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The Early Days:
Distribution and Quality

 

Under the heading "Low Note", Time (New York) reported on Monday, May 29, 1950 that Remington Records, Inc. announced the production of popular records for 99 ¢, and classical records for $1.49 and $1.99, respectively for 10 and 12" records. Remington President Donald Gabor further announced that R. H. Macy & Co., W. T. Grant Co. and Sears, Roebuck & Co. have already ordered $75,000 worth of the new records.

In the the April 23, 1951, issue of The New Republic, writer Cecil Smith evaluates a batch of Remington LP records. It is quite interesting to read his remarks about the artistic merit and technical quality of the recordings. He made a selection from the Remington catalog, guided by his curiosity, and thus excluding a few concertos and symphonies belonging to the standard repertory.

You may observe that the author of this article (which was submitted to me by Timothy Gaspar) confounds record pressing and recording when writing: "Since Remington has not yet put into practice its plan to make records in the Webster, Mass., plant that presses the excellent London ffrr recordings, my 21 examples were all recorded in Europe." Journalists and plain music lovers do not always understand the technical aspect of records and recordings.

 

 MUSIC: Low-priced Records

A PRICE WAR may be in the offing in the record field if Remington records, now the largest American "independent" (i.e., not RCA Victor or Columbia), continues to prosper. At $1.49 for a 10-inch LP record and $1.99 for a 12-inch LP record, the cost of any musical work in the Remington list is only a trifle more than a third the cost of its counterpart in the catalogues of Columbia, RCA Victor and such smaller independents as Mercury, Capitol, Concert Hall, Decca and Allegro.
Donald Gabor, president of Remington, a former clerk in the RCA Victor office, attributes his low price scale to three factors. He makes no contracts with top-price artists; he uses a new and cheaper substitute for vinylite, which is almost but not quite, as free from surface noise; and he employs no "vast network of salesmen, district and branch managers and branch officers" to distribute his records. Aiming at mass distribution, he persuaded Macy's to place a trial order for 20.000 records. They were sold in a single day, and Macy's is now Remington's largest customer.

In order to make a fair sampling of the Remington output, I selected 21 items from the list and listened to them painstakingly from both the musical and technical points of view. Since Remington has not yet put into practice its plan to make records in the Webster, Mass., plant that presses the excellent London ffrr recordings, my 21 examples were all recorded in Europe. Apparently they were made at different times and under different conditions, for the quality of the engineering is excessively variable.  The best recordings do not quite measure up to the level of first-rank American reproductions; the poorest are distinctively inferior in balance, texture and fidelity. Similarly, the artists - with one or two exceptions, entirely unknown in this country - are of all sorts and stripes. Several of the interpretations are eminently satisfactory; some are downright bad. At present it is wise not to buy a Remington record without hearing it first.
The best orchestral performance in the group I listened to is Haydn's Symphony No. 101 ("The Clock"), conducted with taste by Fritz Busch, played expertly by the Austrian Symphony Orchestra, and cleanly and brightly recorded. Mozart's A major Violin Concerto, played by Eva Hitzker and the Salzburg Festival Orchestra under the direction of Fritz Weidlich, is also every way enjoyable. Brahms's First Symphony, played by the Viennese Symphonic Society under H. Arthur Brown, conductor of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Philharmonic Orchestra, is a creditable job; and so is Rimsky-Korsakov's glittering Suite from "Le Coq d'Or", recorded by George Singer and the Symphony Orchestra of the Viennese Symphonic Society, whatever that may be.

On the other hand I advise you to shun the Remington versions of Mozart's G major Symphony, Dvorak's New World Symphony, Brahms's Second Symphony, Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto. All these performances are either low-grade musically or unsatisfactory acoustically, or both. Jorg Demus and Alexander Jenner, neither of whom I ever heard of, appear to be the best of Remington's pianists. Mr. Demus plays Schubert's Moments Musicaux, Op. 94, with a buoyant lilt, and gives musicianly accounts of two Beethoven sonatas, Op. 109 and Op. 110. He plays the Fifth French Suite of Bach with skill and clarity, though this music sounds much better on the harpsichord. 

Mr. Jenner offers sensitive and attractive performances of the Chopin Etudes Op. 25. In all these records the piano sounds reasonably well, though not as well as it can in the best full-price products. My list included only three chambermusic works - Beethoven's Septet and Archduke Trio and Dvorak's String Sextet. All three turned out to be workmanlike but undistinguished.
George Enesco's playing of Bach's E minor Sonata for unaccompanied violin offers, like Enesco's appearences in public, painful proof that even a fine musician cannot play an instrument effectively without adequate technique.

The only vocal record I heard contained two arias from Puccini's "Turandot", in which Anne Roselle's no-longer-young soprano voice cried aloud for the support of an orchestra instead of a distant and tinkly piano, and five German and Russian songs, which are not Miss Roselle's best genre.
In sum, I was able to give a clean bill of health to eight records out of twenty-one. Some of the rest are honest cut-rate values that are in no way comparable to the average standard product. Perhaps the batting average will improve in the future, although nearly all the artists whose contracts with Remington have been announced are, to put it coldly, average: Enesco, Karin Branzell, Albert Spalding, Richard Bonelli, Giovanni Martinelli, Efrem Zimbalist and Maria Jeritza. While I sincerely hope that Remington will provide a quality of competition that will bring record prices down throughout the field, I cannot see that it is doing so yet.

CECIL SMITH

New Republic, April 23, 1951 x

 
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