Brian Wise covers the classical music business for WQXR, including aspects of performance, technology, philanthropy and institutional trends. He manages the station's homepage and makes sure what you hear on air is what you see online. Follow him on Twitter at @Briancwise.
Everest Records, 1950's Hi-Fi Label, Returns in Digital Form
Monday, April 22, 2013 - 06:00 PM
Sometime in 1958 – amid the launch of the first Sputnik satellite, the invention of the laser and the debut of the hula-hoop – arrived Everest Records.
This tiny but enterprising record label based in Bayside, Queens briefly captured the attention of classical music devotees with a new technology that eliminated tape hiss in master recordings by eliminating tape. Everest LPs were recorded on three channels and made on 35mm film, considered an improvement over the half-inch tape that was common at the time.
Started by Harry Belock, an inventor who made missile systems for the U.S. military, and Bert Whyte, an audio engineer, Everest engaged a small but starry roster of conductors, orchestras and soloists. Leopold Stokowski, Adrian Boult and Eugene Goosens were among the conductors who led the London Symphony, London Philharmonic and the Houston Symphony Orchestras. Cover art was often as vibrant and fanciful as the recording fidelity itself.
Everest Records’ lifespan was fleeting, however, and by 1962 it had folded amid financial difficulties.
On Tuesday, more than 50 years later, Everest will rise again. Countdown Media, a licensing arm of BMG, plans to remaster more than 50 albums from the Everest catalog and make them available on iTunes through its "Mastered for iTunes" store, which focuses on albums with higher sound quality. Digital booklets with original cover art and liner notes will accompany each release, which are initially priced at $7.99.
Several of the first dozen reissues are notable for their historical value. They include Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic performing the first recording of Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 9, made on the morning of the composer's death in 1958. Aaron Copland conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in one of the two versions he led of his Symphony No. 3. And Hindemith’s Violin Concerto is given its premiere by the LSO with soloist Joseph Fuchs and conductor Goossens.
Technicolor orchestral showpieces were often given special focus. They include one of Stokowski’s later recordings, of Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy with the Houston Symphony, and the Stadium Symphony Orchestra's collection of waltzes by Johann and Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Weber (above right).
Everest releases have been prized by audiophile collectors who credited the 35mm film with a range of benefits: a wider dynamic range, less distortion, reduced flutter. They have resurfaced before, most recently in 1994, when Vanguard Classics acquired the rights of almost 100 of the original releases for digital transfers to CD (now out of print). Of the new reissues, some have not been available since their initial release, said a label spokesman.
And whatever became of three-channel recording? It happens that the technology was expensive, and in a series of deals, Everest was acquired and its equipment sold off. Yet with the advent of home theater systems, Quadraphonic Sound and later Surround Sound brought multichannel recording back into vogue once again.