Hanson / ERSO – Chadwick: Symphonic Sketches (180g pressing, from the 6LP box set)

# Composer: George Whitefield Chadwick
# Orchestra: Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra
# Conductor: Howard Hanson
# Vinyl (1958 / 2013)
# Number of Discs: 1
# Format: Flac
# DR Analysis: DR 13
# Label: Mercury Living Presence
# Size: 652MB (24/96) + 174MB (16/44.1)
# Recovery: 5%
# Scan: yes
# Server: FF, FP

The fifth album in the second Mercury Living Presence 6LP box set.

Box Set Overview:

UMG/Decca Classics has just released the second official, limited-edition vinyl reissue box-set containing five classic Mercury recordings pressed onto 180gram vinyl. This “Collector’s Edition” includes original artwork, quality packaging, and excellent liner notes containing Michael Grey’s essay on the history of MLP and an article by Thomas Fine detailing the Fine microphone technique (originally published in Tape Op Magazine).

There have been volumes written about the legendary MLP sound, specifically the three-microphone stereo recordings produced between 1956 and 1967. So, I will limit myself to the specifics of this particular box-set. The two essays included in the box-set provide detailed information that any Mercury enthusiast, or novice, will enjoy. Both essays revolve around the same axis; the Mercury recording team, led by Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart, took great pride in the quality of their recordings, cutting no corners to achieve the sound they desired. (Listening to these new Mercury LP’s, I realize how much pride recording engineers must have felt for their products during the early days of stereo.)

Mercury LP’s have always been known for their wide dynamics and lively presence. When Mercury went stereo, Mr. Fine fed his three-microphones into Ampex 300-3, three-channel tape machines. Two individual machines were always employed for stereo, resulting in A and B tapes – both first generation, just in case one tape was damaged – and another pair of tape machines used explicitly for mono (using the signal from the center microphone alone). Once Mr. Fine had set the microphones to the desired location, typically hung on ropes, the orchestral dynamics and balance would be in the hands of the conductor. Thus, the three-channel tapes were actually the “master tape”. To realize a stereo LP from these tapes, the three-channels would be directly mixed down to the first generation lacquer (this is the 3-to-2 mixdown process that Mercury always employed). When this master lacquer was being cut, Wilma Cozart (the original musical producer) would perform the (three-channel-to-two-channel) mixdown as if a live event.

This is as good a time as any to mention that the LP’s in this box-set have been sourced from the digital masters made by Wilma Cozart Fine. Yes, the original tapes still exist, but that would mean someone besides the original producer would have to perform the “live” 3-to-2 mix-down. Second generation stereo masters were made when the original LP’s were cut, and these are what Speakers Corner used as a source for their reissues, but these contain an added amount of tape hiss because they are second generation (the additional noise coming from the source alone). According to Tom Fine (son of Wilma Cozart and Robert Fine), the reissue team, including producer Raymond McGill, decided that “it was better to use the highest resolution 3-2 mix from the original producer” for these new LP’s, and that is exactly what they did.

In 1989, Wilma Cozart Fine started working with mastering engineer Dennis Drake to make digital masters of the Mercury recordings. After a year of research and testing, Cozart Fine finally found a digital recording chain that was up to her exacting standards. Cozart Fine used the first generation three-track source (either ½” tape or 35mm), played through the same Westrex mixing console she had used to mix the original LP’s decades earlier. The analog signal was sent through a dCS 9000 analog-to-digital converter at 24-bit/44.1kHz, then sent to a Harmonia Mundi Acoustica digital buss (with a re-dither module by Weiss Engineering) with an output of 16-bit/44.1kHz sent to a Sony 1630 recorder and eventually stored on U-Matic videotape. Therefore, the digital mix was first generation; no post-production editing or outboard effects used in the entire process. At some point in time, the master 1630 U-Matic tapes were converted and stored on hard drives. These are the last stereo mixes ever made by Cozart Fine and these have been used for all Mercury Living Presence CD’s and the first vinyl reissue; the Collectors Edition Box-Set #1. (Around 125 discs were released between 1990 and 1999.)

After listening to these new LP’s (and the Speakers Corner reissues), I can see why audiophile-quality reissues of Mercury Living Presence LP’s would be desirable. Although an original pressing captures that classic Mercury sound, there are noticeable weaknesses that have nothing to do with the recordings themselves and have everything to do with the quality of the vinyl technologies of the day (not to mention the poor monitoring systems). Of course, there will be analog freaks who will question the use of digital masters and I must admit that I love AAA recordings, but there is no replacement for the accuracy and authenticity of the mix. And the new LP’s happen to sound incredible.

The LP’s in this set were cut by Maarten de Boer (who also cut the first Collectors Edition box-set LP’s) at Emil Berliner Studios in Hanover, Germany. All of the LP’s in this collection benefit from an increased clarity, improved dynamic range, and a more developed lower register.

Album Review:

Perhaps the most bizarre, and frightening, LP cover in the Mercury collection, this Mercury is a fine recording of the American composer, George Whitefield Chadwick’s most well-known piece. Delightful music, but not much depth here. The saving grace is the second movement, the “Noel” section – a romantic theme that stays its course. Slow moving chords showcase the new LP’s improved dynamics and rich tonal palate, especially on the English horn solo which is heard with a most natural location within the orchestra. The soundstage is deep and wide on the entire LP. Hanson knew Chadwick personally and his thoughtful treatment of the composition is perhaps the best on record. Great sound throughout, immediate and never washed out. The original sounds thin and narrow. The sonics on this new reissue, like the Sessions/McPhee LP, are far superior than the original pressings in terms of clarity and dynamic stereo presentation.

Track List:

Side One
01 – Jubilee
02 – Noël

Side Two
03 – Hobgoblin
04 – A Vagrom Ballad

Executive Producer – Wilma Cozart
Recording Engineer and Technical Supervisor – C. Robert Fine
Musical Director – David Hall
Recording Location – Ford Auditorium in Detroit, MI, on October 12, 1957
Recorded on 1/2-inch 3-track tape using one Schoeps M201 and two Neumann KM56 microphones
Original catalog number – Mercury SR-90018

The full review from above can be seen here

Ripping Info:

All vinyl is cleaned on a VPI 16.5

Technics SL1200-MK5 (modified)
– Rega RB300 arm with RB700 wiring
– Michell Tecnoweight
– SoundSupports armboard
– Trans-Fi Audio Reso-Mat
Shure V15VxMR (with Jico stylus)
SimAudio Moon 110LP preamp
Native Instruments Audio4DJ USB interface

Processing: Sound Forge 10, ClickRepair (manual mode only)


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