Elgar Cello Concerto in E Minor, Du Pré, Barbirolli, LSO Reissued By Electric Recording Company

It's difficult to believe that British born cellist Jacqueline Du Pré was but 20 years old on August 19th, 1965 when she delivered this recorded performance in famed Kingsway Hall with Sir John Barbirolli conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.

The original E.M.I. His Masters Voice pressing (ASD 655) doesn't fetch the huge amounts some ERC reissues manage (around $100-$125), but that's in part due to the record's great popularity. Until then, Elgar's contemplative piece written in the aftermath of World War I (and sounding every bit as tragic) languished.

Elgar's "Sea Pictures", a song cycle for contralto and orchestra is considered his best song writing effort, performed here by Janet Baker. I mean it's no "A Salty Dog", but still....

The Cello Concerto is the main attraction and it makes for a delightfully depressing, tragic and thought provoking listening experience. Play Gillian Welch's recently reviewed Soul Journey as the evening's opening disc and you're sure to walk away pretty much in tears or at least with your coarsest feelings softened.

I have 3 versions: an original "fold over" cover (first lacquer, first mother, stamper #12/second lacquer, first mother, stamper #11. Why the second lacquer on side 2? If the first lacquer is a blown cut or gets destroyed in plating, the next to be mastered though the first lacquer, gets the #2.

ERC's all-tube mastering using a restored Lyrec/Ortofon cutting system and the plating and pressing done at Record Industry have produced a version that's timcrally and texturally similar to the original but clearly more transparent and vivid. By 1965 all of the early stereo imaging issues found on some early two channels releases (including "hole in the middle" and severe "left/right") had been solved—at least labels like EMI and DECCA had done so. The center fill is solid, and the cello's image palpable and three-dimensional.

ERC has done its best to reproduce the original fold-over jacket, cover art and annotation, including having the words set in type and printed in the original manner but the original "His Masters Voice" Nipper logo was unavailable so the salmon colored label says "Parlophone". And though you may want to hold Jacqueline Du Pré's hand, Multiple Sclerosis ended her career eight years after she recorded this epic performance and she passed away from the disease fourteen years later at age 42, which only intensifies the sadness in the grooves.

The Electric Recording Company will press but 300 copies of this record, with a cost of approximately $349. Yes it's costly, even more so than an original if you can find one but this is a record you'll play for the rest of your life and with care pass down to the next generation of music lover looking for great sound and something to jerk tears from his or her eyes. There's also little doubt these ERCs will attain legendary status and appreciate in value, though only a fool buys vinyl records as an investment in anything other than listening and owning pleasure.

madfloyd's picture

I was told my copy is delayed due to pressing issues.

Michael Fremer's picture
How could I review without it? It will be worth the wait!
Elubow's picture

Sorry you didn’t compare it to the Testament reissue of several years ago. A lot less expensive. You didn’t say if you had it or not.

Michael Fremer's picture
That is clearly a reissue that I paid $35 for whenever it was that I bought it. There's no identification on it other than that on the right hand bottom of the rear jacket next to ASD 655 is ALP 2106. I don't know what that is. But since I can't identify this one, I didn't compare it to the ERC
Elubow's picture

That’s the Testament. Also mine has “A-01-01-2 in the dead wax.

Elubow's picture

Though you give it a “10”, nothing in this review cries a “must purchase.” Certainly, a far cry from your reviews of some of their other releases, like the Tagliaferro disc. I can’t help feeling you weren’t wowed by it. For $350, you should be...

isaacrivera's picture

Nothing can guarantee a wow factor. That is a highly subjective experience that has a lot to do with everything else (system, for instance) as it does with the reissue. I have certainly paid top $ for rare vintage records that sound ok.

I have not heard this ERC LP, but I have their Mobley's Message mono reissue. I also have the Analog Productions reissue of same tapes. On a very fine and well-tuned system with a fine mono cartridge, the AP sounds good, but back to back with the ERC makes it obvious that it is somewhat duller, less dynamic. A hard listen against other great reissues of same era makes the ERC sound fine, but it is not one of the best sounding reissues of the 50s. Now I am sure I have the best possible AAA sound out of those tapes that it is currently possible. Alternatively, I could fork out $650 for a "very good" first USA pressing that will most likely sound worst than either modern version. For $350 you can rest assured you are getting the best possible at less than vintage $. You can also be sure that if you care for the LP it will very likely hold value or even appreciate with time. For sure it is not a reissue for those who $350 is a year's music budget--there are decent alternatives for smaller budgets. But for those that can reproduce the improvements of this LP and can afford it, why not?

I can appreciate that there are those who would pay 10 times as much for a car than I could. I can imagine that the difference in transportation capacity of either car is non-existent, but the more expensive one is likely a somewhat more comfortable ride. I would probably not pay the difference if I somehow came across the cash (I'd be buying ERC reissues instead!) but I can understand how some would choose otherwise.

Elubow's picture

I’m certainly not in the business of telling people how to spend their money. If you can afford it and get great pleasure from obtaining the “best sounding” pressing of a given release, go for it! Who am I to say it’s a waste? Though I guess I could afford an occasional $350 ( close to $400 mailed), it is just not a priority for me. Yes, I enjoy good sound but to pay that kind of money for a record, no matter how good, is (for me) crazy. Truly, no matter how good my system, to definitively distinguish the difference between the ERC and the AP pressing of Mobley’s record, I’d have to listen very carefully, and even then I doubt the differences would be that striking to merit spending $300 more for the ERC. And frankly, if I’m listening that acutely to every nuance of the sound, I often find it’s at the expense of the music, the very reason I’m playing this disc in the first place. I’m not saying the sound isn’t important- it certainly enhances enjoyment- only that some of us so-called audiophiles become so obsessed with it, it becomes THE “raison d’etre.” I could understand having six different performances of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but six of the same record in different pressings because I’m still looking for that elusive “best” one? Not for me- life is too short. There is too much music to listen to and too little time.

Still, if this is what you enjoy, I would not for a minute think to quash your enthusiasm. It’s just not for me. I appreciate that Mr. Fremer reviews these- I find it interesting- but I wonder whether HE’D pay $350 for these discs if he bought them himself.

Anton D's picture

This is so subjective, I appreciate your kindly approach and conclusion that it just isn't for you.

You are right, Mike is right.

I gave myself a chuckle thinking about paying 100 bucks for 'Sunday at the Village Vanguard,' because my wife said, "What? A hundred dollars for an album? I love you, but you are crazy."

So, people who are crazy enough to throw away a hundred dollars for that pressing are calling me crazy for being enticed by 350 bucks for the ERC version.

We all draw our 'crazy' line somewhere!

I don't buy into the "investment" idea of this project in any way. Some of the classical titles have sold out, but you can still get any of the jazz titles. Supply exceeds demand for the jazz reissues, but the classical reissues seem to be doing OK.

isaacrivera's picture

"And frankly, if I’m listening that acutely to every nuance of the sound, I often find it’s at the expense of the music, the very reason I’m playing this disc in the first place."

This is precisely the point. With the better reissue, nuances of sound become more clear and natural and become easy to perceive with relaxed, open focus. You discover there is more sparkle and texture to the music and you can enjoy more without feeling like there is a thick veil between the musicians and you. Again, this is system dependent and clearly one's listening habits come into play to. Even a small increment in dynamics, detail and texture makes a dull record sound alive and more real.

IMHO, these are not things that can be imagined, they have to be experienced. Yet, we both agree that there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to price point. I could afford every ERC record, but do not buy them. The Analog Productions Coltrane release is very solid and I felt no need to get it again at 10x the price--likewise for some of the others.

In general, I acknowledge it is a luxury, but I think anyone who can afford it should get one if one of their must have records is reissued by ERC. Specially if you have something good to compare it against and specially if you feel you know the music. It may be quite a revelatory experience.

However, as pointed out by others, this is vert personal.

Anton D's picture

It's pretty good!

I asked if they'd discount a bundle of three other jazz titles, but never heard back.

On their site now is a teaser for Bill Evans' "Sunday at the Village Vanguard". That will be tempting, especially to compare to the Mo Fi One Step pressing!

Elubow's picture

Really? You’d be willing to pay close to $400 with shipping for the very remote possibility that it might be better than the One Step? MoFi spent months in the remastering and pressing and according to buyers, the release was superb- and $300 less! If you have the money, go for it, but I can’t help feeling you’ll be disappointed.

Anton D's picture

It's a favorite record and I love comparing.

I'd also buy Time Out, Kind of Blue, Gentle Ben, and a few other titles that are near and dear to me.

It's a weakness.

I have the Mo Fi and like it, but sometimes, like dating when young...different can masquerade as better. Hence my lust to compare!

Cheers, fellow audiophile!

Michael Fremer's picture
I missed that. Yes, will be very interesting!
john75's picture

Michael, I experience quite some pre and post echo and even distortion on the new ERC version, while I have no problem with loud/soft passages on the Testament.
Is this problem caused by (my) cartridge or setup, or did the cutting engineer did not expand the groove enough when the music needed? In other words: did you hear this on your system? It's pretty evident on my system during the 2nd movement.

Alex W's picture

With my untrained ears, I don't hear distortion on the ERC, and I hear the echo only at the very end of each movement. And then it's loud. Compared to the Testament, I find the cello sounds more like a cello with the ERC. The echo is there with the Testament, but only noticeable if you are really looking out for it.