Whenever you set up a new analog rig, what do you play first? Do you trot out one of your reference LPs, the type that really tells you what’s going on with a specific component, or do you throw on something expendable in case you screwed everything up? I veer toward the latter, but I really had to give this new direct-to-disc recording from Berliner Meisterschallplatten a spin because I had been waiting to pick up a couple of turntables for review–the Technics SL-1200G and the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird–before I could play it. This wonderful album, featuring Ruth Palmer on solo violin performing two Bach works, had been staring at me from on top of the review pile for quite some time, mocking me.
Berliner Meisterschallplatten is a Berlin-based record label founded in 2012 by sound engineers Stephen Flock and Rainer Maillard. They had an opportunity to save a lathe cutter marked for scrap, and the duo decided to commit to the fine art of direct-to-disc recordings. What’s unusual about Berliner Meisterschallplatten is a bespoke approach to each recording. Everyone involved in the recording process adheres to a “no second chance” mantra, a “unified vision to creating the spark to make a perfect live recording.”
The liner notes from Berliner Meisterschallplatten declare that this sensibility results in a recording that’s “alive and in the moment.” That description is right on the nose, since Ruth Palmer’s violin is so naked that you can almost hear the steady, pulsing breath of wood and strings. I was tempted to use the old audiophile trope of having a musician right there in your listening room, sitting between the loudspeakers, but it is the listener who is transported directly to the studio. There’s a distinctly uncanny feel to that suddenly revealed window of sound, one that instantly transported me halfway around the world to the historic Meistersaal at Emil Berliner Studios–a very big room with tall ceilings. It’s all there, every square meter, witnessed by a Neumann VMS 80 cutting lathe, a Neumann SX 74 cutting head and an Ortofon Amp GO 741.
Ruth Palmer performs Sonata for solo violin No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005 and Partita for solo violin No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 in two complete takes–one recorded on April 22 of 2018 and the other a few weeks later on June 3. That’s an important detail, since Berliner Meisterschallplatten is focused on the one-time event, of putting something down that will never be captured in the same way again. Since the direct-to-disc process is so laborious and ephemeral, Berlin Meisterschallplatten has to limit the copies of their recordings to just a few thousand each, so they will definitely become something rare and collectible in the future.
I’m not so much a collector who’s worried about the value of a certain recording as much as someone who just wants to hear this kind of sound at home whenever I want. I’m glad, however, that the Feickert Firebird–with an Origin Live Illustrious arm and a Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum cartridge–was set-up perfectly. This was a listening session I won’t soon forget.