Album Review: Frank Sinatra - The Concert Sinatra
Stereophonic sound recording – what we call stereo – has been around a lot longer than one might think. It didn’t become popular and enjoy wide commercial use (i.e. on records) until the tail-end of the 1950s. But when it caught on, stereo became dominant. Throughout a good part of the 1960s, popular albums were sold in both formats; in some places, you could even buy a mono copy of The Beatles (“The White Album”)
as late as the end of that decade.
Like other subsequent advances (quadrophonic, Dolby noise reduction, surround 5.1, etc.) the whole point of stereo was to give listeners a more authentic recorded product, something that ostensibly got them closer to what they would have heard had they been there when the music was recorded. The history of stereo is full of fascinating stories, but for me the most fascinating is (or had been up until now; more on that forthwith) the recording of the soundtrack for the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia
. For the soundtrack, the Philadelphia Orchestra under conductor Leopold Stokowski set up at the Academy of Music, with nearly three-dozen microphones set up at strategic points. But since breakthroughs with multi-track audio recording by Les Paul hadn’t happened yet (that would happen later in the decade), for Fantasia
the crew recorded the audio onto the sound-strip of 35mm film. The cameras were synchronized, and thus was born the resulting proto-multi-track, proto-stereo recording. It’s amazingly rich and high fidelity; I picked up an original vinyl copy many years ago, and it’s one of my prized possessions.
But the Fantasia
soundtrack story has a contender for most innovative and forward-looking recording session of the pre-rock era. In February 1963, Frank Sinatra
cut an album for his Reprise label called The Concert Sinatra
. Despite the title, the record wasn’t a live recording. Well, not exactly. The Concert Sinatra
featured the Chairman singing a set of standards and show tunes, backed by an exceedingly large orchestra under the direction of Nelson Riddle
. The recording session employed a recording media similar to that of the Fantasia
sessions thirteen years earlier: 35mm.
Much was made of the technology at the time. Right there on the cover, surrounded by a thick white rule, was information for the hi-fi enthusiast: “This album utilizes Westex 35MM recordation [sic], 24 RCA 44BX microphones, 8 track 21 position mixer console, 73 musicians, and 4 Sound Stages of the Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood. It represents an unparalleled achievement in the technology of sound.”
And it was a mighty fine recording. But all of that technology was funneled, so to speak, down to a then-state-of-the-art stereo master. By 1963 standards, pretty great. But fifty years later, it’s not quite so special. All subsequent reissues of The Concert Sinatra
have used the stereo masters as their source.
But wait: what might happen if engineers could go back and remix/remaster the album from the original 24-microphone recording? The answer is found in Concord’s 2012 expanded reissue of The Concert Sinatra
. Boasting a sonic clarity that borders on three-dimensional, The Concert Sinatra
is truly as close as one could possibly get to sitting in the midst of the Nelson Riddle Orchestra while Frank Sinatra sings his way through cherished pages of the Great American Songbook.
You won’t find any big band swing or pop tunes on this set. In a more serious and reflective mood, Sinatra instead takes on classics from Rodgers & Hammerstein (“I Have Dreamed” from The King and I
, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel
). He also turns in one of the most ambitious performances of his recorded career, the lengthy, breathtaking and complicated art song “Soliloquy,” also from Carousel
. The Kurt Weil/Maxwell Anderson number “Lost in the Stars” gets a sensitive, emotional reading.
These and the remaining tracks all add up to make The Concert Sinatra
perhaps the Chairman’s most “serious” recording. Both the original session and the the modern revising of the source tapes take a suitably serious approach to sound quality. Then a mere nineteen years old, his son Frank Sinatra Jr.
worked the engineering and mixing boards on the original 1963 recording. Bringing things full circle, Frank Jr. oversaw the 21st century upgrade from the source tapes of his late father’s session of nearly fifty years ago.
Whether you pick it up for the music or the sound quality, The 2012 reissue of The Concert Sinatra
is an essential addition to every Sinatra fan’s collection.
Review from: Bill Kopp's Music Blog
The Concert Sinatra [Remastered & Expanded]
CONCORD MUSIC GROUP APPLIES STATE-OF-THE-ART
21st-CENTURY TECHNOLOGY TO EARLY 1960s RECORDINGS
FOR REISSUE OF THE CONCERT SINATRA
ORIGINAL MASTERS REMASTERED FOR
THE FIRST TIME IN NEARLY 50 YEARS
Remixed recording recaptures Sinatra's timeless voice in
a set of classic Broadway tunes arranged by Nelson Riddle.
Release date: January 17, 2012
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Concord Records has seamlessly taken existing multi-channel recordings from the early 1960s and applied state-of-the-art, 21st-century digital technology for the reissue of The Concert Sinatra
, one of the most technically ambitious and musically innovative recordings of Frank Sinatra
’s career. Under license from Frank Sinatra Enterprises (FSE), the album is set for release on January 17, 2012.
This reissue represents a perfect marriage of technological and artistic innovation by harnessing the combined brilliance of Sinatra’s timeless voice, Nelson Riddle
’s legendary arrangements, and some of the finest songs to emerge from the Broadway tradition. It all comes together via a recording process that was well ahead of its time in the 1960s, and has been further enhanced by modern-day digital remastering technology.
When The Concert Sinatra
was recorded in February 1963, multi-track master tape machines were not yet a reality in the recording studio. In order to facilitate the sound mixing advantage of multiple channels of audio, The Concert Sinatra
was recorded on a motion picture scoring stage with the use of multiple synchronized recording machines that employed 35mm magnetic film. This master recording has not been used in any re-release of The Concert Sinatra
since the original sound mix was prepared nearly 50 years ago.
Producers located the original film canisters where the masters had been stored for nearly a half-century. Despite considerable degradation over time, a team of engineering experts, led by Frank Sinatra Jr.
, used contemporary digital recording technology delivered a completely new sound mix for the 2012 re-release.
“What is the difference between performing a show ballad on the Broadway stage and performing it in a concert auditorium? Considerable. No better illustration could be found than this album,” according to the late Raymond V. Pepe, president of the Institute of High Fidelity who wrote a side note to the 1963 release of The Concert Sinatra
. “The voice of Frank Sinatra
, the arrangements of Nelson Riddle
, the selection of material — all these we think we know. Even the combination of these elements contains no surprises. Or so we think. And then we listen and we hear a new Sinatra, set to some of the purest arrangements we have ever heard. And suddenly several well-known songs become not so well known at all.”
Frank Sinatra Jr.
, an accomplished singer and songwriter in his own right — and the conductor and musical director for his father in the later years of his career — contributes new liner notes and a personal perspective to the reissue of The Concert Sinatra
. “If you have had this magnificent album in the past,” writes the younger Sinatra, “and compare the orchestral content of previous releases to this new rendering, you will undoubtedly notice the amount of music, originally recorded on the master film that was never present before. Listening to other parts of Nelson Riddle
’s classic orchestrations, never before heard on record, was indeed an experience for me.”
I Have Dreamed
MY Heart Stood Still
Lost in the Stars
Ol’ Man River
You’ll Never Walk Alone
This Nearly Was Mine
BONUS TRACKS (not on original LP):
America, The Beautiful
* * *
Frank Sinatra Enterprises (FSE)
Frank Sinatra Enterprises (FSE) is a joint venture between the Sinatra family and Warner Music Group (NYSE: WMG). FSE owns Sinatra’s recordings from the Reprise era as well as a treasure trove of films, television specials and unreleased footage, photos and audio recordings, which collectively represent one of the foremost bodies of artistic work of the modern era. FSE also owns and manages Sinatra’s name and likeness rights and represents the artist’s rights to the Columbia and Capitol catalogues. FSE evaluates innovative new product and venture opportunities with respect to the legendary entertainer’s name and likeness, as well as Sinatra's audio and visual recordings.