Speakers Corner / Decca - SET 354/5 - 180 Gram Virgin Vinyl - AAA 100% Analogue
Limited Edition - Pure Analogue Audiophile Mastering - Pressed at Pallas Germany
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This Speakers Corner LP was remastered using pure analogue components only, from the master tapes through to the cutting head 20 Years pure Analogue
A very good recording is now spectacular, bringing Strauss' theatrical extravaganza to even fuller life." - Mark Lehman, The Absolute Sound
Sir Georg Solti conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for this performance with Marie Collier, Birgit Nilsson, Regina Resnik, Tom Kraus and more!
Elektra, Op.58 – Tragedy in one act to a libretto by Hugo von Hofmansthal, based on his own play after the tragedy by Sophocles
Richard Strauss was filled with doubt as to whether he would be capable of expressing in music the crazed revenge of "Elektra" after writing his opera "Salome" with its shocking story. It is quite understandable that he had trouble in composing the work, although such difficulties are not in the least evident during the course of the drama or in the musical flow. Drawing on natural sources, the forceful melodies make use of polyphonic, complex motifs and extreme dissonances. Here and there, Strauss’s typical chordal harmonies gleam through, though hardly audible, taking the harsh dissonances and chromaticism to the very extremes of atonality.
Sir Georg Solti, whose outstanding Strauss interpretations constitute the focus of his life’s work, leads the enormous orchestra through the highly complex score and provides his singers with a powerful but finely chiseled sound. Birgit Nilsson personifies an icy-cold Elektra consumed with hatred, and her counterpart Regina Resnik as Clytemnestra is no less extreme in her role. Gerhard Stolze, one of the greatest singers of his time, masters the exhausting role of Aegistheus, and Tom Krause is highly convincing as the determined Orestes. The phenomenal acoustics of Vienna’s Sofiensaal provided an ideal recording venue, and the audible quality of the sung text is excellent – although the final bloodbath can scarcely be expressed in words.
"Decca's Elektra is a remarkable account of the opera. Recorded in 1968, produced by John Culshaw with an all-star cast, this performance captures the opera's brutality and atmosphere of nearly uninterrupted hysteria. Georg Solti conducts the Vienna Philharmonic, one of the great Strauss orchestras, in a searing reading of the frenzied score. Solti's control of the opera's waves of tension and fury makes the moment of Elektra's recognition of Orest almost unbearably triumphant, and the ending a cataclysmic summation of Elektra's passion. Birgit Nilsson fully inhabits the title role, sustaining an exhausting, obsessive level of rage. Her voice is wonderfully colorful, and she uses it to create a character of complex, conflicted motivations. Regina Resnik's singing is rich, even voluptuous, but she is stunningly monstrous and haunted as Klytämnestra. Leonie Rysanek had been scheduled to sing Chrysothemis, which would have made this an absolute dream cast, but she was forced to cancel. In her place, Marie Collier does a fine job, making Elektra's weaker sister poignantly empathetic. Tom Krause is appropriately menacing as Orest, and Gerhard Stolze makes the most of Aegisth, giving him a chilling death scene. The singers in the smaller roles are as conscientious as the principals in creating sharply etched characters. In a recording full of brilliant performances, the brilliance of the orchestral playing is never overshadowed, thanks to Solti's propulsive and nuanced leadership. London's sound is clean and vibrant, with excellent sense of dramatic presence." -
"As good as the original release is, the Speakers Corner reissue benefits from both superb re-mastering... as well as superior vinyl (pressed by Pallas in Germany) that noticeably lowers the noise threshold. The resulting sound is so much better it startled me... details are clearer... singers and orchestra more present and more vividly arrayed on a larger, airier soundstage. A very good recording is now spectacular, bringing Strauss' theatrical extravaganza to even fuller life." - Mark Lehman, The Absolute Sound, October 2013, Music 5/5, Sonics 4.5/5
The challenge facing any reissue house lies in selecting titles that will sell. Superb sonics or reputation are not enough; any reissue must capture the imagination of enough members of the public to fund the enterprise. On the face of it, that makes Speakers Corner’s selection of the Solti Elektra, a double-disc opera set, a high-risk gamble. After all, in the subset of record buyers who listen to classical music, opera buffs are a further subset -- and a pretty small one at that. Nor would Elektra rate at the top of many operatic popularity polls.
But you don’t stay in business as long as Speakers Corner without learning a thing or two about your audience and the market in general. Within the Japanese and German markets, certain subsections of the opera repertoire enjoy a special popularity. Japanese label King Super Analogue successfully reissued the entire Solti/Wagner Ring and here we see another Solti tour de force given a 180-gram makeover. But Speakers Corner have hedged their bets even further. Not only is the single-act Elektra a double (as opposed to triple) album, the Decca recording is also the undisputed first choice in terms of the performance. To paraphrase the billboards, "Birgit Nilssohn is Elektra!"
A typically bloody Greek tragedy, full of revenge, much wailing and rending of garments, the spilling of much blood and the obligatory deaths of the principle characters -- not to mention the almost mandatory mistaken identity and adultery -- the melodrama is heightened under Solti’s direction with numerous superimposed sound effects, a technique that not everybody will approve of, but which reflects both the demands of the score and the nature of the drama itself. It certainly makes for electrifying listening -- if you’ll excuse the pun. The resulting sound, a triumph for producer John Culshaw, is explosively dynamic with the kind of holographic spatial coherence, the sense of actors on a stage, their placement and movement that only opera recordings seem to achieve.
I have two original sets in my collection, an early wide-band and a later narrow-band, and the Speakers Corner reissue bests them both. The later pressing is easily dispatched, and while the earlier one offers greater immediacy and sheer jump than the reissue, the Speakers Corner pressing more than makes up for them with its sheer refinement and instrumental weight and presence. Nilssohn’s naturally bright tone can get edgy on the Decca (it is an edgy role), but the smoothness of the 180-gram discs elevates the dramatic impact of her singing, preventing any breakup from intruding on the performance. It’s especially welcome throughout the recognition scene (where Orestes finally realizes that this is his own sister in front of him), in which Nilssohn tries to soften her strident tone, so appropriate to the hysteria of the rest of the play. Less comfortable here, her odd flat note and lack of security are again helped out by the additional body and tonal purity of the heavier discs, as opposed to the slightly etched clarity of the Deccas, which leave her flaws all too clearly revealed. The results might be more accurate, but the Speakers Corner is more convincing, more dramatic and ultimately more satisfying. Throw in a perfect facsimile of the original box and libretto and this reissue has neatly stepped in at the top of my own Elektra playlist. - Audiobeat
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti conducting
speakers corner Decca/ 354-5
Double 180-gram LP set
Audiobeat Roy Gregory - December 13, 2012
Recording: June, September and November 1966 at Sofiensaal, Vienna.
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
1. Orest! Orest ist tot!
2. Platz da! Wer lungert so vor einer Tur?
3. Nun muB es hief von uns gescheln.
4. Du1 Du! Denn du bist stark! Wie stark du bist
5. Nun, deen allein!
6. Was willst due, fremder Mensch?
7. Elektra! Elektra!
9. Du wirst es tun? Allein? Du armes kind?
10. Seid iohr von nnern
11. Ich habe ihm das Beil nicht geben konnen!
12. Es muss etwas geschelen sein
13. He! Lichter!
14. Elektra! Schwester!
15. Ob ich nihct hore
16 Horst du denn nicht
17. Schweig, and tanze
Elektra – Birgit Nilsson
Klytemnestra – Regina Resnik
Chrysothemis – Marie Collier
Oreste – Tom Krause
Aegistheus – Gerhard Stolze
Guardian to Orest – Tugomir Franc
Confidante to Klytemnestra – Margareta Sjőstedt
Her Train-bearer – Margarita Lllowa
First Maid: – Helen Watts
Second Maid – Maureen Lehane
Third Maid – Yvonne Minton
Fourth Maid – Jane Cook
Fifth Maid – Felicia Weathers
Overseer – Pauline Tinsley
A Young Serving-man – Gerhard Unger
An Old Serving-man – Leo Heppe
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded June, September & November 1966 at the Sofiensaal, Vienna
Gordon Parry & James Brown – Recording engineers
John Culshaw & Christopher Raeburn – Producers
20 Years pure Analogue
Are your records completely analogue?
Yes! This we guarantee!
As a matter of principle, only analogue masters are used, and the necessary cutting delay is also analogue. All our cutting engineers use only Neumann cutting consoles, and these too are analogue. The only exception is where a recording has been made – either partly or entirely – using digital technology, but we do not have such items in our catalogue at the present time
Are your records cut from the original masters?
In our re-releases it is our aim to faithfully reproduce the original intentions of the musicians and recording engineers which, however, could not be realised at the time due to technical limitations. Faithfulness to the original is our top priority, not the interpretation of the original: there is no such thing as a “Speakers Corner Sound”. Naturally, the best results are obtained when the original master is used. Therefore we always try to locate these and use them for cutting. Should this not be possible, – because the original tape is defective or has disappeared, for example – we do accept a first-generation copy. But this remains an absolute exception for us.
Who cuts the records?
In order to obtain the most faithful reproduction of the original, we have the lacquers cut on the spot, by engineers who, on the whole, have been dealing with such tapes for many years. Some are even cut by the very same engineer who cut the original lacquers of the first release. Over the years the following engineers have been and still are working for us: Tony Hawkins, Willem Makkee, Kevin Gray, Maarten de Boer, Scott Hull, and Ray Staff, to name but a few.
At the beginning of the ‘90s, in the early days of audiophile vinyl re-releases, the reissue policy was fairly straightforward. Companies such as DCC Compact Classics, Mobile Fidelity, Classic Records and others, including of course Speakers Corner, all maintained a mutual, unwritten code of ethics: we would manufacture records sourced only from analogue tapes.
Vinyl’s newfound popularity has led many other companies to jump on the bandwagon in the hope of securing a corner of the market. Very often they are not so ethical and use every imaginable source from which to master: CDs, LPs, digital files and even MP3s.
Even some who do use an analogue tape source employ a digital delay line, a misguided ’80s and ‘90s digital technology that replaces the analogue preview head originally used to “tell” the cutter head in advance what was about to happen musically, so it could adjust the groove “pitch” (the distance between the grooves) to make room for wide dynamic swings and large low frequency excursions. Over time analogue preview heads became more rare and thus expensive.
So while the low bit rate (less resolution than a 16 bit CD) digital delay line is less expensive and easier to use than an analogue “preview head”, its use, ironically, results in lacquers cut from the low bit rate digital signal instead of from the analogue source!
Speakers Corner wishes to make clear that it produces lacquers using only original master tapes and an entirely analogue cutting system. New metal stampers used to press records are produced from that lacquer. The only exceptions are when existing metal parts are superior to new ones that might be cut, which includes our release of “Elvis is Back”, which was cut by Stan Ricker or several titles from our Philips Classics series, where were cut in the 1990s using original master tapes by Willem Makkee at the Emil Berliner Studios. In those cases we used only the original “mother” to produce new stampers.
In addition, we admit to having one digital recording in our catalogue: Alan Parsons’ “Eye in the Sky”, which was recorded digitally but mixed to analogue tape that we used to cut lacquers.
In closing, we want to insure our loyal customers that, with but a few exceptions as noted, our releases are “AAA”— analogue tape, an all analogue cutting system, and newly cut lacquers.
The sound in both performances is outstanding. Anyone wanting to hear what is wrong with digital sound need only listen to the end of the Scherzo capriccioso. There is depth and width, huge presence, every section of the orchestra is clearly audible (the final timpani role is startlingly realistic) the timbre of each instrument can be heard, and the ersatz quality found in even the best quality 24bit high-resolution recordings is completely absent. With regard to the human voice, again there is a sense of richness and natural resonance that places Nilsson very firmly in your living room, and to hear her and the Vienna Philharmonic exult takes your breath away.
Both recordings were compared with first-label pressings, and in both cases the Speakers Corner discs have more projection, power and a better controlled bass. Cheap they are not, but if anyone wonders why increasingly large numbers of people rave about vinyl, then these discs demonstrate why.
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