Beethoven: Complete Symphonies. Josef Krips, London Symphony Orchestra (1960). 3 CD-Editions: Everest EVC 9010/14 (1994) barcode 723918901022, Fat Boy FATCD 420 (1994) barcode 5026310442021, Tin Can / Madacy Entertainment TC2 52319 (2006) barcode 628261231928: A Sonic Comparison
Recorded 11-13,15-16 &18-27 January 1960, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
Discerning between shadows
16 March 2023
This is a follow-up on an exchange of comments posted under my discography of the label Everest’s “audiophile” reissues (link will open new tab to the discography). Therein I had duly documented the Everest set of Josef Krips’ 1960 traversal of Beethoven’s symphonies, reissued to CD in 1994 by Seymour Solomon and his Omega Record Group in state-of-the-art remasterings (for simplicity I’ll call them hereafter “Solomon’s remasterings”, although he served only as artistic supervisor but didn’t actually realize them). Solomon was the co-founder, in the early LP days, of the label Vanguard (he was also responsible for the sonically suberb CD-reissues of the Vanguard catalog in the late 1980s and 1990s) and he had acquired the Everest copyrights and masters. That Everest set is the audiophile reference and yardstick (it also comes with a booklet that provides the relevant product information – not the exact recording dates, though, and I’ve retrieved those from Philip Stuart’s magisterial Discography of the London Symphony Orchestra – and includes, in addition to the pertinent historical information about the compositions, short but valuable essays by the conductor himself on each symphony, a nice feature that I wish was found on many more CDs; there is also an additional leaflet detailing Everest’s remastering process), but, after Solomon’s death in 2002 and the disappearance of his Omega company, it has become a much sought-after rarity that sells at hefty prices on the marketplace.
The notion of “audiophile” reissues in my discography was meant to exclude the cheap CD reissues in inferior sonics, including those on the label Bescol of Bernie Solomon. Bernie Solomon (no relation with the Seymour Solomon of Vanguard) was the man who had acquired the Everest copyrights upon the company’s demise in the early 1960s, and changed the label from an unprofitable high-end audiophile label to a cheap one with inferior pressings (in the days of the LP) and poor sonics – and apparently made a fortune on it. Bernie Solomon was something of a legal ruffian too, and even when he did not own the Everest copyrights anymore, he apparently kept on publishing or licensing Everest material to others, from whatever (inferior) sonic sources he had retained, hence the often puzzling concurrent publications and the difficulty for the music lover and discographer to sort out wheat from chaff.
My attention was then drawn by reader “Ron” to a set which I had initially omitted from my discography, thinking it was one of those cheap and sonically inferior reissues for the supermarket: the “Tin Can” set released in 2006 by Madacy Entertainement. Inquiry revealed that Madacy was then the legitimate owner of copyrights and masters and that the remasterings had been done by Lutz Rippe, later in charge of Countdown Media’s hi-res downloads of the Everest catalog (see my discography for details on this), so apparently the set belonged to my discography.
Later, I chanced on eBay on another edition, by an obscure “Fat Boy” label, from 1994, which would have made its release contemporary with Solomon’s Everest set. “Fat Boy”, really? Concurrent with Seymour Solomon’s “official” Everest release? None of this bode well nor seemed to warrant inclusion in my discography, but then, I didn’t have the set handy to check if it was indeed a sub-par edition. I bought it on eBay but left it for some years sleeping in its unopened box of eBay purchases from the days.
It is the friendly prompting of reader John Bar that sent me rummaging into my boxes to pull out the Fat Boy set and do a comparative assessment of each set’s sonics. I haven’t listened to all in toto, just samples from various tracks, but enough I hope to give a lead to potential buyers.
By all means the Fat Boy set is a cheap reissue that could emanate from Bernie Solomon’s infamous Bescol. Sonics are cavernous (especially in the First Symphony – or did I get used to?), thick, lacking transparency, always louder than the others, as to compensate lack of transparency by volume, and even – apologies for such metaphors, it is always hard to describe in words something as immaterial as sound, but that’s the impression that came to me – “sticky”, and that I think is an impression borne again from the greater transparency of the two other editions. The Eroica runs a few commas slower than the two others, eg below pitch. There is significantly more background hiss in the Adagio of the 9th than it its two counterparts on Everest and Tin Can. There is a fade-in at the beginning of the Fifth symphony that bites on the first chord, and likewise with the second movement (Allegretto Scherzando) of the 8th, and there may be other sonic glitches which have escaped my listening, as I said I only sampled.
Other than sonics, production values are poor, and it is indeed a set for the supermarket. There are no liner notes, no indication of recording dates and venue, just “London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Josef Krips” and the soloists in the 9th, plus the obviously deceitful information that ““this recording has been digitally transferred onto Compact Disc to obtain the best possible reproduction from the original master”, and the indication that “the copyright in this sound recording is owned by TKO Records Ltd and licensed to Fat Boy Ltd (UK)”. In turn, this obscure “TKO Records Ltd” (link to the very terse and uninformative presentation page on Discogs.com) seems to emanate from a “TKO Records”, which in turn appears to be “a division of The Kruger Organisation”. Not that it matters very much.
And then the last straw (but there may be more, since I only sampled) comes in the Pasorale, where the third movement (which is in the A-B-A form a Scherzo with trio, track 7) is interrupted after the trio part and upon the return of section A, and followed… by a repeat of the same movement, track 8, now played complete (you won’t immediately realize it since the opening of the movement is the same as the repeat). Track 9 then compiles fourth movement (the storm) and Finale. Hard to believe that this editing was controlled by human ears rather than by some computer with 1994 processing capabilities. The only positive point I can see about this set is that the symphonies are regrouped on each CD by rising number, 1 & 2, 3 & 4, 5 & 6 etc, whereas the other editions suffle the Symphonies (1 & 5, 2 & 6, 4 & 7 etc) to accommodate total timing. Small comfort.
Don’t bother with Fat Boy, then.
Other than its very original casing (not just the tin can, but the container inside, a 5-panel opening jewel case – in my copy the teeth on some of the central hubs are too loose to hold the CDs), the Tin Can Madacy edition would also appear like a cheap reissue: for liner notes, a general blurb about Beethoven that could have been generated by ChatGPT if it had existed at the time, no info other than track listings including credits for singers in the 9th, and “Josef Krips conducting the London Symphony Orchestra”, nothing even printed on each individual CD other than Disc number. It looks like an edition they’d sell, maybe not in a supermarket, but at Barnes & Noble’s bookstore, on Christmas.
That said, based on my samples, sonically, with a few exceptions it compares well with Seymour Solomon’s Everest remasterings: Symphonies Nos. 2 (sampled: Finale) and 7 appear to my ears to be equivalent, or possibly the same transfers.
When I do perceive differences, they are always in disfavor of Tin Can, but they are slight. In the Pastorale (sampled movements: 1 & 4 “storm”), while I hear no discernible difference in the first movement, the storm on Everest seems to have slightly more transparency than on Tin Can. Likewise with the Allegro con brio & Marcia funebre of the Eroica, with slightly less transparency and impact on Tin Can. There is also perceptibly more transparency for Everest in the respective first movement of the 5th and 8th, Tin Can’s sound is slightly more opaque. Differences are not so clear in the Finale of the Fifth, because it constantly plays in the higher dynamics (sophisticated way of saying: it is constantly loud). But, except for the fact that the woodwinds are positioned slightly differently in the stereo spectrum, I don’t perceive a difference either in the second movement, “Allegretto Scherzando”, of the 8th, and it isn’t loud.
Of note is that, in the first movement of the 4th, in the opening chord there is, both on Tin Can and Fat Boy, a kind of “rasp” on the low B flat played by horn that buttresses the chord, that is not as present on Everest, as if Seymour Solomon’s remastering had been able to erase a “glitch” (or a tonal characteristic that he could interpret as such) present on the source. Not that it makes a big difference, and I kind of like the “rasp”, it gives the music there an “earthy” quality, and on comparison (but only on comparison, and it’s only one note in one chord), Everest may seem “over-sanitized” here.
But the one true disappointment of Tin Can, and one that puzzles me, is the Finale of the 9th Symphony, perceptibly more opaque and less present than Everest… and even, here, than Fat Boy. And the first bars seem to be running slightly too fast, although this may be an impression from the different sonic perspective. On a blind test, I may have mistaken here the Tin Can remastering for Fat Boy’s, and the other way around. I’m all the more puzzled as I don’t perceive the same blemishes in Tin Can’s remastering of the other movements. This left the nagging impression that I had indeed read something about the unavailability of the tapes of that Finale – until it hit me that this warning applied in fact to William Steinberg’s set from Command, reissued in 2020 by Deutsche Grammophon: “Unfortunately, the original tapes for the fourth movement of the Ninth Symphony could not be found. Therefore for the master a vinyl pressing had to be used”.
Ultimately, other than that particular movement, comparing the Everest and Tin Can remasterings is trying to spot truly miniscule differences, and sometimes possibly imagining them. Bottom line is that, if I didn’t have the Everest set and didn’t want to shell out what is now demanded for it, I’d be very happy with the Tin Can set.
Take my comments with a measure of caution: I am probably not the best person to give an assessment on sonics. While I enjoy fine sonics, I listen to records primarily for the music, and do not use a sophisticated sound system. I personally never lose (or loose) out of mind that whatever the quality of the sound reproduction, whatever the sophistication of your sound system, you are always listening to an artefact, a make-believe: you don’t have the actual London Symphony Orchestra playing in your living room, but the membranes of loudspeakers or headphones putting the air in vibration. My credo with sound reproduction is the same as Shakespeare’s with actors: “the best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse, if imagination amend them.” Listeners with better sound systems than mine and more acute ears may perceive more differences than I did.
I’m not going to commit an interpretive review right now, but for those samples I’ve heard, Krips’ appears to be a very traditional, “kapellmeisterich” approach. Allegros, even “con brio”, are very moderato. On the other hand it seemed to me that Krips’ “slows” aren’t inordinately slow, as they can be with, say, Furtwängler or Klemperer.