A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.
I’ve always loved these performances, but the shrill Columbia sound has been hard to get past. So many copies suffer from upper-midrangy, glary, hard sound and blary brass. I’ve come to accept that this is nothing more nor less than the “Columbia Sound,” and as a consequence I rarely put much effort into surveying their prodigious catalog these days.
I won’t say all that’s changed; it really hasn’t. The vast majority of Columbia classical pressings are still going to sound as awful as they have in the past.
What has changed is that finally, with this copy (and the stereo/room we have in 2015) we’ve found the sound that we’ve been looking for on the legendary MS 6091.
That it comes with a scratch on the Rhapsody is unfortunate, but the American in Paris is actually very quiet for an old Columbia, and the sound is even better on this side. It’s without a doubt the best sound and the best performance we have ever heard for the work.
Smooth and solid, not brash or blary, what really impressed about the sound here was how full it was, yet it was never thick or murky. Instead it was transparent in the lower mids and below, and that sound was just glorious after listening to too many thin and brash pressings.
Rich, tubey and real, this side could just as easily been awarded Three Pluses but we felt as though there might be a little more to get out of it, and side two showed us that “little more.”
The piano is solid, rich, high-rez and very percussive — there is no tubey Old School smear to be heard, and that too was a surprise.
Rhapsody In Blue
An American In Paris
AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review
Because George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is one of the most beloved American masterpieces, most people who have taken an interest in his music have come to know it quite well and have usually adopted a favorite recording already.
Among American performers who made a splash playing this piece, Leonard Bernstein may not have given the most fastidious, note-perfect performance, but he made this impressive recording with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in 1959 a true reflection of his charismatic, flamboyant personality.
Paired with his buoyant 1958 performance of An American in Paris with the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein’s rendition of Rhapsody is lively, flashy, bluesy, and intensely romantic in feeling, and these positive characteristics no doubt contributed to keeping this album in print for many years as one of Columbia’s great successes.
An American in Paris
The piece is a true tone poem, inspired by extra-musical considerations — the sights, sounds, and moods of Paris.
Deems Taylor, the 1920s composer and critic, furnished a blow-by-blow program for the piece from which I quote a brief excerpt: “You are to imagine an American visiting Paris, swinging down the Champs-Elysées on a mild sunny morning in May or June….Our American’s ears being open as well as his eyes, he notes with pleasure the sounds of the city. French taxicabs seem to amuse him particularly.”
Although he claimed not to have a program in mind when he wrote the work, Gershwin did sketch his own general scenario: “[A]n opening section, in which an American visitor strolls about Paris and ‘absorbs the French atmosphere,’ is followed by a rich blues with a strong rhythmic undercurrent,” representing an episode of homesickness on the visitor’s part. But the American overcomes his spell of depression and once again revels in the sights and sounds of Paris. “At the conclusion,” according to the composer, “the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant.”