Beecham's original and - for some - still the best Zauberflöte
Now in superb XR-remastered sound quality in this new transfer
Recorded Beethovensaal, Berlin, 8-10, 12, 13, 15 November 1937 & 24 February, 2, 8 March, 1938.
Original HMV recording produced by Walter Legge, engineered by Robert Beckett.
Transfers from HMV Mozart Opera Society 78rpm discs in the Pristine Audio collection by Andrew Rose.
Catalogue numbers: DB.8475-8493 Matrix numbers 2RA2416-2439; 2447-2459
CD, MP3 and FLAC information:
CDs: Double set - Each act occupies a single disc.
FLACs: Continuous tracks with a short pause between acts.
MP3: Two MP3s in a Zip filed which correspond to the two CDs as outlined above, complete with individual cue sheets
Please check our help section for help with FLAC, MP3, Cue and Zip files. Downloads also include PDF files with printable covers and JPG files with front cover artwork, which is also embedded into individual music files.
"Technically, the recordings leave little or nothing to be desired the former high standard is maintained. Voices are well-balanced against each other and against the orchestra and details are commendably clear....
The Queen of Night requires a faultless coloratura technique combined with the vocal gifts of a dramatic soprano. This dual qualification makes it difficult to find really satisfactory artists for the part. Erna Berger is a success....
Of the male artists, Gerhard Hüsch stands out as an admirable Papagcno, giving due weight to the meaning of every phrase he utters and maintaining a uniformly high vocal standard....
The excellence of the duets and ensembles is very gratifying and calls for praise not only for the major principals, but for the artists who undertook the parts of the three ladies, the three boys, the men in armour, etc.
That The Magic Flute is extremely popular is evident from the large number of advance orders received for this recording of it. Those who have an affection for the work need have no hesitation in subscribing for these records. The latest issue of The Mozart Society is a worthy recording of a worthy performance and one that does credit to all concerned in its production."
From first review in The Gramophone, July 1938, by H. F. V. L.
This, the first 'full' recording of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, was originally planned as a Glyndebourne recording under Fritz Busch, as with the previous three instalments of HMV's Mozart Opera Society series. When the recording, planned for summer 1937, was abruptly cancelled, there was some surprise in the Glydebourne camp – surprise which must have turned to considerable annoyance when the reason became clear: producer Walter Legge had lined up Sir Thomas Beecham and a top-line cast and orchestra in Berlin instead.
Glyndebourne's loss, however, was our gain, and this production continues to set a benchmark to this day. It's no surprise, therefore, that of the commercial recordings of the era it's been one of the most-requested for the Pristine XR treatment, despite its continued availability on a number of other releases and transfers.
How does this transfer stack up against the competition? Well I admit I've not heard them all - and of course I'm biased (which is why there's a lengthy sample on this page). By comparison to the EMI CD issue the sound is much fuller, immediate and open - the slightly lower background noise from the EMI issue can be at least partially accounted for by the myriad missing frequencies. The Nimbus issue - on the basis of the one track I've compared - is distant, almost acoustic-sounding, and dreadfully crackly, as if from an entirely different era. I actually used Mark Obert-Thorn's 2001 Naxos transfer as a tming reference for side changes and make no apologies for shamelessly stealing his track mark points. But the last decade has seen dramatic strides forward in remastering technology, and he'd be the first to expect some improvement over what was possible when his transfer was carried out:
XR remastering has done much both to bring more immediacy and realism to the orchestra and singers, and to open out the upper end harmonics previously rolled off into the noise of the recording as was the case with all commercial issues of the period. Lower overall noise levels have been achieved, too, though I've used as light a touch as I could with noise reduction in order to preserve as much fine musical detail as possible. Pushing the noise reduction any further began to suck life out of the recording – including the life which had only just been restored to it.
I used two sets of discs to put this together, both in near-mint condition. The second set stood in where transportation and storage had caused irreparable damage to the shellac of the primary set (a snapped disc is a snapped disc...) – both sets delivered excellent transfers. Swish was evident through a good number of the 37 sides but has generally been straightforward to treat.
In 1938 the Gramophone reviewer characterised the original release as being well worth waiting for - "better late than never" was the headline. For those who wrote asking for me to restore this recording, I hope the same can be said of this issue today. Take a listen to our extended sample and hear for yourself – I think it's all come out rather well.
Technical notes by Andrew Rose