The Tale of Tsar Saltan – What to Listen For: The Triangle

More Rimsky-Korsakov

More The Tale of Tsar Saltan / Ansermet

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your pressing of the album. 

This is a work that makes extensive use of the triangle, and I don’t know when I’ve ever heard a better recording of that instrument. (I think there are actually two being played.) It’s incredibly sweet, detailed and extended, without calling attention to itself in an unnatural manner. When you hear it, you know it, and I’m hearing it in my head as this is being written. 

Want a good tweeter test next time you’re in the market for new speakers? Play a record with a well-recorded triangle. It’s a surprisingly hard instrument to reproduce. 

It’s clearly one of the great Demo Disc Quality recordings from the Golden Age (or any age for that matter), with everything that a top Golden Age Orchestral recording should have: all the magic; all the timbral and harmonic subtlety; all the sweetness and warmth; all the tubey-magical richness. All that and more. Folks, this is the kind of record that makes you sit up and take notice. Finally, HERE is the kind of sound that can bring an orchestra to life in your very own listening room.

Side one here earned our second highest grade of A Double Plus. It has the kind of depth and three-dimensional soundstaging that the recordings by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande are famous for. (Unlike many of their recordings — Pictures at an Exhibition and Scheherazade come readily to mind — the tempi here are not too slow. The tempi are in fact just right. We love the sound of Ansermet’s records but when the performance drags it’s hard to enjoy the music. For top quality performances of both works by other conductors — rarely in stock I regret to say — please check the site.)

Side Two

Side two earned a grade of A+ to A++. The sound is immediate and transparent but a bit dark in the upper midrange and there is some smear to the transients that you won’t hear on side one. Still, very good sound and worlds better sound than you will find on any Heavy Vinyl reissue.

Performance

I know of no performance that can compare with this one. Certainly no performance can possibly have this kind of sound. It is simply out of this world! I would rank it as one of the five best Decca/ London recordings I’ve ever heard.

Must Own Music

This is also a wonderful piece of music that belongs in your collection. When you play it you may notice an interesting “theme” that another composer used to good effect. John Barry borrowed a section of this music for one of the James Bond movies, which one I don’t know but I sure recall having heard it before. No doubt you will too.

Bernard Herrmann

An even bigger “lift” was perpetuated by Bernard Herrmann for his music for The Three Worlds of Gulliver soundtrack. There’s a suite from that soundtrack that’s on a London compilation of Herrmann’s film music that has amazingly good sound. It’s wonderful music to boot. One of the reasons it’s wonderful is because it’s orchestrated exactly like The Tale of Tsar Saltan here. Herrmann no doubt is very familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov’s work, and knew that this “sound” was exactly the one that would work for the film. He overlayed his own compositional style onto Rimsky-Korsakov’s and the result is a soundtrack of breathtaking beauty, full of lovely colors and percussive effects. It’s a TAS list record (on the British pressing). The Decca pressed London compilations we have sound so good I’d be surprised if the other pressing was much better.

The Heavy Vinyl Impostor

While doing our shootout we took the opportunity to play our wonderful White Hot Stamper against the Speakers Corner pressing. In a real head to head comparison the differences are hard to miss. How do these heavy vinyl impostors end up on so many Super Disc lists? They’re sure not very super sounding over here, not up against the best vintage Golden Age LPs we clean, play and evaluate practically every week.

I guess if you don’t have something better…

The Gold CD

I was at a friend’s house a few years back who played me the Gold CD that Classic Records did of this title. He also happened to have the Decca CD. Both of them are a joke next to this record. The sweetness and the extension of the high frequencies was completely missing from the CD. Of course, many of the London pressings don’t sound right either. They can’t all be Hot Stampers. If they could we would be out of business!

Production and Engineering

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from April of 1959 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound beyond all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass, combined with timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat not a single one, can begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in you decision to rid yourself of their mediocrity.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

The Tale of the Tsar Saltan-Suite

Side Two

May Night
Russian Easter Festival