The Making of a Restoration CD
"A Gramophone Recital with E.J.Moeran"

 

Gramophone Recital cover

The original 78s

The whole project came out of a web search. I regularly trawl the Internet for snippets about Moeran to include in the site, and early in 2002 I was doing just such a search when I unearthed "Tim's Old Records Site". Tim Edwards is an Englishman living in rural Indiana, and runs a business selling and auctioning from his huge collection of 78s and vintage LPs. He'd listed a set of discs which made up the Symphony in G minor, and when I contacted him to enquire about shipping across the Atlantic he told about the other Moeran 78s he'd got tucked away somewhere.

A quick straw poll later of the Moeran mailing list members convinced me that it would be financially viable to buy the discs, get them sent across the Atlantic, and get to work turning them into a CD. I'd long had my doubts about certain aspects of the Dutton restorations of these recordings and wondered if I might improve on them - or at least provide an alternative to them. I've also noticed how increasingly difficult the Dutton CDs have become to track down - and of course the works are split across 3 CDs with works by other composers.

The transfers

I was amazed to find, when the discs turned up carefully wrapped and intact, that they looked on first inspection as if they'd never been played. In retrospect I think most of the Moeran LPs I've bought second hand have been in a similar condition - perhaps they've been bought out of curiosity and then shelved. Anyway, there were clearly none of the perils associated with 78s - bad surface wear, huge scratches or cracks, mould, mildew or ingrained dust. No doubt they would benefit from a refreshing wash after all these years, but I decided the best option would be to digitise them straight away as an insurance policy against accidental damage.

This allowed me to have my first go at a bit of restoration, and I chose the Heddle Nash disc as something to start on and refine my techniques. I was at first disappointed, and spent much time trying different methods before arriving at something I felt I might live with. It turns out that the Nash disc, which was released in 1945, suffers far more from shellac surface noise than the other, earlier discs, and I wonder if this has anything to do with wartime materials shortages. The same problem is apparent on the Dutton transfers.

After a gentle wash in mild detergent and lukewarm water, a good rinse with distilled water and a few hours racked up to air dry, I was ready to replace the 'dirty' transfers with fresh, 'clean' ones. I opted to use my Rega 78 stylus on a Rega Planar turntable. This forced me to play in at 45 RPM and use the computer to correct the speed and pitch, something which worked well - at this stage it seemed overly extravagant to buy a specialist 78 deck for one CD! A good deal of comparative research has been done by a number of people to see if there's any audible difference between digitising at 78 or at lower speeds, and nobody's managed to hear a difference when using good equipment - indeed there may be a theoretical benefit from the lower centrifugal forces on the stylus when playing at a slower speed.

The restoration

I developed a precise 10-step technique for the restoration which I wrote down and taped to the side of my PC's monitor, being careful to be consistent as I worked one disc side at a time so that the final reassembly would bring movements together as smoothly as possible. All records released prior to 1955 were treated with their manufacturer's own equilisation to try and squeeze the highest fidelity out of the grooves of their records, and it's important to recreate this equalisation in order to get the correct tonal balance in the final restoration. Modern amplifiers use a standardised circuit which has the effect of a massive reduction of treble on these particular discs, as well as a bass mismatch.

With this corrected I then moved onto the scratches and surface noise. Even with 78s that have never been played this is inevitable, though it tends to be concentrated in the upper frequencies beyond the tonal range of the recordings of the day. I ran two separate processes to declick and remove tiny crackles, both modified versions of my LP cleaning technique which works so well for Pristine Audio customers. I then performed a digital analysis of the background noise on each side to generate a noise profile, which was then used to reduce this noise by 15dB.

Then I came to the reassembly into continuous movements and whole pieces. Longer movements of the Symphony were split across three or four sides, each on different discs, and with variations in surface noise between the discs and the start and end of each disc (there's always a gradual reduction in treble between the start and finish on 78s) there's a careful job of cross-fading and tonal adjusment to do here. In some instances there was a clear and obvious break in the music across a disc join, in others it was a case of blending the two sides together, with close attention to the score and other recordings.

After the final assembly the real judgements come: although the discs are technically 'correct' in their equilisation and a lot of processing has been done there is still a lot of surface noise present. Most of this is concentrated in the upper frequencies beyond the music - and would have been naturally filtered out by the nature of gramophone reproduction systems of the time. It's the job of the restorer to equalise to a happy medium which retains as much music as possible whilst suppressing as much noise as possible - and to leave it sounding as natural as possible. In fact leaving a small amount of noise in at higher frequencies can have the effect of fooling the brain into 'hearing' higher freqencies in the music that aren't actually there! There's also the question of whether one should add reverberation or similar to old recordings to make them more palatable to modern ears.

The consultation

Having created a number of potential 'final' versions of each piece I offered the disc to members of the Moeran mailing list. These early buyers received two CDs with different final interpretations of the pieces and e-mailed their considered opinions either to the mailing list or directly to me. At a most basic level there was no overall verdict between the two CDs - the general feeling was that both were excellent, and the votes split pretty evenly between the two. However, having taken into account all the comments and considerations of these Moeran experts, and a number of other music lovers, including the Andrew McGregor, presenter of BBC Radio Three's "CD Review", I reached a final conclusion which draws from both of the 'final' discs. I also acted on suggestions to try and further even out side changes and 'straighten out' the very slight wavering in pitch which was apparent at the end of some disc sides.

The result is a CD which even before release has received close scrutiny from those listeners who know Moeran better than most, and (with one exception) has been given a big thumbs up by them. Clearly recordings of this vintage do not appeal to all listeners, but it is my belief that these recordings are so good, and the restorations so successful, that most music lovers will find them quite delightful to listen to and will return to them again and again. Check out the audio samples on this site to hear what I mean!

How to Order:

You can pay by sterling cheque, International Money Order or cash notes, or by credit card via PayPal. Prices including postage and packing are as follows:

UK: £10.00 - Eire and Mainland Europe: €20.00 - USA and rest of world: $20.00

Cheques payable to Pristine Audio to:

Andrew Rose
Pristine Audio
162 The Street
Boughton under Blean
Faversham
Kent ME13 9AL
England

Or pay $20 securely (all territories) on your Visa, Matercard, Discovery or Amex using PayPal:

USING: Visa MasterCard Discover American Express

 

 

Recordings restored by Pristine Audio

©2011 The Worldwide Moeran Database

 

 

This brand new CD is not available anywhere else!

Bringing together the vintage Moeran recordings for the first time ever on one CD!

 

More information:

String Trio page
Vocal Music page
Symphony page

Sleevenotes to CD
Lyrics to songs
Main CD page


Symphony notes:
Moeran's sleevenotes
Symphony attacked!
Stenhammer link?
Reviews of other CDs
Live MP3 recording