Gran Orquesta Alfredo De Angelis

About few gran orquestas, which belong to the core repertoire of danceable Tango Argentino‘s, opinions today diverge as widely as about De Angelis. There are dancers who do not consider De Angelis to be part of the core repertoire. Only the best valses by De Angelis are hardly questioned, often they are vocal duets. However, this is too short-sighted. De Angelis has so much more to offer to dancers and music lovers alike. And this much more has now become audible.    

Many things that were completely unbalanced in previous restorations and were wrongly blamed on the musicians and singers of the time, fall back into place with this restoration.

These recordings were transferred from shellacs and completely restored by TangoTunes in 2021. Hearing De Angelis in this quality for the first time puts many negative opinions about this gran orquesta into perspective. Because listening to it answers many open question. Many things that were completely unbalanced in previous restorations and were wrongly blamed on the musicians and singers of the time, fall back into place with this restoration. When De Angelis’ peculiarity of many high violin sounds is contrasted with a double bass with a foundation and it is clearly audible where bass and grand piano play in unison, the result is a tonal balance that remains a matter of taste but makes perfect sense. One can have different opinions on this, but shaking one’s head about it is no longer legitimate. There is much to discover – with open ears and an alert mind.

Of course, one can reproach De Angelis that his arrangements are too often quite simple with regard to the instrumental part. But that was intentional. De Angelis deliberately aimed for maximum broad impact. These arrangements provide a perfect foundation for the singers to let them shine. De Angelis thus raises his singers to a musical pedestal. The De Angelis singers know their business which now can be heard crystal clear. They are brought more to the fore sonically, which is logical in itself. For it was precisely this peculiarity of vocal dominance that was De Angelis‘ consistently practised concept for success. Even Dante, along with Mauré at D’Arienzo and Podestá at Caló, Di Sarli and Laurenz one of the most difficult voices to reproduce in the época de oro, can now be heard with all his skill. 

Floreal Ruiz

In addition, De Angelis’ chronology contains many recordings which, although arranged in a more refined way, sound great, almost thrilling, thanks to instrumental reduction for the purpose of emphasising the vocal part. But these are not always recordings that every dancer can cope with. Dancers have to be able to dance breaks with fun and to follow the quite complex phrasing of the singer with their feet. Moreover, these restorations separate the different timbres of the voices in duets like never before.

Carlos Dante

Being able to hear Ruiz, Martel, Dante and, at a later date, Larroca in this way for the first time compensates for some of De Angelis‘s idiosyncrasies, which, from today’s perspective, take some time to get used to. The use of the violins with many short notes in high registers often sounds a little too penetrating today. Incidentally, this is an aspect that is reinforced by poor restorations and poor audio technology, which for decades presented this gran orquesta worse on preserved recordings as they actually were if you heared them live. This, too, has now become audible with the appropriate audio technology. 

At the time, it was common practice in the recording studio to manipulate the 78’s purist direct cut so that the recording played a little too fast on playback and thus sounded a little more brilliant than was actually authentic. This was done to compensate for the somewhat dull sound of mechanical grammophones at home and radio stations on medium wave, which played transcription discs in addition to live performances at the time. In combination with today’s best audio technology, this is a disadvantage that must be corrected, because the result of this manipulation leads to an unnatural, bent basic sound of instruments and voice.

Julio Martel
Oscar Larroca

If De Angelis’ first-class singers sound shrill on a transfer and/or a voice lacks a foundation, this is almost always due to a concert pitch that was set too high during the transfer – if the shellac is of decent quality. Sometimes the wrong equalisation has been chosen. In this case, the transfer must be repeated from shellac, with a lower concert pitch and possibly with a different equalisation. It has been shown that for these recordings, a concert pitch around 435 Hz usually leads to the best results with a natural, live sound – for the time machine effect with full-body goose bumps.  

Some restorers work with algorithms developed in an academic environment to identify the concert pitch. They suggest that they analyse with the accuracy of one decimal place – e.g., 438.3 Hz. But that is only their digital display. In practice, such an algorithm has an uncertainty factor of 5 to 8Hz, depending on the music material and the technical condition of the audio file, which disqualifies it for Tango Argentino. The discussion about the correct concert pitch in Tango Argentino usually ranges between 432 and 442Hz and thus often within the measurement tolerance of the algorithm. Therefore, contrary to the promises of their developers, such algorithms are only suitable for a first rough adjustment. The fine-tuning must then be carried out by a trained ear that cultivates a holistic focus instead of getting lost in the details.   

The work of a sound engineer will always remain a craft that is based on theory, but in everyday life is oriented towards the reality of sound.

Neither dancers nor music lovers benefit from an academically correct concert pitch around 440Hz, which is only theoretically correct. The price of such a decision is too often an unnatural sound that has lost the core of the musical fascination that can instantly suck one into the music. The work of a sound engineer will always remain a craft that is based on theory, but in everyday life is oriented towards the reality of sound. In the end, the only thing that counts is whether the sound of a gran orquesta sounds inspiring and not the result of any measurement. Because no one will ever fall in love with a measurement. If you don’t want to admit that, you can measure whether you kiss well.    

Of course, you may ask, why De Angelis made his recordings sound so bright back then. Because he definitely had something in mind. And it’s hard to argue about taste. Is it all a question of bad taste? This opinion would not do justice to De Angelis. Today we can only speculate about his motives. But there are clues. Let’s take a brief look at the technical and economic conditions in Buenos Aires at the time. 

Gran orquestas had three central sources of income at the time, in addition to royalties. The first step towards sustained success was a regular engagement in a nightclub, followed at some point by a regular engagement at a radio station. Only the best bands managed to get a record deal. However, not all first-class gran orquestas succeeded in this step and some of the best unfortunately did not last very long.    

De Angelis was extremely successful at the radio and his record sales were above average. Radio stations at the time broadcast on medium wave and most record buyers at the time used mechanical grammophones that used steel needles for scanning, which quickly destroyed the shellacs. In both cases, the result was a rather dull sound image, which suppressed many details, even though the sound recordings had been archived in the best possible way. 

In addition, live recordings in the radio studio at that time were transmitted via telephone lines to the broadcasting station, which was usually located on the outskirts of the city. The loss of some frequencies was compensated for by means of an equalizer. This was technically skillful at the time. Nevertheless, there is always a loss of sound quality involved with this procedure, e.g., by phase shifts, in other words, time errors.

It is not the recordings that prevent good reproduction, but poorly made transfers and restorations of the last 60 years.

It is quite possible that De Angelis came up with the idea of designing the arrangements in a way that all these deficits were at least partly compensated by using violins in particular that sounded quite bright. Today, we perceive the sound of very bright violins as too shrill. These are educated guesses. And De Angelis’ approach cannot be compensated for today. Nor are we entitled to do so. 

TangoTunes has been working for years to extract as much sound quality as possible from 78s. Because the result of these efforts enables a completely different perception of these old recordings. With the De Angelis it shows once again: It is not the recordings that prevent good reproduction, but poorly made transfers and restorations of the last 60 years. 

TangoTunes never removes a large part of the running noise of the shellac. Such an invasive procedure would be a blatant error of craftsmanship, because music and noise inevitably share the same frequency spectrum. Therefore, in practice, only a few interferences can be removed without irreversibly damaging music at the same time. All the corresponding algorithms on the market promise miracles in theory that they can never deliver in practice. The order of the day with época de oro recordings is to limit the interventions as minimally invasive as possible. In addition, a large part of these interferences lie in the frequency range of 3 to 4 kHz, an area where the human ear hears best – in other words, it immediately perceives every technical error of the sound engineer as particularly disturbing because it sounds unnatural. 

Many restorers still do not take such elementary technical connections into consideration. Buyers pay for their mistakes in craftsmanship with a distorted and metallic, bent and poorly detailed, unnatural and hysterical sound, in which the dynamics and especially the fine dynamics of the musical and vocal events have been lost because the basic sound of the instruments and the timbre of the singers have been cannibalised. What remains is merely a copy of the creative achievement of the time, a caricature in the end. Nobody deserves this.  

Época de oro recordings are cultural assets and therefore worthy of protection. It is not for restorers to manipulate these recordings in order to castrate them for today’s zeitgeist. They will for sure lose their fascination. TangoTunes will always be dedicated to tease out as much sound quality as possible, so that you can rediscover them today in all their meaning and quality. We owe that to the creative high-flyers from that time and it is also a question of respect for Alfredo De Angelis and his colleagues.

Where technical deficits of that time cause problems today, it is legitimate to compensate for them to some extent. But only as long as such an influence does not mutate the special character of these recordings. Therefore it is always a question of faithfulness to the original. We have to respect the musical-creative intentions of each gran orquesta, and at best, carefully intervene a little where this is possible, without wreaking havoc elsewhere in the musical arrangement. 

With these restorations, TangoTunes invites you to rediscover especially the great singers of De Angelis thanks to new transfers from 78s and new restorations involving a re-evaluation of this gran orquesta. De Angelis of the 40s and 50s has never sounded so great – in the last 60 years. Unless someone has all these shellacs sitting on shelves at home and actually knows how to technically seduce shellacs into revealing all their secrets. For everyone else, there are now the new De Angelis restorations by TangoTunes.  

Christian Tobler for TangoTunes in June 2021

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