It’s very useful to have Moeran’s complete commercial recordings on 78 on one disc. The bulk of the recording time is thereby dedicated to Heward’s 1942 recording of the Symphony but one should on no account overlook the big string trio, not least in this performance by the best British string trio then performing. Add to this Heddle Nash’s minstrelsy in two songs and the stalwart John Goss and the Cathedral Male Voice Choir – most acoustically recorded, one electric – and you have a fine conspectus anyway; vocal, instrumental and symphonic.
These are all classic performances. The question here revolves around transfers. Dutton issued the string trio in an all-British chamber music disc [CDAX8014]. Divine Art’s transfer engineer Andrew Rose notes that Jean Pougnet’s violin is rather “shrieky” from time to time and he has tried to tame what he assumes is a recording characteristic. Pougnet did have a rather tense vibrato however and it was a recurrent feature of his performances – listen to the Delius Violin Concerto with Beecham – though one seldom detrimental to his music-making. So the ethos here is far more interventionist in tonal matters, trying to tame the top of Pougnet’s register, but it’s that much more immediate than Dutton’s rather more occluded sound.
This is an impression solidified by the Nash song performances. These are on an all-Nash Dutton disc [CDLX7031] and sound better with Divine Art where the sound is more present. The John Goss songs run from serio-comic to impressive. Rose wryly conjectures that the performers might have been half cut in the first track but I suspect incompetence or unfamiliarity with the recording medium. Goss had a hollow voice and was vocally rather undistinguished but he had a real feel for the style. There’s also a very high tenor in the group accompanying who gives the Cathedral Choir a distinctive sonority.
The Symphony bears something of the same kind of restoration work that one can hear in the Trio. The bass line has been strengthened and the percussion seems to have brought forward as well. EMI’s transfer of the Symphony was open sounding but had a torrid and rather undigested crackle; Dutton’s was once more prone to cloudiness. Divine Art’s work has subtly re-aligned the orchestral sonority. The strings are warmer whereas with EMI the Hallé strings can sound rather shrill and tonally starved. Which aesthetic you prefer will depend on your view of interventionist re-adjustment. I can say however that the work here has been carried out with proper care and consideration.
What we need now is a first-ever release of the premiere of the Moeran symphony, a performance of which has apparently survived. It would make a fine companion to this welcome disc.