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ARCANE SOUNDS AMONG MY CDs

WHAT WITH STREAMING off the cloud and all, CDs on my shelves have a 20th-century appearance, akin to the books nearby. Upon listening to them, though, there’s interesting technology associated with several of these CDs. Here are tidbits about arcane sound made new.

The Wonders of CD Music. I continue to be delighted and amazed by the breadth of available CDs. Back in vinyl days, the 100 classical standards were easy to come by. Then came CDs and, for economic reasons I do not understand, this has led to expanded availability of the works of just about any composer ever.

Renaldo Hahn. As one example of arcane CDs, I offer a favorite of mine, the musical performances of Renaldo Hahn. 

Reynaldo Hahn: Composer Conductor Singer and Accompanist Recordings 1908–35, Pearl Recording, Pavilion Records Ltd, 1997.

“Hahn,” the CD notes say, “began his career as a child prodigy, playing the piano dressed in a natty velvet suit, a sort of Parisian Little Lord Fauntleroy…. He was four years old when his family moved to Paris, and like Jacques Offenbach, one of the composers Hahn most admired, he became more French than the French.” (Jacques was born Jacob.)

Renaldo Hahn, 1874–1947, Venezuelan-born French composer, conductor, singer, and musicologist. Image by Manuel Cohen, Agence France-Press, from Wikipedia.

Pavilion Records’ Pearl group specializes in transforming “early recordings with the latest technology and with musical as well as audio skills.” 

A Modern Example. Stephen Sondheim is one of the foremost composers in American musical theater. I enjoy his original cast CDs, among them Company, 1970; Follies, 1971; A Little Night Music, 1974; Pacific Overtures,1976; Sunday in the Park with George, 1984; and Into The Woods, 1988. 

I’ve also enjoyed reading his Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954–1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines, and Anecdotes, Knopf, 2010. 

And there’s also Sondheim Sings, Volume I 1962, PS Classics, 2005. 

This is akin to the Hahn CD; in this case, a private collection of “demo” recordings, with Sondheim accompanying himself singing his own works.

An interesting backstory: PS Classics Inc. is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) offshoot of commercial record label PS Classics LLC. “PS Classic Inc.,” the CD notes say, “was created especially to preserve the heritage of the American musical theatre through a variety of activities.” 

These include locating and restoring original performance materials, such as the Sondheim demos. Most of these were recorded at his friend’s home on reel-to-reel tape at 15 ips in full track mono. Sondheim 7.5-ips copies of these originals were uncovered only after a fire in his home in 1995. 

“Our sonic goal,” PS Classics says, “is to give the listener as clean and accurate a digital copy of these historic recordings as possible, while preserving their original character and sound quality.”

Paul Temple, The Early Years. Another example of audio preservation is in Paul Temple: The Complete Radio Collection: Volume One, which contains the early years, 1938–1950, of Paul Temple’s English mystery series, as originated on BBC. 

Paul Temple: The Complete Radio Collection: Volume One, BBC Digital Audio, 2016.

A portion of this 11-hour collection assembled in 2016 describes the technicalities of preserving and enhancing audio material from 78 years ago. The eight Paul Temple recordings originally used for radio broadcast were discovered in 2006 in the National Library and Archives of Canada.  

These large-diameter 33 1/3-rpm discs were made of cardboard covered with thin plastic. One of them was particularly warped and cracked; others exhibited high-frequency hum that was traceable to surface dirt and mold.

Restorers first transcribed the analog discs to digital format at a high-resolution sampling rate. This, of course, accentuated both the faults as well as the material to be preserved. 

Then skips were eliminated electronically. Digital stitching and copy-paste techniques of short passages recovered damaged dialogue. Compromises had to be reached in enhancing the desired sound while minimizing noise. 

The Canadian discs’ music presented a special challenge. It had been copied from earlier BBC recordings, the music coming from a 1938 master of a Rimsky-Korsakov orchestral work. Restorers went back to the original, digitized it, and optimized it for the new collection.

All in good listening fun. And much appreciated. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

2 comments on “ARCANE SOUNDS AMONG MY CDs

  1. Cynthia Bowles
    May 8, 2021

    Will there be a Sondheim Sings vol.2 ? I was privileged to see the original Broadway version of Pacific Overtures at the Winter Garden and would love to hear him cover these and Sunday in the Park w/ George.

    • simanaitissays
      May 8, 2021

      Hi, Cynthia,
      Check the PS Classics link. I recall there’s a Vol 2, though with rather more obscure things than Pacific Overture.
      Agreed, Overture is brilliant. — Dennis

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