You know you're in the company of a perfectionist when you notice that the liner of Jeannot A. Welter's LP lists not only the recording dates and the equipment used but the relative humidity of the hall the day of the sessions.
But then that's the name of his business - Le Disque: Perfectionist Audio/Classical Recordings, a spacious, two-story hi-fi emporium at 2146 S. Highland Dr. In addition he manufactures his own recordings, on the Disque label, and his own loudspeakers, the Chateau line, ranging in price from $1,600 to $1,800 a pair.That's one of the lower-price speaker systems at Le Disque. Also available are the Apogee line, priced from $2,600 to $8,200, and Duntech, which can be had for as little as $5,500 but, for the dedicated high-ender, makes a system that retails for around $16,000. Typically Welter, in his softly accented English, says he is "only interested in the top model."
He also conducts his own recordings, not surprising in someone who, while still in high school in his native Luxembourg, formed his own orchestra. ("We did some criminal things," he says of those early years.) Later he went on to study in Brussels and at the famed Paris Conservatory, where his teachers included Jean Martinon (conducting) and Olivier Messiaen (composition).
Of the latter, he says, after his harmony and counterpoint classes "I found having a composition teacher not helpful." As a composer, Welter has to his credit a viola concerto and a string octet, both of which have been recorded, albeit by other hands. His own first recording, issued in 1987, features him leading performances of Ravel's "La Valse," the Griffes "Poem" for Flute and Orchestra and the Suite from Prokofiev's "Love for Three Oranges."
The orchestra is that of Radio Luxembourg, and I can testify that it sounds better under Welter than under Louis de Froment on their recordings together. And that's only partly attributable to the differences in recorded sound.
As it happens, Welter is not the first Salt Lake businessman to appear on records as a conductor. One thinks of Dean Eggertsen's baroque recordings for Vox in the '50s (where the name was spelled "Eckertsen"). But to my knowledge he is the first to supervise his own engineering and marketing, on top of the artistic end.
"It really does make a difference," Welter insists of the humidity factor, which at the time the performances were taped turned out to be 60 percent the first two days vs. 90 percent the last. Not surprisingly he says the same of his decision to go "pure analog" as opposed to digital in terms of the recording process.
"It sounds so much more natural, so much more human than digital," he explains, adding that in order to remain commercial he realizes his recordings will also have to be issued on CD, "but from analog masters."
It was a similar concern for naturalness that led him to design his own loudspeakers. "Initially they were developed as recording monitors," he says of the compact but heavyweight Chateaus. "I was never very happy with what was available and I had a background in mathematics, so. . . ."
On a random visit to Le Disque you are as likely to encounter other transplanted Europeans as native Utahns. Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that about 50 percent of the company's business comes from out of state, largely from manufacturer referrals. Recently, Welter reports, a couple came down from Montana to hear what he had to offer and ended up buying a system. Other customers hail from as far north as Canada.
He himself came to Utah five years ago, his wife, who was raised in Bountiful, finding she missed the mountains - and the English language - more than she had anticipated. (They met at a music festival in Europe.) Currently she is personal secretary to Salt Lake businessman and former Utah Symphony board member Spence Clark, who helped underwrite Welter's first recording.
Upcoming Disque projects include another set of sessions in Luxembourg this summer, possibly involving Scriabin's "Poem of Ecstasy" and the Prokofiev Fifth Symphony. Before then, however, Welter plans to record Utah Symphony flutist Erich Graf and pianist Ricklen Nobis in music of Berio, Martinu, Roussel and Gaubert.
As with the orchestral recordings, those tapings will involve both minimal miking and as much concern for musical values as for the purely technical. "I think musicians should get much more involved in audio and in the design process," Welter says, "and in the final quality judgment. Too often that's left to engineers who have the scientific backgound but don't have the experience or the ears musicians have."
Or the know-how to bring the two together, whatever the humidity content.