Many of us will remember the slogan record companies put on mono LPs in the 1960s and early 70s which announced that the recording was “electronically reprocessed stereo”.
It wasn't stereo at all but just a tweak of the phasers to try and simulate a more interesting sound from old recordings and it soon fell out of favour as more stereo recordings appeared and today it is just a piece of phonographic history.
This new four CD set from Somm however does contain some real stereo imaging from the 1930s and what a revelation it is.
The story is simple, two microphones were placed in front of the orchestra to see which picked up the better sound balance and as there was no way anyone could mix the two recordings they remained on shelves gathering dust for over seventy years until restoration expert Lani Spahr realised that you could put the two channels together and with modern state of the art technology produce stereo sound with a wider image than anyone guessed could come from an old electrical recording.
Elgar was HMV's star talent from 1919 through to 1933 and the test pressings of all his recordings have been kept since his death by Arthur Reynolds of the American branch of the Elgar society, these are the ones used in these new realizations.
What strikes you first is how fine the orchestras sound, particularly the BBC Symphony recorded in 1933 and although the performance only becomes stereo half way through the strings have a resonance and sheen never before heard in recordings of the era.
The Cello concerto is a complete stereo performance and soloist Beatrice Harrison offers a persuasive and gutsy reading with something of the Du Pre style and it's easy to see why Elgar thought her such a fine player.
Elgar's own recording of the 1st Symphony comes across as a masterful performance, although this is not in stereo, it is a must have for every Elgar library and a very fine performance.
It's a pity the Violin Concerto with Menuhin wasn't in stereo but there are some alternative takes included from the original sessions which are of great interest to lovers of this performance.
I listened to the discs with headphones as suggested and the imaging is certainly more defined but this shouldn't put you off as the sound has much depth whichever way you listen.
All in all a fascinating achievement which will have you wishing for more.