Telarc's Jack Renner Remembered

I was saddened to learn that Jack Renner, renowned recording engineer and cofounder with producer Robert Woods of Telarc Records, died on June 19, 2019, age 84, at his home in Rhode Island. Mr. Renner is survived by his wife, Barbara, three children, and six grandchildren.

Renner trained as a trumpet player and received a BSc in Music Education from The Ohio State University. In 1990, he was recognized as an outstanding alumnus. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he taught for 30 years.

I first saw Jack's name on Telarc's debut album, the direct-to-disc Direct from Cleveland with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel, which was featured on Stereophile's very first four-color cover, in March 1977. Telarc rapidly became a major force in the classical recording world, not least because of Renner's skill with microphone placement and purist attitude to recording. Of the 1200 recordings released by the label, more than 50 won Grammy Awards. Jack was nominated 25 times for Classical Engineering and won 11 Grammys before he retired in 2006.

I asked Renner about Direct From Cleveland when I interviewed him for an article published in the January 1983 issue of Hi-Fi News & Record Review. "Direct-cut was a very popular thing to do at that time," he told me, "and we needed a way for a small record company in Cleveland, Ohio, to make a major impact on the business. We had to rely on the audiophile market as a foundation for our business, but we hoped that by making a record with a major orchestra, we would earn some recognition from the more serious classical buyer.

"We only did one more direct-cut, an organ recording with Michael Murray, and then we got out of the direct-cut business—which is a very risky business. Digital offers so many advantages—you can edit, you can recut the master if you have a bad lacquer—and . . . I think it gives an equal sound quality to direct-cutting."

Jack was an early adopter of what in the early 1980s was the best-sounding digital recorder, Thomas Stockham's Soundstream system, which featured a then–ground-breaking sample rate of 50kHz. Jonathan Scull asked Renner about the Soundstream recorder in an interview for Stereophile (footnote 1): "We went to the [October 1977] AES convention in New York with a financial backer who had paid for the direct-to-disc recordings and listened to Tom Stockham's Soundstream system. We were . . . impressed but still had the audacity to ask Tom to improve the high-frequency response. . . . Now there I was, somebody who'd issued two direct-to-disc recordings—our main claim to fame—and we were demanding of Tom Stockham, the father of digital recording, that he make his machine sound better!"

That meeting led to the first digitally recorded classical LP in the United States, the Cleveland Symphonic Winds performing Holst's Suites 1 and 2 for Military Band with Frederick Fennell. Renner had brainstormed with label co-founder Robert Woods: What would be the right first project? "It had to be something really spectacular, with great dynamic range: organ, organ and brass, [or] organ, brass, and percussion," he told Scull. "And then one of us said, 'What's turning audiophiles on these days?' It took us about three seconds to realize it was Mercury Living Presence. I called Frederick Fennell . . . and he practically jumped through the phone when I asked him about re-recording some of his greatest Eastman Wind Ensemble hits with the wind, brass, and percussion of the Cleveland Orchestra."

Robert Fine had recorded those famed Mercury Living Presence LPs with three spaced omnidirectional microphones, and Renner was a major advocate for that minimalist approach. "I like to use omnidirectional microphones because they give a wide frequency response, which you just don't get with crossed figure-of-eights," Renner told me in 1982. "The spaced, single-capsule omnis are capable of a flat response down to 20Hz and below; they have less distortion. I just happen to feel that I can recreate the illusion of the music being performed on stage better with spaced omnis than with figure eights."

I witnessed Renner's skill first-hand when I attended a Telarc session at London's Walthamstow Assembly Hall in March 1985. He was recording the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by André Previn, performing Rachmaninoff's Symphony No.2 in E-minor. The primary pickup was three spaced omnis, and I was impressed by Renner's ability to quietly and quickly make small changes in the positions of the mikes until he, producer James Mallinson, and Previn were satisfied that the sound represented the orchestra and music at its best. It was a moment of satori. From that moment on, this erstwhile figure-eight purist started using spaced omnis as the primary pickup for my own recordings, including almost all those released on the Stereophile label.

A full list of Jack Renner's engineering credits can be found at AllMusic.com and an oral history video he made for the Audio Engeering Society here. Here is my personal Top Five of his recordings, in no particular order:

Fauré: Requiem, Op.48; and Duruflé: Requiem, Op.9; with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Robert Shaw. CD, Telarc 80135. This was the 1988 Grammy winner for classical engineering.

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; and Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite; with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel. SACD transcoded to DSD from the original Soundstream recording, Telarc 60650.

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No.3 ("Organ") and Encores à la française, Michael Murray, organ, with the Philadephia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. SACD, Telarc 60634 SACD transcoded to DSD from the original Soundstream recording.

Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture & other orchestral works, with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel. SACD transcoded to DSD from the original Soundstream recording, Telarc 60541.

Rachmaninoff: Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by André Previn. CD, Telarc 80113.


Footnote 1: The late Peter W. Mitchell also interviewed Jack Renner for Stereophile, in January 1990.

COMMENTS
Charles E Flynn's picture

Mr. Renner's obituary in the New York Times mentions Stereophile:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/08/arts/music/jack-renner-recording-master-and-a-founder-of-telarc-dies-at-84.html

jimtavegia's picture

I was having a difficult time playing a SACD from them as it would not read the SACD layer. I wrote him and had a great conversation with him as he was quite dismayed he might have a defective disc. How many people would do that? Not many. He had me send mine back and he sent me a new one. That is very classy on his part and told me much about Jack Renner and his commitment to his customers and his artists. He will be missed.

jimtavegia's picture

MC SACD I don't own anything that sounds more real than this great SACD.

Ortofan's picture

... the first release as an organ recording with Michael Murray released in 1974, predating by three years the two direct-cut recordings.
https://www.discogs.com/label/28165-Telarc?page=1&genre=All&limit=100&sort=year
Note that, on the album jacket, the label name is identified as "Telarc records" on the front side, but as "Advent records" on the back.
Jack Renner is listed as recording engineer and production supervisor.

Hearing a demo of the 1981 recording on CD of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5, performed by Rudolf Serkin with the Boston Symphony led by Seiji Ozawa, convinced me to buy a Sony CDP-101 when it first became available.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JGH review of Sony CDP-101 is an interesting read ....... That review is available on-line on Stereophile website :-) .........

John Atkinson's picture
Bogolu Haranath wrote:
JGH review of Sony CDP-101 is an interesting read...

www.stereophile.com/cdplayers/193/index.html.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Stereophile has also reviewed the Sony SCD-1, Sony's first SACD/CD player in 1999 ....... That review is also available on-line :-) .........

Ortofan's picture

... two years later in the review of the Sony CDP-520ES:
https://www.stereophile.com/content/sony-cdp-520es-cd-player-page-2

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Time to upgrade and purchase a Kalista DreamPlay, Ortofan :-) .........

Ortofan's picture

... I'd select something from either Accuphase or Esoteric.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

For about $15,000, you could also consider a dCS Bartok DAC ....... Bartok can also function as a pre-amp and a headphone amp ........ Bartok can also access the Wi-Fi network ....... See Hi-Fi News review :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Gold Note DS-10 (around $3,000 est.) could be a competition for dCS Bartok and many others with similar features :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Or ...... You could get a NAD M10 Sreaming amplifier for under $3,000 ........ See Hi-Fi News review :-) ........

Mike-48's picture

John,

Thank you for your essay on Jack Renner. I've owned and enjoyed many of his Telarc CDs since they were released. When digital sound was new, and many labels' efforts sounded bad on the consumer playback equipment of the time, I quickly learned that Telarc releases were reliably enjoyable.

He will be missed!

M.

volvic's picture

I grew up purchasing many of Telarc's recordings in the 80's and gobbled up a lot of them when CD became fashionable and all vinyl including Telarc's were being sold for $1 - $5 sealed and shrink wrapped. Looking back what strikes me the most is not the sonic qualities, which were good, but not great and varied from recording to recording. But that a nascent label like Telarc being able to sign such great musicians to record with; Osawa, Serkin, Cleveland Quartet, Sir Charles Mackerras, Andre Previn, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, etc, etc. Truly a great feat for such a young company. My sincere condolences to his family and it is rather unfortunate when great luminaries leave us for good.

pbarach's picture

Rite of Spring/Maazel Cleveland (BTW a retired member of the orchestra told me that Maazel found errors in the score that Boulez had missed in his first Cleveland Rite).

Mussorgsky Pictures (Maazel/Cleveland)

Don Quixote, with Yo Yo Ma and Ozawa/BSO on Sony--I love the performance, and I don't know of another recording of this piece that has better sound.

hollowman's picture

I do recall my first intro to audiophile recordings was the 1812 record.
I'm not a vinylphile, per se, but Telarc sounds better on vinyl than CD/wav.

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