Driving along and someone says, What’s that?

We all listen hard to the radio.

‘Elgar?’ I say. ‘And it’s got a bit of Jerusalem.’

‘Very Anglican church,’ says the driver.

A bit later the announcer tells us the wonderful stuff was the Jupiter section of Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

holst-the-planets1Which was a perfect excuse to go to Pristine Classical, a music website created by the English audionut Andrew Rose, which sells scrubbed and “improved”* versions of historic recordings as hifi quality downloads.  He writes on the site: ‘As much as I enjoy working on early LPs, it’s with 78s that I’m most at home. I developed a general software chain for restoring the recordings from these vintage discs through many months of research … I’m glad there is no simple “press-the-button” answer to this kind of work, despite what some software vendors may have us believe.’

In any case, at Pristine I find a 1945 recording by Sir Adrian Boult, and in a posted review on the page someone called Bill Rosen writes of Jupiter: ‘Both Boult and Sargent play Jupiter magnificently; neither sentimentalize nor slow up at the great Elgarish tune; both are lean and fast.’ Elgar!

I have downloaded the recording and what a sensational bit of music it is. (No, the groovy cover artwork above does not come with it.) And nowadays you can hear, apart from Elgar and hymnal melodic lines, the ancestral echos of John Williams’ music for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, not to mention Alexander Courage’s theme from Star Trek. And to listen to the obscure planets too: the strange, ocean-licked siren sounds of Neptune. The only annoying part of this download is that the music is presented seamlessly so you must find the different track starts yourself (Jupiter is at about 15′). But at this sonic quality for a nifty £6**, how can one complain?

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* The New Yorker‘s Alex Ross has written recently about Pristine and the trials of digital sound: ‘Rose’s technique isn’t entirely free of digital hocus-pocus; he reëqualizes old disks to give them a more lifelike sound, using more recent recordings of the same repertory as reference points. Crackle and hiss drop away; the bass grows richer, the treble less shrill. You get a sense of air around the music, of a concert-hall ambience. Rose admits that the process, which he developed two and a half years ago, is a tricky one. “It’s a powerful, potentially dangerous way of approaching a recording,” he told me. Some purists insist that the imperfections of the original should be left intact; others say that Rose applies his method indiscriminately.’

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** I remember paying £3 for an espresson in London a few years ago.

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