The high price of Vinyl: Electric Recording Co. releases Music for Viola & Cello at $385 USD

Engineer Sean Davies with a rebuilt Lyrec tape machine.

Paying £300 ($385 USD) for an LP is just not raising eyebrows the same way it might have even just a year or two ago. Rare vinyl prices, or limited-edition pressings are going through the roof, and even the less-rare recordings of rock’s recently-deceased are fetching pretty sums on Discogs. Just ask Bowie fans.

But really should this surprise us, or one better, are these prices not justifiable? I think in many cases they are. We live in a free-market economy with supply, and demand dictating the worth of most objets d’art. Recent limited releases by Mobile Fidelity of their One-Step (UD1-S) pressings are already fetching more than $600 online, proving that individuals are willing pay dearly for the highest-quality recordings, and since I own the Evans One-Step, I can tell you it’s worth every penny. Do you need a highly-resolving system to get the most out of its grooves? Yes. But if someone is paying hundreds of dollars for a pressing, it’s a safe bet they’re using upper-tier equipment, and not a Crosley.

Some of the ubër-limited releases available online from ERCo.

The Electric Recording Co. out of London, England has quietly been crafting rare, and meticulously recorded, curated, and packaged classical, and jazz LPs for a several years now, and holding steady at the £300-mark for these albums upon release – most limited to 300 copies. When Pete Hutchison started up the label its creation apparently partly came out of a desire to curb his spending habits on rare, out-of-print ’50s, and ’60s classical vinyl. After gaining permission to re-release dozens of classic titles from the backwater of EMI’s catalog, he was off, and running.

Lyrec lathe, fitted with Ortofon cutting head.

But Hutchison took his time, casting his eyes far, and wide for the proper recording equipment to do the releases justice. He’s on the record as having said he wants to produce the best sounding records in the world, so after much searching for the tools to do his vision justice he finally sourced a 1965 Lyrec tube-powered tape player/recorder, and LP-cutting lathe – both in need of serious repair – from a UK garage, and a vintage EMI mastering console from Nigeria. He dedicated tens of thousands of pounds, and several years restoring the equipment to factory specs with help from a pair of legendary British sound engineers, and thus the Electric Recording Co. was born.

I’ve not yet personally heard any of the label’s offerings, but after watching the videos about the Lyrec restoration project, and the effort spent on every aspect of each release from lathe-cutting off the original master tapes, to the the restored, artisanal letter presses used to print the jackets, I can’t imagine them sounding anything less than deeply impactful. I’m hoping to persuade Mr. Hutchison to send me a review copy from his current catalog, so I can compare it to my UD1-S copy of Bill Evan’s Sunday at the Village Vanguard. So stay tuned. In the meantime, please peruse the press release on the Electric Recording Co.’s latest LP: Music for Viola & Cello Played By Herbert Downes & Jacqueline Du Pre.

–Rafe Arnott

From the press release:

Although this disc is most famous for being Jacqueline Du Pre’s debut cello recital, we should certainly not bypass the marvellous contribution from the distinguished artist Herbert Downes. Born in 1909 Downes began playing the violin at the age of 10, before going on to study under both Paul Beard and the legendary Carl Flesch.  He was a founder member of the famous Philharmonia Quartet in England along with Henry Holst, Ernest Element and Anthony Pini.  Downes initial instrument of choice was the violin, but he later became more well known for his playing of the Viola. As an avid collector of instruments and bows he eventually acquired and played a 1560 Gasparo da Salò. These short works contained on the A Side of this superb disc showcase Downes skills an expert chamber music player of immense talent.

Jacqueline Du Pre was born in Oxford and commenced learning the cello at the age of five with Alison Dalrymple, she then went on to study with William Pleeth at the age of ten.  Only five years later she was enrolled to the Casals Master Class at Zermatt, Switzerland.  She made her formal début at the Wigmore Hall in March 1961 accompanied by Ernest Lush. It was her concerto début in March 1962 at the Royal Festival Hall, performing the Elgar Cello Concerto that propelled her career into the stratosphere – bringing spontaneous critical enthusiasm followed by global recognition.

It is quite remarkable to think that Du Pre was just 17 years of age when she recorded this first recital disc for HMV. Whilst listening one cannot help but think this is an artist who has already lived life to the full; her interpretation has a profound and identifiable maturity that suggests a level of life experience well beyond her young years. Du Pre’s later struggle with ill health in her late 20’s, which tragically prevented her from continuing to play the cello makes listening to this remarkable recital even more poignant; Du Pre was without doubt one of the finest cellists of the 20th Century.

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