Recording of the Week Testament
I mentioned last week the continued rise of the independent record labels. I think that the key ingredient to their success is the fact that they are usually led by just one or two specific people who have a love, passion and complete commitment to what they are trying to do. One such label that I haven’t spoken much about before is Testament, which specialises in the licensing and re-mastering of historical recordings.
About twenty years ago a man named Stewart Brown (who had been working as a freelance clarinettist in London) decided that the decades-old recording of the Busch Quartet and Reginald Kell playing Brahms deserved to be re-issued. Dating from the 1930s it was already out of copyright, so he simply cleaned it up and re-issued it. That was the start of Testament Records, and since then the catalogue has grown to over 400 releases. The majority of the recordings in the catalogue are not so old, and are licensed from other labels and sources. Some are things that other labels (like EMI and Decca) have deleted, but there are also a significant number of previously unpublished recordings, either radio recordings or tapes made by another label which for some reason never saw the light of day. It is often these recordings which are the most fascinating.
One such recording is live 1957 Beethoven Ninth with Klemperer from the Royal Festival Hall. The concert was recorded by EMI in perfect stereo, but they made the famous studio recording a few days later and so the live tape just sat in their archives for years. Stewart Brown felt it was far more exciting than the studio one so licensed the rights and issued it. He is not the only one with such a high opinion of this recording and when BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library programme featured Beethoven 9 late last year it was this recording, above the studio one, (and all one hundred plus other recordings in existence!) that they rated the highest of all.
The most famous recording in the Testament catalogue is probably the 1955 Keilberth Ring Cycle from Bayreuth. It was the first ever stereo recording of The Ring and had a cast to die for, including Hans Hotter (Wotan/Wanderer), Astrid Varnay (Brünnhilde), Ramon Vinay (Siegmund), and Wolfgang Windgassen (Siegfried).
These live performances were taped superbly by Decca for expected release, but producer John Culshaw (who had recently returned to Decca) vetoed the project as he disliked live recordings of opera and already had plans for the famous studio ring cycle with Solti which began four years later. Testament began releasing this cycle in 2006 and it has gone on to win numerous awards and accolades.
These are just two examples, but there are many more recordings in the Testament catalogue like this and, combined with the high quality of their transfers and detailed booklet notes with each release, this is a label which any serious classical music collector cannot afford to ignore.
I’m pleased to say that for the first time ever we’re able to offer 20% off the entire catalogue, so now is most definitely the time to have a look.
Browse Testament Special Offer:
Recorded live at the Festival Hall, London, 15.11.1957
Aase Nordmo-Løvberg, Christa Ludwig, Waldemar Kmentt, Hans Hotter, Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra, Otto Klemperer
Available Format: CD
Recorded Bayreuth 1955. The first stereo Ring Cycle.
Hans Hotter, Astrid Varnay, Wolfgang Windgassen, etc. Chor und Orchester der Bayreuth Festspiele, Joseph Keilberth
Available Format: CD