Speakers Corner / Mercury - SR90392 - 180 Gram Virgin Vinyl - AAA 100% Analogue
SR 90392 Mercury Living Presence
Audiophile Mastering - Pressed at Pallas - Limited Edition
AAA 100% Analogue This Speakers Corner LP was Remastered using Pure Analogue Components Only, from the Master Tapes through to the Cutting Head 25 Years pure Analogue
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Johannes Brahms: Sonatas for Cello and Piano No. 1 in E minor, op. 38 and No. 2 in F major, op. 99 - Janos Starker (cello) & György Sebök (piano)
"This is a stunning record. While I own an early original pressing, sonically speaking it doesn't hold a candle to the re-issue. Starker's cello is bold, woodsy and seated with proper perspective near Sebok's piano. The performances recorded here are lively, romantic and heartfelt…An outstanding pair of performances in equally outstanding sound. What more could you want? This is a must own issue!" Recording = 10/10; Music = 10/10 – Richard S Foster, Hi-Fi+
Brahms’s Cello Sonatas could well be described as “romantic expression dressed in classical garb”, filled as they are with the selfsame musical philosophy which is to be found in many of his instrumental works. Although 21 years lay between the two compositions, Brahms remained true to the formal musical language of the Viennese masters, and this brought him – and other composers of his time – the reproach of imitating Beethoven.
The unmistakable personal style of Brahms is reflected in the sweeping first movement which is in the manner of a serious song and calls for sensitive but by no means feeble bowing. Starker’s wiry, austere playing keeps a check on any excessive emotion and insteads brings the music to life with purity and in great detail. His mellow but keen insight into Brahms’s ingenious harmonies and the level-headed handling of such enticing tempo markings as affetuoso and apassionato are also beneficial when it comes to the Second Sonata. Here the ramified theme delights the ears not with fickle brightness but with down-to-earth noblesse. The staccato in the Finale is like a fire which does not blaze but glows intensely.
What do you get when you mix together one classically bent Romantic-era composer, a virtuoso cellist, and a legendary record label? If it's Johannes Brahms, Janos Starker, and Mercury Living Presence we're talking about, what you get is Speakers Corner's reissue of MLP's Brahms: Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38 and Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99, featuring Janos Starker & György Sebök. Sure, the original issue LP has been long recognized as sounding pretty darn good already, even if some recent vintage reissue efforts have been lackluster to say the least. So then: How well does this circa 45-year-old recording respond to a little polish via the Speakers Corner treatment?
Very, very well, in fact. Recorded in 1964 at Watford Town Hall by the legendary C. Robert Fine, Starker and Sebök's Brahms sonatas are musical wonders. There's an emotional intensity and lyrical fluidity to the way Starker and Sebök interpret Brahms, and the duo perform these pieces in a supremely musical and cohesive manner. Just listen to the "Allegretto quasi minuetto" from the first sonata to hear how Starker and Sebök make the most of Brahms' penchant for counterpoint and development, effortlessly carrying the musical line from note to note. Perhaps the greatest highlight of the album is the third movement of Sonata No. 2, the "Allegro passionato.” As its name implies, the "passionato" is full of vivid, highly expressive musical ideas, and Starker/Sebök completely exploit every rhythmic contrast, melodic theme, and dynamic gradation of the piece.
Here Starker and Sebök give nothing away to the Du Pre/Barenboim or Ma/Ax Brahms sonatas, playing with a natural yet non-clinical precision that fully communicates the movement's drama and tension.
Sonically, Speakers Corner has hit one completely out of the park with the Brahms sonatas, checking all the right boxes when compared to the original: overall tonality and timbre now sound more natural; imaging is more realistic, with a fine sense of scale that puts the music making right in your room; the soundstage is now deeper and better-layered; and overall there's a more intimate feel, with subtle instrumental details left completely intact. Starker's cello sounds so full and alive at times that it's spooky: there's so much vivid warmth, life and richness present that you can practically feel every rosin-laden bow stroke. Plucked strings sound realistic, and it's also easy to hear how Starker draws that huge and powerful sound from his cello's resonating body.
Moreover, Sebök's piano is just as densely textured, with clear and easily discernable attack, sustain, and decay components to the notes—something rarely heard from recorded piano. Put all of these elements together and you have a thoroughly modern sounding album, one that makes it hard to believe it was recorded over forty years ago. So kudos to Speakers Corner: they did one heck of a fine job coaxing all the sonic goodness from the master tapes on this one.
No doubt about it: this Starker/Sebök Brahms sonatas reissue is an outstanding record, one that honors the Mercury Living Presence legacy in every way. Speaker's Corner has made this already wonderful-sounding record even better, all the while keeping intact the sonic character and positive qualities of the original. While some may marginally prefer other Brahms sonatas recordings for certain performance virtues, none can match this one for sheer sound quality—its utter lack of noticeable sonic deficiencies means you'll have no problems just kicking back and enjoying the music. The 35 bucks you'll spend for this record will seem like chump change compared to the amount of musical and sonic bliss on tap.
So do yourself a favor and buy this record pronto. Heck—buy two and keep one on reserve, as I'm willing to bet you'll wear out your first copy by playing it so much. This is a true reference recording that no music-loving audiophile should be without. PositiveFeedback
June 1964 in der Watford Town Hall, London, von C.R. Fine und Robert Eberenz
Production: Harold Lawrence
Renowned cellist Janos Starker & pianist Gyorgy Sebok perform Sonatas for Cello & Piano by Johannes Brahms.
Janos Starker, cello
Gyorgy Sebok, piano
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
No. 1 in e minor, Op. 38
1. Allegro non troppo
2. Allegretto quasi Minuetto
No. 2 in F, Opus 99
1. Allegro vivace
2. Adagio affetuoso
3. Allegro passionato
4. Allegro molto
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.
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