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Thread: Still Cannot "Get Over" Mono and Old Recordings

  1. #61
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    "You could point an HD camera at a bowl of fruit and get a clear picture of it. But it wouldn't be the same as if Cezanne painted it"

    You're right. I'd eat the fruit in the photograph.


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    I don't think Cezanne ever painted a banana!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaneyes View Post
    Recorded sound never challenged concerts until the stereo era. That's when musicians first became worried.
    That isn't true. I've read magazine articles about the evils of radio and talking pictures. Those two things replaced records, pit bands, and a lot of live performance during the depression years. Record sales dropped like a stone when radios hit the market. Just like streaming is doing to iPods and CDs today.
    Last edited by bigshot; Sep-13-2014 at 04:04.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    The struggles among musicians, the recording industry, and broadcasters has been long and complex. For instance, during a fee dispute: "During a ten-month period lasting from January 1 to October 29, 1941, no music licensed by ASCAP (1,250,000 songs) was broadcast on NBC and CBS radio stations."
    Last edited by KenOC; Sep-13-2014 at 04:20.


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    World War II rationing had a huge impact too. Shellac was needed for bombs.

  10. #66
    Senior Member Badinerie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    I don't think Cezanne ever painted a banana!
    And that made him a bad man?
    Did I miss something already?

  11. #67
    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    So let's explore this business of 'performance'.

    Would someone like to offer a concrete example of performance differences between an older, mono recording and a newer/ What am I (allegedly) missing by preferring more recent stereo recordings?

    Shall I start? How about these two versions of Beethoven's Eroica? Toscanini and Chailly (presuming that these Youtube performances are what they say they are, of course). I already own a Tosca (in a bargain download set), but this is the first time I've heard the Chailly





    In this case, my instant preference is for the Toscanini performance, but the Chailly recording. Chailly's scherzo seems slightly sluggish in comparison to Tosca's, but the recording allows me to hear much more clearly what all parts of the orchestra are doing (I'm listening on headphones on my PC - not ideal, but better enables this quick online listening challenge!)

    Which would I buy on CD? Probably the Chailly...unless of course someone points me to an even better 'modern' interpretation!
    "I left TC for a hiatus, but since no-one noticed my absence, I came back again."

  12. #68
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    Actually the advent of recording changed performance styles drastically. In the early days of recordings, musicians made records as a novelty... to make a little extra money on the side. Their primary source of income and focus of attention was live performance. Live performances weren't fixed for all time, so they felt free to experiment and learn from the feedback they got from the audience. As recording quality improved, the whole dynamic shifted, and recordings became the focus and the live performances were the sideline. The main difference between a live performance and a recording is that a recording is fixed in time, never changing. The decisions you make while being recorded are there forever. You can't just try something different the next night. This led to a totally different approach to music making. Instead of spontaneous experimentation, musicians moved toward creating "definitive" performances. This was terrific for technical issues of musicianship, but it wasn't so good for musicality.

    Older recordings still value spontaneity over technical perfection. There's a much broader range of interpretation and the performances are more expressive emotionally. That is what people like me who love historical recordings are seeing in them that we don't see in modern recordings. Modern recordings sound very good and are consistently are of high technical quality. They are excellent for hearing the piece as it was written with no performer making his mark on the work. But older recordings are better for opportunities for great performers to take classic works and reinvent them by injecting their own emotions and point of view into the performance. Every performance is a fresh slate to start again. That's why historical recording collectors will have dozens of different versions of the same symphony... they are all very different. And modern recording collectors will tend to have a generic modern romantic interpretation and a HIP one. Because those are the only two flavors that exist in modern classical music recordings.

    If you look to the times the composers lived, you might find historical things to emulate that were peculiar to that time period... types of instruments, sizes of bands, etc. But you would also see liberties being taken with the score that no one would dare to do today... improvised cadenzas, filigrees, reworking of scores to make them suit the performers, reorchestration, transcriptions, etc. Period performance was probably a lot freer and more improvisational than even the practices of the first half of the 20th century.
    It seems, then, that you aren't able to experience the best performances, because all you have to go on now are recordings. They may be early recordings, but still recordings, and one would presume the conductors conducted differently knowing it was being recorded, based on your assertions. Additionally, I don't believe in the devil-may-care attitude you attribute to the freedom of experimenting. Toscanini is distinctive - he has a style - not because he did a different thing everytime, but because he had a way of interpreting the music that was distinctive of him, and Stokowski the same.

    When it comes down to it, you simply prefer these earlier conductors. Presumably, the only truly great conductors are the ones who never recorded anything, as they would never be tied down to any influence of wanting their best performance recorded. I guess it is the equivalent of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle - the purest conducting is only by those that were never recorded. Presumably, even those broadcast by radio were also impacted by all of this, as it was a one-shot to get it right.

    And for today, there are absolute equivalents - live recordings. No second takes, no stopping and redoing a section or movement.

    You have a different opinion over what is the best way to interpret the music. To extend your analogy, you are comparing photography to impressionistic painting. Guess what - both are recognized as art forms. And photography still allows for individuality. You can alter exposure, lighting, a wide variety of things. Two people can take vastly different pictures of the same subject. Impressionistic painting isn't the only way to inject individuality. You just seem to prefer it to photography - and that is perfectly fine. Painting is an older art form than photography.

  13. #69
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    At any rate, it is an absurd argument. The issue is enjoying older mono recordings. If one doesn't mind the inferior recording technology (and yes, no matter how much you wish it weren't so, the recording capabilities of the pre-stereo era are inferior to today), there are great performances to be heard. But, in my opinion, there are also great performances to be had in stereo, or in digital stereo. For earlier stereo recordings, the remastered RCA Living Stereo recordings that they have been re-releasing are absolutely amazing. Anyone who wants great sound quality won't be disappointed with these. Digital certainly isn't mandatory for excellent sound quality. EMI has also been doing a great job with their remastering. And mono need not be detrimental for those who want good sound quality. For solo, or duet recordings, stereo really isn't essential. For example, Stlukesguild listed a wartime recording of Schubert's Winterreise, recorded in Berlin, in mono, that sounded great.

    My advice: if right now you don't enjoy the older mono recordings because of sound quality, give it some time, then give it another try.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    In this case, my instant preference is for the Toscanini performance, but the Chailly recording.
    That's a bingo! There are a million well recorded Eroicas, but there was only one Toscanini.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrMike View Post
    It seems, then, that you aren't able to experience the best performances, because all you have to go on now are recordings.
    Two things... you keep saying "best". I've never said that. I've said unique and expressive. And I *have* been able to experience these great performances *because* of the old recordings.

    Quote Originally Posted by DrMike View Post
    Additionally, I don't believe in the devil-may-care attitude you attribute to the freedom of experimenting. Toscanini is distinctive - he has a style - not because he did a different thing everytime, but because he had a way of interpreting the music that was distinctive of him, and Stokowski the same.
    I can only assume you don't know much about Stokowski. He was called a "magician" because of the totally unexpected things he could pull out of music. He rehearsed for a few technical details, then performed with no baton, just his hands pulling out the strands of the music as he felt them. There is a wide range of different performance styles with the same work over the years. This wasn't "devil may care", it was inspiration. Sometimes it failed him and a performance didn't work. But usually he was able to hit the ball out of the park in ways that modern conductors never even get close to. Toscanini was more rigid, but his energy level was where he put the unique stamp on his music. There is considerable difference between Toscanini performances. Perhaps the biggest most gold plated example of the freedom of golden age conductors to express themselves through the music is Furtwangler's wartime Beethoven 9. You will never find another 9th that sounds remotely like it. It's a million miles from being "the one best 9th" but it's a masterpiece of conducting nonetheless.

    I really think this is something that takes time to be able to sense, and I'm not being condescending saying that. When you sit down and listen to a CD, you are listening to abstract musical notes. You can't see the musicians, you have no idea who they are, you just hear the music. But when you have some experience with the music under your belt and you know it inside out, you start to see the personality of the performance through the cracks. It isn't in the notes themselves, it's in the spaces between them and the differences.

    As you read newsgroups devoted to classical music, you can tell the number of years that a person has been studying classical music by their approach to it. Younger listeners talk about the composers and works more, and divide performers and performances into two categories- "proper" and "wrong". Karajan is always bad. HIP is always better. Older listeners discuss the relative merits (not necessarily drawbacks) to the differences between performers. For instance, if you look at the thread on Pavarotti, younger listeners either say Pavarotti is unlistenable or is better than Domingo... Black or white. Older listeners tend to discuss the *aspects* of his performance as they relate to other performers and performances... acting, vocal tone, range, breath control, phrasing, etc. Opera and vocal music are interesting sub genres of classical music because they tend to be more difficult for younger listeners to come to terms with. That is another barometer of how far down the road with classical music you are. That's one of the areas I am learning more about every day.
    Last edited by bigshot; Sep-13-2014 at 21:04.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrMike View Post
    For earlier stereo recordings, the remastered RCA Living Stereo recordings that they have been re-releasing are absolutely amazing. Anyone who wants great sound quality won't be disappointed with these.

    My advice: if right now you don't enjoy the older mono recordings because of sound quality, give it some time, then give it another try.
    Good advice. Or just hold it until you are ready for it. I did that with Bach for over a decade. I just wasn't ready for it.

    It's interesting you mention the Living Stereo series, because as I understand it, there was a certain desperation at that time to record a lot of material very quickly because they knew that the era was coming to an end and they wanted to document the remaining giants before they were gone. RCA/Victor has always been focused on doing that. They did it in the acoustic era too with opera singers. They realized that the golden age of opera was waning and documented Caruso and Melba and Galli-Curci while they could. If you look at record catalogs during that era, it's more than half opera. Once Caruso was gone, Victor moved on to orchestral music (chiefly Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra).

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    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    I'm confused. You said:

    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    Two things... you keep saying "best". I've never said that. I've said unique and expressive.
    and yet your posts are littered with qualitative comparisons.

    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    The best sounding recording I've ever heard ...
    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    Have you heard Caruso, Melchior, Callas and Flagstad? Who today comes anywhere close? Modern opera singers can't match Galli-Curci, Gigli or Chaliapin either.
    This one takes the biscuit:

    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    There is no "better" only "different". [...] all just as valid as any other, and some of the best are historical recordings. All the appropriate choices you made early on in your journey fade into the background, because appropriate and expressive are often opposing forces.
    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    If you look into the performance practices of the first half of the 20th century as carefully as you look into HIP, you'll realize that it was a golden age of its own aesthetic. [...] They play the music *properly* and in so doing, ignore a lot of the life beneath the surface.
    If you maintain your position that you're really only talking about 'different', then I'm safe choosing a modern performance
    because I'm only missing yet another interpretation, not quality.

    I notice you don't take up my invitation to listen, compare and offer some kind of insight. I get the impression that for you, Toscanini is "the best" and that's all there is to it.
    "I left TC for a hiatus, but since no-one noticed my absence, I came back again."

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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    If you maintain your position that you're really only talking about 'different', then I'm safe choosing a modern performance because I'm only missing yet another interpretation, not quality.
    That's correct. You get one perfectly valid form of interpretation. But it's by no means the only one, and a variety of interpretations can reveal depth in a work the way looking at a diamond from different angles reveals different facets. It isn't as easy to recognize performers by personal style with modern recordings than in older ones. We live in an age that values technical quality over personal expression. But that is fine if you are primarily interested in the composition and just want a straightforward presentation of the work itself. Appreciation of interpretation comes with experience. It's like beer. You can go out and get a bottle bottle of a particular brand of beer and drink it and enjoy it and say "I like this beer." But after a while you might want to experiment and get a taste for the variations. So you go out and get a pilsner or a stout or bock beer or a Trappist ale and appreciate the differences between different kinds of beers. Instead of looking at beer, you find yourself looking at the DIFFERENCES BETWEEN beers. Maybe that makes it clearer to you.

    One other thing that hasn't been brought up yet is the sort of equipment used to play back the newer and older recordings. A well calibrated speaker system presents historical recordings MUCH differently than modern headphones do. Historical recordings were designed for playback on speakers, not earphones. Mono recordings take on the acoustic of the room and don't sound like they are inside your skull the way they do on cans. Also, speakers are usually calibrated for a totally flat frequency response. All frequencies are presented at the same level. Many modern headphones are "colored" to emphasize upper mids and high frequencies. This adds "detail" and is described as being "revealing" for rock music. But with historical classical recordings, it can emphasize the frequencies that can be strident and distorted in older recordings. If those frequencies are presented in a balanced response, as they would be through speakers, it isn't as objectionable. If you are limited to just headphones, I can fully understand why older recordings sound bad to you. That isn't the way to listen to historical recordings.

    One trick that those who don't have fancy speaker systems might try is to play historical recordings in your car or on a portable boom box. You'll find that they are much less objectionable that way, and you might just start to understand the value of a wide variety of interpretation over better sound quality.
    Last edited by bigshot; Sep-14-2014 at 21:32.

  19. #75
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    That's correct. You get one perfectly valid form of interpretation. But it's by no means the only one, and a variety of interpretations can reveal depth in a work the way looking at a diamond from different angles reveals different facets. It isn't as easy to recognize performers by personal style with modern recordings than in older ones. We live in an age that values technical quality over personal expression. But that is fine if you are primarily interested in the composition and just want a straightforward presentation of the work itself. Appreciation of interpretation comes with experience. It's like beer. You can go out and get a bottle bottle of a particular brand of beer and drink it and enjoy it and say "I like this beer." But after a while you might want to experiment and get a taste for the variations. So you go out and get a pilsner or a stout or bock beer or a Trappist ale and appreciate the differences between different kinds of beers. Instead of looking at beer, you find yourself looking at the DIFFERENCES BETWEEN beers. Maybe that makes it clearer to you.

    One other thing that hasn't been brought up yet is the sort of equipment used to play back the newer and older recordings. A well calibrated speaker system presents historical recordings MUCH differently than modern headphones do. Historical recordings were designed for playback on speakers, not earphones. Mono recordings take on the acoustic of the room and don't sound like they are inside your skull the way they do on cans. Also, speakers are usually calibrated for a totally flat frequency response. All frequencies are presented at the same level. Many modern headphones are "colored" to emphasize upper mids and high frequencies. This adds "detail" and is described as being "revealing" for rock music. But with historical classical recordings, it can emphasize the frequencies that can be strident and distorted in older recordings. If those frequencies are presented in a balanced response, as they would be through speakers, it isn't as objectionable. If you are limited to just headphones, I can fully understand why older recordings sound bad to you. That isn't the way to listen to historical recordings.

    One trick that those who don't have fancy speaker systems might try is to play historical recordings in your car or on a portable boom box. You'll find that they are much less objectionable that way, and you might just start to understand the value of a wide variety of interpretation over better sound quality.
    Why is it you assume this dichotomy of either technically impressive or personally expressive, as if the two are mutually exclusive? By your implication, those with the most personal expression are the poorest quality players, while those most technically precise are robots without souls. I don't buy it.

    I think it is absolutely possible to be both. I'm sorry if all those you value for their personal expression were crappy in terms of technicality.

    I know many people like to say that Heifetz was a very cold player, all precision and no soul - but that isn't what I hear. I don't follow along with a score to judge how many of the notes are correct and in place, banging along with my shoe hammer as in Wagner's Meistersinger. I know people like to say similar things of Marc-Andre Hamelin - extraordinary technical precision, but no soul, but that isn't what I hear when I listen to, for example, his Alkan recordings, or his recent Haydn recordings.

    I don't buy your either/or approach. So what if people today demand more precision - precision and personality are not mutually exclusive. Do you really think that composers never expected people to play their music as written, or worried that, were they to play exactly what was written, their music would be soulless? That in order for people to truly enjoy their compositions, they would have to rely on the performers to fudge it a lot? That makes no sense.

    Like I said - you just prefer the interpretations of Stokowski and Toscanini, et. al. That is great. But that doesn't mean that more modern interpretations are somehow soulless just because they weren't recorded with inferior recording technology and reproduced on inferior playback media.

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