It has been a sad season for audio. Earlier this year the shocking news about David Steven of dCS, then we heard that Gordon died, then that Jim Thiel had tragically passed away at only 62, and now the news that Wilma Cozart Fine—one of the last and most important links to the Golden Age of LP recording—passed on at the age of 82 on Monday, September 21.
I never met Ms. Fine, but our founder Harry Pearson knew her and interviewed her and through reading him I came to think that I knew her a little, too. She and her husband, recording engineer Robert Fine, set a purist standard for recording classical music that, while often imitated, has never been surpassed. Using just three “carefully spaced” omni microphones (Neumann U47s at first), three-track analog (of course) tape machines with half-inch tape (at 15 ips) and, later, 35mm magnetic film (at 18 ips), mixing the three tracks down to two on Westrex mixers with absolutely no sweetening of the sound “in the mix,” cutting the lacquers with Westrex cutterheads on a Scully lathe (driven by a modified McIntosh amp), the Fines, co-producer Harold Lawrence, and all the other gifted folks at Mercury Records left us scores of great-sounding LPs that are Mercury and Ms. Fine’s true and imperishable legacy. The incomparable Janis recordings of the Rach 3 and the Prokofiev 3, Dorati's fabulous Firebird (arguably the single best large-scale orchestral recording ever made by an American company, with the sensational Dorati/LSO Vienna 1908-1914 and the gorgeous Paray Debussy Nocturnes/Ravel Daphne and Chloe Suite No. 2 not far behind), the fabulous Starker Bach set (still the standard for the cello suites), the many echt Dorati Bartók recordings, the Respighis, the lovely Paray Ravels, Debussys, and Iberts, the Szigeti Prokofiev discs, the underrated Bachauer Beethoven and Brahms concertos, the great Dupre organ recitals, Fennell’s many delightful wind recordings with the Eastman.
Ms. Fine may have passed on, but the recordings she helped author—on vinyl, CD, and SACDs—haven’t. And never will. That is one helluva bequest to music lovers, worldwide.