Friday, March 10, 2017

Rachmaninoff on Edison

In an earlier post, I raved about the rich acoustic sound of Edison Diamond Discs. But as I delved further into these records, I became more puzzled over their inconsistency - some DDs really sound wonderful for their time; others are quite noisy. As I've gained knowledge about Edison discs, I've learned more about their variability. Edison experimented with different materials and manufacturing processes throughout the history of Diamond Discs, and some of them worked better than others. And I've learned about these records' susceptibility to moisture; the records' composite core tends to absorb moisture over time, with a deleterious impact on sound quality.

Sergei Rachmaninoff's 1919 Edison recording of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, spread across three record sides, has always something of a disappointment to me. Once I had a turntable capable of playing Diamond Discs, I eagerly searched for and acquired the Rachmaninoff discs, only to find the combination of surface noise and low recording level standing in the way of enjoying the music. The period of these discs' manufacture was not one of the Edison's best, in terms of sound quality.

But I have wanted to try my hand at transferring these records, so here is my attempt. I've joined the three sides together with crossfades, but it will be apparent when each new side starts. The beginning of each disc is pretty noisy, but the noise abates somewhat further down the groove - an unfortunately common characteristic of some eras of Diamond Discs.

The third side of the Second Rhapsodie, as the labels have it, includes Rachmaninoff's own cadenza, which subsequent pianists often include when performing the piece. The flip side of part three is a "Pastorale" by Scarlatti, as arranged by Carl Tausig. The picture to the right is from an Edison catalog called Music That Lives, from the early 1920s. It's a listing, with descriptions, of 300 of what the Edison organization considered their best records.

So, warts and all here is Rachmaninoff's 1919 recording of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and Scarlatti's "Pastorale." I applied some declicking and a little noise reduction, but there are still passages that are practically inaudible above the surface noise.

Second Rhapsodie



  1. You failed to mention the out of tune piano. ouch!

  2. Why mention something that isn't really the case? Can it be you are irritated by the absence of reverb? The tuning is fine IMNSHO.