Mono Classical treasures

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What a find. What a haul. 100 absolutely mint mono classical LPs for $200. The covers and inner sleeves were as new and if the records had been played more than a couple of times each, I’d be surprised. This type of score only happens once or twice in a collector’s life, if at all.

I was nodded in the right direction by my friend Demitri, a very generous audiophile and record collector (15,000 at last count). While covering RMAF 2019 earlier this month, I received a late night text pointing me to many mint classical LPs in an estate sale.

Turns out the estate belonged to a former ambassador to Austria, where, it seems, the lady acquired a taste for the very finest recordings by the star musicians of the day from Vienna, Berlin & London. The collection was bursting with orchestral records by Furtwängler, Karajan, Walter, Mengelberg, and Weingartner, with solo piano records by Gieseking, Rubinstein, Edwin Fischer, Witold Małcużyński and Sir Clifford Curzon, violin records by Yehudi Menuhin and vocal recitals by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. To top it off, she had three DG stereo Karajan box sets—Tchaikovsky ‘Symphonies & Concertos’, the ‘63 Beethoven and ‘Best Loved Concertos’.

Part of the collection,

Part of the collection,

Most of the mono collection stems from the late ‘40s to mid ‘50s. A few were later transfers from 78s. The photo below is a 1938 recording with the LSO under Felix Weingartner reissued on a ‘Long Play’ 33 in 1952 (there were some 10” 33s in the collection that I left to others on the hunt).

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I’ve been working like a mad thing upgrading my reference system over the past five years. Looks like I forgot a mono setup. The Bergmann Audio Magne Turntable & Magne Linear Tracking Arm ($13,000) with the Phasemation PP-2000 Cartridge ($6000) are spectacular playing stereo recordings, but any informed audiophile will tell you when playing mono records, you should use a mono cartridge. Why?

Once again, my friend Demetri came to the rescue as well as some of the analog luminaries on Facebook. Before their guidance, I was at the starting gate with blinders on.

Simply, vintage mono records have grooves that are wider and U shaped compared to stereo grooves which are V shaped. And because there is no vertical information in the mono grooves, just on the horizontal plane, a mono cartridge has no vertical compliance. The result, far less groove noise and better sound. And since this collection is vintage monos from 1948 to the mid ‘50s, the lads also suggested using a ‘true’ mono cart with a spherical stylus, not a stereo cartridge wired for mono. The 501 from Shelter and Miyajima Zero have both been given top billing by my colleagues. I’m sure I’ll get other recommendations. Please add yours in the Comments below. Thanks.

As the pressings are so mint, noise is almost negligible played by my stereo cartridge. Sure, the sound, compared to my best stereo recordings is compressed with concomitant loss in soundstage and imaging, but it is more than made up for in immediacy. Yehudi Menuhin, was a giant of an artist with whom I worked late in his life in London (1981), and when playing the Kreutzer he’s in my room performing only to me. It’s so intimate and immensely satisfying on both a musical and emotional level. The same for Walter Gieseking’s fabulous Debussy and Ravel records. He never practiced, so the nervous sparkle as the red light went on is tangible.

I cant wait to hear this collection when I get a mono setup. I’m not sure if I’m going to get a cart and re setup when I’m in the mood or go vintage ‘table and have the setup at the ready whenever the mono mood takes me (the Bergmann Magne only accepts one arm). Probably, the latter. The names Garrard, Leak and Thorens have been swimming around my head and urgent feelings to read Art Dudley articles.

The following photo gallery is a few of the highlights from this very satisfying collection. The family was thrilled that the collection was going to a good home and showed me a photo of the lady, now 95 and moving into assisted living. What a kindly, lovely face. A lady with obvious taste and style. And just one more reason why record collecting and the musical results cross vast spaces of time. Diamonds and records are forever.

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