. The plating also has to be done very quickly after the cutting of the master disc.
These are delightful selections, with three of them starting the second side all by Cruz Marin Rosas. All are wonderful chamber music selections, but with a south-of-the-border slant, combining the string section with three woodwinds and cuatro. “Currucha” and “Caramba” each bring each side to rousing conclusion. If you have never heard a direct disc before on a good analog turnable setup, you are in for a tremendous treat. There is an amazing “you are there” quality to the sonics that cannot be duplicated by any other recording method. This is why the direct discs of labels such as Sheffield, Crystal Clear and Umbrella were in the 1970s the ne plus ultra of phonographic reproduction (never mind the occasional unfortunate combination of such tremendous advances in fidelity combined with awful performances – such as the amazing Beethoven: Ode to Joy on an M&K direct-disc.)
Schoeps and Sennheiser mics were used for this session in the Emil Berliner Studios, and an Ortofon Amp GO 741 was used for the cutting amp. Maarten de Boer was the cutting engineer. Gorgious! It’s really worth all the effort. The sonics are amazing if you have a decent analog turntable setup, and you’ll hear the difference even if you don’t.
TrackList: La Bikina/Natlia, Quinta Anauco, Emma y el Catatumbo, Curruchá, El sombrero, El tropiezo, El grano, El entreverao, Caramba.