Analog Audio suggested that I might go easy on the seasonal material and turn my attention to the best recordings from digital labels. This is fine by me, but I thought I’d start this month with a much praised, yet maligned analogue label that can only be heard at its best through digital media – Everest Records.
Everest was founded in 1958 by engineer Harry Belock, CEO of a company that made electronics for missiles, and Bert Whyte, who would become a legendary recording engineer. Stereo had just dawned and most larger venues were re-recording classical titles for it, though double inventories of mono and stereo versions would exist into the 60s. The goal that Belock had was to record, in the best possible stereo sound, works that had previously only been available in monaural releases.
The engineering ploy was much the same as Mercury’s Living Presence philosophy – three microphones strategically placed, set up and then left alone so control of the performance could be in the hands of the performers. Neumann U 47 microphones were their choice and after a dozen or so recordings made using half inch magnetic tape, they switched to 35mm three-track magnetic film. When the short lived original Everest company was dissolved in 1960, as Belock sold his interest in the company to Bernard Solomon, C. Robert Fine bought all of its 35mm recording equipment to use on Mercury, Command Classics, and other recordings.
While it was rolling, the original company made 78 fantastic classical recordings, creating an enviable list of house artists. They signed conductors Sir Adrian Boult, Walter Susskind, Leopold Stokowski, Sir Eugene Goosens, Josef Krips, Sir Malcolm Sargent, and William Steinberg with composers as conductors Aaron Copland, Carlos Chavez, Malcolm Arnold, and Heitor Villa-Lobos conducting their one music. In England the Orchestral duties were split between the London Symphony and The London Philharmonic Orchestras. In the U. S., the recordings were mostly by the Houston Symphony and the Stadium Symphonly Orchestra of New York (a thinly disguised New York Philharmonic) and once in a while, the Pittsburgh Symphony or Rochester Philharmonic.
The recordings were splendid, with solid bass, airy highs, amazing (for the time) dynamic range, and unusually good stereo separation, which aided in their clarity. What was said about James Bond, might equally have been said about Bert Whyte, nobody did it better. When the smoke cleared and the company dissolved and was reconstituted, there were only about a hundred recordings in all, counting in the handful of pop and jazz titles, but what a select list it was!
Unfortunately no one could really hear the magnificent sound based on the early LP pressings. They were made on some sort of plastic that was not warm and cuddly like vinyl, it was rigid and produced a metallic “ting” when tapped against a table top. The only other company I remember making similar pressings was American Decca. These pressings lacked bass and contained a lot of pre and post groove distortion. Bert Whyte’s magnificent efforts often came out sounding like dime store efforts.
When the 4-track reel to reel tape craze hit in the 60s, Ampex produced many of the Everest recordings on long playing 71/2 IPS tapes. These eliminated the distortion and fully realized the stereo separation. Later on, Seymour Solomon of Vanguard Records fame (no relation to Bernard) snapped up the catalog to re-release it on CDs dithered to 20 bit and for the most part carefully re-mastered. Most of these even surpassed the quality of the 4-track tapes. In an (mostly unsuccessful) effort to avoid inner groove distortion, Everest LP sides were kept relatively short so Vanguard sensitively coupled compatible pieces from the same sessions to make a longer CD playing experience. And, lest you get confused, you can recognize the Vanguard Everests by a banner at the top of the cover that proclaims “35 MM Ultra Analog Everest.”
A little further down the road, HDTracks has acquired carefully re-mastered copies of most of the catalog and has released HD downloads of a large portion of the catalog. They are for the most part identical in sound to the best of Solomon’s Vanguard series. You can experience some of the titles via HDTT’s downloads using 4-track tapes as masters and there are now some titles coming from Japan, which I have not been able to hear.
But the upshot is this, don’t hear these titles on vinyl. Rather seek out one of the electronic mediums for releases you want to audition. HDtracks seems like the best bet for consistency and has invested a lot in having the masters re-done to curb problems involving tape wear, but if you can stumble across some of the DVD-Audio versions made by Classic Records some years ago you can have that third channel. Either way you can revel in Bert Whyte’s artistry in bringing Belock’s vision to life.
I’ve tried to reproduce the original Everest cover for each title, stereo unless it was impossible to find one. Many of the Vanguard re-issues can still be found on Amazon.com. While some are still reasonably priced (in the 10-15 dollar range), some have escalated to loftier heights. When that is the case best to look for the Classic DVD-Audio disc or download through HDtracks, which offers both 24/96 and 24/192 downloads. Trust me. This will start an argument, but 24/96 is quite adequate (and less expensive). Anything over that is overkill. The masters are wonderful, but they are SD, albeit magnificent SD.
No alternate takes for these, since the recommendation is specific. Further explorations refers to additional Everest recordings that tie into the featured one by sharing artists, composer, or style.
Antill: Corroboree/Ginastera: Panambi – Ballet Suites. London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Eugene Goossens, conductor.
Sir Eugene Goossens had made it big time in Australia as conductor of the Sydney Symphony from 1947-1956. He was forced to flee back to London when a well-publicized scadal exposed an extra-marital relationship. Not being connected with any particular orchestra, Goossens was perfect for the Everest project and actually became its workhorse maestro. For his first assignment he brought music from down under in the form of a suite from John Antill’s ballet, Corroboree. This was sort of a Le Sacre du printemps from “down under,” with much tribal dancing. The insrtrumentation was for an immense orchestra, containing tuned timpani that were used melodically and many native percussion instruments, include a bullroarer. It’s a mesmerizing piece right from the start where a drum beat is establish at the rear center of the stage with off beat claves in the left channel, all leading up to a gnarly solo for the contrabassoon in the center, a little closer to the front. Violins strike their strings with the wood part of the bow and trumpets and trombones punctuate rhythm from the right channel. Whyte’s sound stage was uncanny in its width and depth, with every instrument staying solidly in place. The suite works through several movements until it reaches a frenetic climax where the aforementioned bullroarer adds its frightening howl to the spiraling din. The sometimes sweet and airy yet often pungent Ginistera ballet is a perfect companion piece. For instance, the fiery second movement, scored for just brass and percussion is searing, demanding music, but this is followed by a third movement with some of the sweetest string writing you’ll ever hear. The program is loaded with contrasts like that, which makes this catalog entry one of “the” demo discs of all time. The late HP had it on his 100 list and I have it on mine. It should be on yours, too.
Further explorations: Copland’s first versions, as conductor, of his third symphony, Billy the Kid, and Statements for Orchestra. Far better sound than he ever received from CBS Masterworks.
Copland: Appalachian Spring (Ballet Suite)/Gould; Spirituals for String Choir and Orchestra. London Symphony Orchestra; Walter Susskind, conductor.
I must own a dozen recordings of the popular Copland work, but when I really want to hear it I return to this recording. The talented Walter Susskind, a Czech born conductor with an International reputation, had never been considered a Copland specialist, but for these sessions he got everything exactly right and the London Symphony Orchestra musicians gave their all. As did Whyte. Listen for the crystal clear mallet work form the percussion section and the superb balance among the choirs of the orchestra. Somehow, Whyte managed to get perspective into a recording while preserving presence, no mean accomplishment.
The Gould work has not been recorded often, and no recordings are better than this version, which I count as definitive. Listen for the balance and sweet acoustic sound of the string choir and revel in the playful sandblock in “A Little Bit of Sin” with its clever references to “Shortenin’ Bread.”
Further Explorations: Susskind recorded an extended suite from Prokofiev’s Chout in a near definitive recording that’s better recorded than any other version.
Sir Malcolm Arnold: Symphony No. 3, Scottish Dances. London Philharmonic, Sir Malcolm Arnold, conductor.
Arnold, who once played trumpet in the LPO, emerged as a cult favorite in the late 1950s, thanks to this recording, the Alexander Gibson one on RCA of his Tam O’Shanter Overture, and the EMI recording of A Grand, Grand Overture from the Hoffnung Festival. The Third Symphony is serious, intense, lyrical, and wonderfully melodic, scored for normal sizes orchestra with only timpani as percussion. The dances enlarge the instrumentation and seem at times to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. In the middle of all the boisterous madness is an “Allegretto” that is one of the most beautiful orchestral songs ever written. Arnold proves a composer who knows full well how to conduct his own music.
Further Explorations: Vaughan Williams’ Job conducted by Sir Adrian Boult
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6. London Phiharmonic Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult, conductor.
Everest gave Sir Adrian Boult a chance to record literature not usually associated with him. For sure he recorded Job and the Vaughan Williams’ ninth symphony, one would expect those, but he also recorded Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, the Hindemith E Flat Symphony for Orchestra and this Shostakovich gem. From the opening, brooding passage for strings to the resounding finale with its timpani flourishes this reading has “world class” stamped all over it. Previn, Stokowski, and Haitink have done it well, but not better. Resounding brass and percussion in the second movement with crisp cymbal clashes. Boult and Whyte both outdid themselves on this one.
Further Explorations: Any of the titles mentioned above. I particularly like Boult’s Mahler, it makes me wish he had recorded a cycle of all the symphonies.
Respighi: Feste Romane. London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Eugene Goossens, conductor.
This tone poem is scored for a massive orchestra, including extra brass choirs and an army of percussion. For sure the big places here sound splendid, better than most other recordings. And Goossens captures the sense of wild abandon that pervades the piece, his drunken trombone and “street band” in the last movement are the best ever. But it’s not all bravura. There are some lovely quiet passages including one with a dulcet mandolin solo. All wonderfully played and recorded.
I mentioned Everest’s effort to make shorter playing sides for better fidelity. Though scarcely a half hour long, Feste Romane was originally on a whole disc. Fearing economic repercussions Everest packed it as a double with another Goossens LSO performance, that of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. So far, they’ve not been re-released together as originally planned. HDtracks has neither title, but HDDT does have the Respighi as a download, using a very good commercial 4-track tape as a master and coupled with Respighi’s more familiar Pines of Rome and Fountains of Rome, recorded by Everest with Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting the London Symphony, readings that are quite good, if not on the level of Goossens totally idiomatic one.
Further Explorations: Goossens recordings of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. The always on the mark Anatole Fistroulari conducting the LSO in an extended suite from Khachaturian’s Gayane ballet.