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THE CAMBRIDGE PHILHARMONIC SOCIETY – Fidelity, Tranchell, The Cambridge Review, 28th May 1955

“Fidelity!” Persons busy in the race to appear more cultured or knowledgeable than they are will find this “O.K.” word a handy addition to their stock of meaningless (but modist) jargon. A brief consideration of the word may assist in its improper use. Those who know the truth are the best liars.

“Fidelity,” as amongst machines, is undoubtedly a legitimate notion, with deep import for the machine-minders. But applied to the reproduction of music, the word is immediately suspect for the following reasons.

Sound is what one hears. Presumably a sound ceases to be a sound when it is inaudible. The propagation of the sound is an unspectacular part of the affair, however, compared with the almost creative act of hearing it. This is especially so with music, for the appreciation of which, three processes are necessary: the focussing of attention, the physical reaction in the ear, and the intellectual interpretation in the brain. If there should be a fault in any one department, the listener will not be well served.

Alas, human beings are very variously endowed by nature and, on the whole, sparingly. Men with a really “good ear” are not plentiful. For the majority, the perception of the logic in music, the discrimination that distinguishes music from noise, is probably precarious enough; and the fidelity of a machine in reproducing music is a small matter in comparison with the fidelity required of every listener’s “ear.”

The focus of attention may be another factor militating against this fidelity of the ear. One hears what one attends to. Sounds un-noticed are unheard. Hence if one attends to the music itself one may be able to ignore asperities of performance. But the general notion of fidelity as applied to gramophone records tends to encourage the concert-goer to listen more for needle-hiss in the concert hall than for the music.

So when I say that the Cambridge Philharmonic Society last Thursday-week gave an interesting and varied concert, I am not denying the admixture of much needle-hiss (more in fact than I care to remember), but affirming that there was also an element of sporadic exhilaration. It was best to look out for this.

Fürgen Hess’s performance in Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major was the outstanding feature of the evening. Other notably touching incidents were Anne Keynes’s soprano solo in Britten’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia, and Philip Higgins’s violin solo (a few exquisite bars) in Patrick Hadley’s symphonic Ballad “The Trees so high.”

This work was an ambitious thing to do. The chorus came off better than the orchestra—excepting the percussionists. Robert Rowell as baritone solo had but few bars to sing compared with his bars of rest. Not a rewarding part, but he did what he could with what he had.

In general this concert was like the Curate’s egg—parts of it were good; but the sad thing was everybody’s aunt had stayed away, so the Guildhall was severely underpopulated. The difference between a gramophone record and a live concert is that some music is best appreciated when listened to amongst a multitude. We missed our madding crowd.

Peter Tranchell