This is a monumental issue, as are all of Decca's mult-disk series of reissues. This one is devoted to ffrr (full frequency range recordngs) made during the period 1944-1956, a selective offering restoring to the catalog many recordings some of which have never been on CD. Each disk is in a simple jacket and there is a 188-page booklet with detailed information about each recording. There also are featured articles explaining the concept of the ffrr process, along with many pictures of artists and advertisements of the time. The transfers use the latest digital technology, and the sound is bright, fresh and clear; we can be certain we are hearing all that was on original tapes. I owned many of these recordings when they first appeared on LP on the London label, and treasured them as outstanding examples of high fidelity mono sound. This era ended when RCA made their first stereo recordings with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, which to this day are astonshing sonic chievements. Then Decca began to focus on stereophonic recordings, and many of heir superb two-track recordings have been issued in another huge set," THE DECCA SOUND - ANALOG YEARS, and the huge VIENNA PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRAL EDITION, both shortly to be covered on this site. Of course there is considerable overlap in some of these sets—most recordings could logically be in more than one set. The obvious solution for collectors? Get them all! All are major historic classical compilations.
Decca's engineering staff, primarily Victor Olaf, Peter Andry, James Walker, Kenneth Wilkinson (who later collaborated with Charles Gerhardt on hundreds of Reader's Diest/RCA recordings), and John Culshaw (who later engineered the Solti Ring cycle). They all knew how to do it right, and orchestral sound is always well balanced and clear. It should be clarified that prime interest in most of these recordings is historic. Few are among the preferred versions of the music. One reason for this is that the Suisse Romande Orchestra and the Paris Conservatory Orchestra featured on many of these disks are not first-class orchestras. They play well enough, but these are not virtuoso performances, and the overall sound of these orchestras is quite thin. Audio is very good for its time, but of course cannot compare with later digital technology.There is no question of the historic interest in many of these recordings. It is a pleasure to hear Ernest Ansermet, who knew Stravinsky well although their relationship was sometimes strained. We have Ansermet's first recordings of Petrushka and Le sacre du printemps, both of which he later would record in stereo. We also have his first recordings of music of two other composers he knew well, Debussy (Jeux/ Six Epigraphes Antiques). amd Ravel (Le Tombeau de Couperi/Noble and Sentimental Waltzes). Another important conductor of the time, Roger Désormiere, is heard in French repertory. We alo have some of the early mono recordings of Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Georg Solti—all of great interest indeed for collectors, and sounding better than ever.
Also imporant are the recordings of Sir Arthur Bliss conducting his own music, and Erick Kleiber's first recordings of Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 (London Philharmonc) and No. 9 (Vienna Philharmonic), but his 1950 Eroica with the Concertgebouw is not here. Decca was quite busy in Amsterdam during this period and made many recordings with Eduard van Beinum, some of which are included here (Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, Pijper Symphony No. 3, Marsyas by Diepenbrock, Britten Peter Grimes excerpts and Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra).Other recordings one might expect to find in this set include many Van Beinum performances, particularly Mahler Symphony No. 4, Bruckner Symphony No. 7, Tapiola and En Saga of Sibelius, Rossini vertres, Berliz Fanastic Symphony, Haydn Symphony No. 94, and other music of Handel, Clarke and Mendelssohn. Also among the missing: George Szell's Brahms' Symphony No. 3 and Dvorak Symphony No. 9, and Josef Krips' Schubert Symphony No 9.
Obviously there is enough material available for at least one more big multi-disk set of these early quality mono recordings. Let us hope one—or more—will be forthcoming. This is a limited edition. The wise collector will snap it up!
R.E.B. (May 2015)