Silverline Classics: DVD-Audio Releases of Legendary Recordings

With DVD-Audio sound adding luster to one of the most admired legacies in American classical recording of the 20th century, newly formed label Silverline Classics has embarked on an innovative restoration of landmark classical titles from the catalogues of the Vanguard Classics and Omega labels. The DVD-Audio format offers the listener unequalled sound quality in state-of-the-art “surround sound,” as well as special video, audio and text features formatted into each disc that explore the history and significance of each recording.

Among the first releases are the most eagerly awaited titles in the series, featuring the legendary collaboration of conductor Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra, who recorded exclusively for Vanguard Classics under the visionary leadership of the brothers Maynard and Seymour Solomon. Predating the digital era, many of these recordings from the 1960s and 1970s were made with unusual, then-experimental multi-track stereo techniques, the benefits of which are enhanced by 5.1 digital “surround sound” reproduced in the DVD-Audio format. The 5.1 sound concept features left and right channels, both front and rear, as well as a front center channel, which combine to create a soundscape that completely surrounds the listener.

The result fully realizes the “surround sound” playback the Solomons sought to create and brings an even greater brilliance to a body of recordings that was always admired for its musical integrity and its uncommonly fine sound. In addition to the Abravanel/Utah recordings, Silverline is reintroducing recordings led by such conductors as Pierre Monteux and Sergiu Comissiona.

In stores on April 20, 2004 are three key titles featuring Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra – Mahler’s Symphony No.1; Brahms’s Symphony No.1 and Variations On A Theme By Haydn; and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. These releases signal the beginning of complete cycles of the Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and Sibelius symphonies by Abravanel and the orchestra, in DVD-Audio for the first time.

The DVD-Audio format allows for a wide range of special features formatted into the disc. Each of the new Silverline Classics editions of the Abravanel/Utah recordings feature specially produced video materials, audio interviews, historic image galleries and composer biographies. Interviews with orchestra members and access to the unusually thorough archives of both the Abravanel estate and Vanguard Records illuminate the history of these recordings and the vibrant collaboration of conductor and orchestra.

Among its milestones is the fact that Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra were the first conductor and orchestra anywhere in the world to record a complete, integral cycle of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, which will be released in its entirety by Silverline Classics.

Artemis Records now owns the entire Vanguard catalogue, and Silverline Classics had to begin its restoration process by searching a climate-controlled warehouse for the original master tapes of the recordings it would release. The search revealed that original masters and first-generation copies were all stored in boxes labelled “masters.” An expert on Vanguard’s tape filing system was brought in to specify which were masters and which were copies. Because of Vanguard’s care, the masters were found to be in unusually good condition, allowing the restoration of the sound to concentrate on a high level of refinement and subtle detail. The exhaustive and precise archiving of information by Vanguard management also allowed for an unusually complete picture of the recording history, documented in the DVD-Audio special features.

A second wave of releases follow on May 18, 2004, including the Abravanel/Utah recordings of the Sibelius Symphonies No.1 and No.4; Mahler’s Symphony No.2 (Resurrection); Brahms’s Symphonies No.2 and No.3; and Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.3 and Chanson Georgienne, as well as a disc of Leroy Anderson favorites, ‘Fiddle Faddle’.

Vanguard, under Seymour and Maynard Solomon, was always on the cutting edge of recording techniques,” said Jeff Dean, president of Silverline Records. “They often recorded in a fashion that was beyond the playback capabilities of the general consumer at the time, but with an eye toward the future. In some cases they were first to record certain pieces, and they certainly made bold commitments to recording certain repertoire, including the entire Mahler cycle.

The first thing that listeners will notice about these releases will be the pristine surround sound presentation of the audio,” Dean added. “It is exciting to hear these fantastic recordings come to life in a new way. Additionally we have produced video extras that focus on various aspects of the recordings including interviews with performers, tributes to conductors and information on the restoration and transfer of the original master tapes. We have also included composer profiles, photos and other memorabilia taken directly from the Vanguard Records archives and seen on these discs for the first time.

The Vanguard recordings of Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra document one of the most distinctive and enduring collaborations between a conductor and an American orchestra.

The Swiss-born Abravanel moved to Utah after a high-profile period in New York as an operatic and musical theater conductor (he won a Tony Award for his Broadway work in 1950), where he succeeded in building the Utah Symphony Orchestra into a world-class ensemble. Beginning in the 1960s, when sound engineers began to take stereo sound beyond its most rudimentary two-channel technology, Abravanel wisely allied himself with the forward-thinking Solomons, who recorded in three- and four-channel sound (with left, right and center) and later quadraphonic stereo – early incarnations of what is now called “surround sound” – even before consumers could fully enjoy its benefits through their home playback systems.

Seymour Solomon was very much hands-on with all of these recordings,” Gerald Courtney, series consultant, said. “He was kind of ahead of his time because many of these recordings, back in the 1960s and into the 1970s, started using multitrack techniques – three tracks and sometimes more than that – which allowed for a wider sound than conventional stereo. The only thing Vanguard did not have were the biggest names and biggest orchestras of the day. But they latched on to Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony, and recorded probably more records by that orchestra and conductor that almost any other around at the time, rivaling von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic.

What makes them special,” Courtney continued, “is that they were recorded in a way that allows us to reproduce them now in 5.1 digital sound more accurately than any other recordings of that period. Multi-track recording is common today but there are no other recordings of the 1960s and 1970s recorded in quite this way. The sound is balanced, but it puts you front and center, as if you’re sitting in the 10th row of a symphonic hall. It’s a technique that is especially effective in the Romantic orchestral repertoire that Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra recorded.

Silverline Classics is a division of 5.1 Entertainment Group. The label is an imprint of Silverline Records, the first company to release music in the DVD format, garnering seven Grammy® nominations for the first two titles released on the label.

Special features on the Abravanel titles include: Advanced Resolution DVD-Audio, Dolby Digital, and stereo options, 5.1 surround sound, interviews and special commentary from former Utah Symphony Orchestra members as well as friends and family of Maurice Abravanel, historic archival photos and memorabilia, including original recording contracts, technical notes and behind the scenes commentary about the source material and restoration process.

Maurice AbravanelMaurice Abravanel