Label: Berliner Meister Schallplatten – BMS 1308 – 180 Gram Virgin Vinyl
AAA 100% Analogue – Pressed at Pallas Germany
Direct To Disc ( D2D ) – Numbered Limited Edition
Mastered at Emil Berliner Studios – Cut By Maarten de Boer
After their debut record with music from Astor Piazzolla for Berliner Meister Schallplatten, the Bolivar Soloists make their second LP with a new formation: flute, oboe, clarinet and string quintet. Powerful and flexible, this ensemble is joined by the Cuatro – Venezuelan national instrument, a four-stringed guitar – which plays a very important role in this repertoire. The players, who come from South America and Europe, became very intimate with the music, allowing them to perform it with great rhythmical accuracy but with freedom and spontaneity. As this performance was recorded direct to disc, leaving no possibility of post-production, audience were invited to the studio to create the right atmosphere and make the musicians feel at home.
What a pleasant surprise. After thinking that direct-discs were totally passé in these days of 45 rpm vinyl and hi-res Blu-rays and downloads (except for a few blues vinyls put out by Analogue Productions, here are a dozen or so newly-recorded direct discs of classical, jazz, pop and in-between stuff from a German label which is tied in with the highly successful Speakers Corner audiophile vinyl reissue company. By the way, this is not be confused with direct-to-disk, which refers to the more modern procedure of recording a digital file direct to an optical disc or hard drive. Analog direct-to-disc eliminates the problems inherent in up to four generations of tape, including wow and flutter, hiss, and limitations of dynamic range. (In fact one of these direct discs had such a wide dynamic range that I was forced to add weight for the first time to my SME tonearm to track the grooves properly.)
The producers of this disc heard the Bolivar Soloists on tour in Germany and visited them to explain, first of all, exactly what direct-disc was, and then whether the ensemble would want to go thru the tremendous blood-pressure-raising pressure of recording a whole side of an LP with absolutely no editing and no breaks between tracks. The group not only agreed to it, but also recorded a second direct-disc album, which will be out from Berliner shortly. It is of seven tangos by my personal hero Astor Piazzolla.
The notes talk about a six-man group and there are six on the cover, but there are nine musicians listed above. Nevertheless, they are great and fully up to the pressures involved in direct-disc recording. The producers say they tested mic setups etc. with tape first, then during the actual recording session (with a small audience in the Berliner studios), they made three masterings on the Neumann lathe for the first side and two for the second side. Between the four and five tracks on each side of the direct-disc one can hear subtle sounds of the ensemble getting ready for the next track. (That’s one of the immediate cues as to it being a direct-disc.) Because of requiring wide groove spacing due to not being sure what dynamics will come across from the musicians, most direct-discs only contain from 9 to 15 minutes on a side, and even less for those few done at the 45 rpm speed. Another pressure is worrying whether all the instruments will stay in tune thru four or five selections straight. The plating also has to be done very quickly after the cutting of the master disc.
If you have never heard a direct disc before on a good analog turnable setup, you are in for a tremendous treat. There is an amazing “you are there” quality to the sonics that cannot be duplicated by any other recording method. This is why the direct discs of labels such as Sheffield, Crystal Clear and Umbrella were in the 1970s the ne plus ultra of phonographic reproduction (never mind the occasional unfortunate combination of such tremendous advances in fidelity combined with awful performances – such as the amazing Beethoven: Ode to Joy on an M&K direct-disc.)
Schoeps and Sennheiser mics were used for this session in the Emil Berliner Studios, and an Ortofon Amp GO 741 was used for the cutting amp. Maarten de Boer was the cutting engineer. Gorgious! It’s really worth all the effort. The sonics are amazing if you have a decent analog turntable setup, and you’ll hear the difference even if you don’t.
Recording: May 2013 at Emil Berliner Studio 1, Berlin, by Stephan Flock
Production: Rainer Maillard & Stephan Flock
Mastered at Emil Berliner Studios! Cut By Maarten de Boer and Pressed At Pallas!
Recording Engineer (Tonmeister) Stephan Flock
Assistant Engineers Douglas Ward, Philip Krause & Rainer Maillard
Cutting Engineer Maarten de Boer
Lacquer Disc Developing Pallas GmbH
Recording and Mastering Facilities Emil Berliner Studios
Recording Location Emil Berliner Studios, Studio 1
Recording Equipment Siemens V72 Mic Preamps, DG M12 Tube Mixing Desk (1957), Reverberation chambers
Microphones Schoeps MK 5, Sennheiser MKH 20, MKH 50 & MKH 800
Lathe Neumann VMS 80
Cutting Head Neumann SX 74
Cutting Amp Ortofon Amp GO 741