Talking tape: Elgar’s Cello Concerto from Horch House, featuring Jacqueline du Pré

I’m a sucker for a cello concerto. There’s something about them that gets me right in the heart and soul. The first one that really spoke to me was Dvorak’s, and I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since. Somehow, the prolonged sound of a cello seems to unravel the knots of everyday life – and, boy, could we all use some of that right now!

So, here we have Elgar’s Cello Concerto performed by Jacqueline du Pré with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. The performance was recorded at the Kingsway Hall in London in 1965. On the ‘B side’ of the album (metaphorically speaking in the case of tape, obviously) is Elgar’s ‘Sea Pictures’ performed by Janet Baker and recorded in Abbey Road Studios, also in 1965.

The Concerto is an absolutely stunning piece of music and I’d urge everyone to hear it, whether you listen on tape, vinyl, CD, streaming – whatever. Seriously, it’s utterly divine.

As a point of reference, my vinyl copy is a 1972 re-press in mint condition of the original UK – HMV ASD 655, which I’ve had for more than 30 years – and so in this video review I kick off with my impressions of listening to this magnificent album on vinyl.

But of course what we’re really here for is the tape version, and so that’s where I really go into more detail about the listening experience – unpacking not only the differences in sound quality, but also the impact of those differences on the whole emotional journey and felt experience, and how much more intensified that all becomes.

I also talk about operating levels, if that’s something you’re interested in. I normally calibrate my Studer to 355 nWb/m but, in the documentation that accompanies this tape, Horch House helpfully note that the recording was made at 510 nWb/m and so I chose to reduce my playback level by 3dB, resulting in a significant improvement of sound quality. A while back I wrote a blog on the topic of operating levels which you can check out here: Tape operating level aka ‘reference fluxivity’: what’s it all about (and why should you care)?

Finally, I also take a look at the ‘whole package’ that this tape comes in and with, from the SM468 Recording the Masters archival quality studio mastering tape and gorgeous Tonbandspule reels, to the beautiful quality box, artwork and inserts, which include full colour photographs of the two original master tape boxes, and also detailed notes on use and maintenance of the tape. (You can expand the thumbnail images below for a better view – just click on them and scroll through.)

Anyway, here’s the video. And if you’re in the market for the tape, here’s where you’ll find it: