412 North Chester Road, Swarthmore, PA 19081 - 610.690.1703 [voice] - 610.328.6355 [fax]

Free shipping to the United States, Canada, and Mexico!



"CD Reissues Of Dead Artists A Burgeoning Market"

by Jeff Bradley
Denver Post, 19 November 1997

Despite the Three Tenors and the emergence of a bevy of fine mezzo-sopranos, we certainly do not live in a Golden Age of singing. More accurately, we're in the midst of a plastic-coated aluminum age of the Golden Reissue. There's never been a time when more dead singers and musicians could be heard in your living room. Why is it happening? CDs are cheap to produce, but living artists require fees and royalties. Dead ones don't, and their arias and sonatas sit in the archives awaiting resurrection. So every major label is turning to reissues, from Deutsche Grammophon's complete 87-disc Beethoven Edition to Pearl's 12-CD Covent Garden on Record and RCA's 65-album Heifetz Collection.

In most cases, reissues involve the digital remastering of 78 rpm recordings dating back as far as 1900 with tin-pan sonics and scratchy surface noise.

There are different approaches to the task. The purist Pearl and Romophone labels leave most of the scratch but preserve everything on the original recordings. More complex are the NoNoise and Cedar noise-reduction systems, which eliminate surface noise and add reverberation, but sometimes take the gloss off the voice.

The latest entry into this profitable market is the Marston label, founded by veteran transfer engineer Ward Marston, who was born blind in 1952 but has made himself invaluable to various record companies - both for his expertise and his personal collection of tens of thousands of records. His goal, he says, is to make the music sound "as natural as possible" and to reissue performances the other labels have overlooked. His first four issues:

The 1923 Pathe recording of Massenet's "Manon" (Marston 52003), the opera's first complete recording, features Fanny Heldy as an expressive if sometimes acidic Manon and tenor Jean Marny as an eloquent des Grieux. The scratch is persistent and conductor Henri Busser lets the Opera-Comique chorus get away with murder. But clear diction and purity of style make this a rewarding experience.

It's harder work ignoring the aural scatter on Marston's two-CD compilation of the 1903-1909 Victor recordings of celebrated German soprano Johanna Gadski (Marston 52002), but her Birgit Nilsson-like power and artistry still shine through.

The 1911-1918 Victor sessions by beloved American soprano Alma Gluck (Marston 52001) are again noisy, but the transfers spotlight Gluck's expressive voice and stirring duets with Enrico Caruso, Louise Homer and the soprano's husband, violinist Efrem Zimbalist. Pianist Samuel Chotzinoff, father of Denver critic Blair Chotzinoff, is also heard.

Sound is also patchy, but the playing instructive, on "The Complete Josef Hofmann: Solo Recordings 1935-'48" (Marston 52004), consisting of test and broadcast sessions after the Polish-born pianist had stopped recording commercially. The British label Nimbus has a unique approach to reissues. It plays 78s through a horn-shaped period gramophone into a modern microphone. Digital editing then cleans up surface noise and adds reverberation. Its latest issue is a fine example:

American Richard Crooks was one of the great lyric tenors of the century. Born in Trenton, N.J., in 1900, he built an enviable reputation in Europe in the 1920s before appearing at the Metropolitan and receiving 37 curtain calls for his debut as des Grieux. His handsome voice shines on "Richard Crooks in Songs and Ballads" (Nimbus Prima Voce 7888).

Nimbus has resurrected Aeolian piano rolls, including "Ferruccio Busoni Plays Liszt, Bach-Busoni & Chopin" (Nimbus 8810) and "Ignaz Jan Paderewski" (Nimbus 8812), recorded between 1915-'31.

Sony's Masterworks Heritage series doesn't go back as far, and therefore uses original Columbia masters and discs.

The result is excellent monaural sound on "Berg: Wozzeck" (Sony 62759), a superb 1951 performance featuring baritone Mack Harrell and soprano Eileen Farrell with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic.


next article >