Label : Decca
Format : Flac track
Cover : No
Decca’s big box “Mono Years” retrospective focuses on orchestral and instrumental recordings made between 1944 and 1956, many of which appear for the first time on CD. Its 53 discs are packaged in original jacket facsimiles (many including generous “bonus” fillers), ordered alphabetically by performer, and for the most part transferred from the best possible sources. If Decca lacked the strong artist and repertoire policies that distinguished EMI and RCA Victor during that time, its early outreach into local European markets actually yielded a surprisingly eclectic, far-reaching, and unpredictable catalog. Unpredictable, in fact, is the operative word regarding the set’s overall artistic and sonic quality.
Decca’s “Full Frequency Range Recording” engineering yielded some of the mono era’s best-sounding releases, like the Jean Martinon/London Philharmonic Lalo Suites from Namouna and concerted works with pianist Kathleen Long contained on Disc 38. By contrast, the Eric Tuxen/Danish Radio Symphony Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 sounds as if the hard-pressed orchestra had been shoved into an airless closet. Yet another dynamically constricted Danish Radio Symphony release conveys vivid detail and far superior playing in Sibelius’ complete Lemminkainen Suite under Thomas Jensen. Similarly, London’s orchestras could be strident and scrappy in Elgar and Vaughan Williams with Anthony Collins in charge, or positively shine in Haydn, Kodály, Mozart, and Bartók when the young Georg Solti wielded the baton.
You never knew what you’d get from the post-war Vienna Philharmonic: phoning in Haydn and Beethoven for Karl Münchinger; oozing charm (if not tip-top precision) for Hans Knappertsbusch in Bruckner’s Third Symphony, corrupt text and all; or trying hard to reconcile their genial style within Erich Kleiber’s forthright rhythmic integrity in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.