I can think of few things more exciting in recording history than the RCA series of classic film scores with the National Philharmonic conducted by Charles Gerhardt. The National Philharmonic was the orchestra, Kenneth Wilkerson was the recording engineer and George Korngold, son of composer Erich Korngold, was the producer. I remember eagerly anticipating the next LP. Later on, the series was nicely transferred to CD, then transferred yet again with different covers. But back in the 70s many of the originals were recording in quadraphonic sound, which was all the rage. The 4-channel system was a failure on LP because there were too many technical problems involved, but a few titles were done on four-track reel to reel tape and these had far fewer difficulties. High Definition Tape Transfers has obtained some of these commercially recorded RCA quad titles and transferred them to Blu-ray disc with absolutely splendid results.
The best of three RCA quads I recently auditioned is The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman. It’s a cliche but the sound really does seem to leap from the speakers. It’s lush, bold, brash and thoroughly captivating. There’s lots of ambiance in the rear channels throughout, but there are also some specific effects. Brilliant fanfares sound from the rear in the music from Prince Valiant. A ghostly Theremin peals forth from the rear in the music for Bride of Frankenstein, and the piano is mixed into the rear channels for music from The Philadelphia Story.
Another disc presents Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann with a more solid bass than the CDs possess, but this one uses the rears mostly for ambiance. Again, the strings are simply voluptuous. Last, there’s a recording of Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. This will split listeners into love/hate groups. In the early days of quad there was a lot of fooling around with the rear channels. Things settled down to having them reproduce ambiance but before that, compositions were often recorded with the orchestra in a circle around the microphones. Nevsky is like that. You’re liable to hear a snare drum from the left front while the first trumpet is in the right rear. It’s not quite as distracting as you might think and certainly makes this the recording of the piece with the greatest clarity. I hope HDTT unearths more of these pioneering quad recordings as soon as possible.