It was nearly twenty-five years ago, but I can remember it as if it were yesterday. On a radio program of "new releases," a new recording of George Frederick Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks" was being played. It was a wind band performance, instrumented much as Handel called for originally. Since, as I recall, I was doing some household chores at the time, the music was largely in the background, sounding excellent but otherwise not particularly grabbing my attention.
Then, out of nowhere, THWUMP! A bass drum thwack that grabbed my attention like no other had before (and which my speakers thankfully survived). It took more than normal patience to await the conclusion of the performance to find out that what I had just heard was this premiere Telarc recording, led by an old-time musical hero of this wind ensemble music, Frederick Fennell. I had just been introduced to my first digitally-mastered recording (by stealth, if that matters), and I think I bought the LP the next day. And I know that I bought the CD version the minute I could put my hands on it, some half-dozen years later. Both versions remain in my library to this day.
Much to my delight, the LP turned out to also contain two of my favorite wind ensemble pieces (both of which I had the enjoyment of performing years earlier as a young instrumentalist): the two Suites for Band by Gustav Holst. Fennell had recorded these pieces about two decades earlier on a Mercury Living Presence LP, when he had been in charge of the Eastman Wind Ensemble. The sound on that Mercury LP was outstanding. But this first Telarc digitally-mastered LP was something else again.
Now, nearly a quarter-century later, this Fennell/Cleveland Winds recording still sounds fresh; it can still knock the wind out of those hearing it for the first time. Maestro Fennell keeps on going, recording and giving seminars in his golden years. (He was born in 1914, so you do the math. He's not a young 'un.) Telarc is well-established as one of the very best independent classical-music labels in the industry.
And the Telarc bass drum that "started it all"? Well, perhaps it's apocryphal that one drum was carried from venue to venue, to provide that "THWUMP" when needed. Then again, perhaps not.