Sibelius / Finlandia in Phase IV!

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

In 2013 we stumbled upon the London pressing of this relatively rare record — never heard of it before, and who on earth is Kazimierz Kord? — and were shocked to hear how good the random copy of this unknown-to-us recording sounded. The brass was incredibly solid and powerful; I don’t think I had ever heard Finlandia with the kind of heavy brass that this record was able to reproduce. We had to know more! 

We started by pulling out every performance on every label we had in our backroom and playing them one after another. Most never made it to the half-minute mark. Sour or thin brass on the opening salvo of Finlandia? Forget it; on to the trade-in pile you go.

If you have too many classical records taking up too much space and need to winnow them down to a manageable size, pick a composer and play half a dozen of his works. Most classical records display an irredeemable mediocrity right from the start; it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. If you’re after the best sound, it’s the rare record that will have it, which makes clearing shelf space a lot easier than you might imagine. If you keep more than one out of ten you’re probably setting the bar too low, if our experience is any guide.

A few days went by while we were cleaning and listening to the hopefuls. We then proceeded to track down more of the pressings we had liked in our preliminary round of listening. At the end we had a good-sized pile of LPs that we thought shootout-worthy, pressings that included Shaded Dogs, Deccas, Londons, Stereo Treasury’s and Victrolas — representing most of our favorite labels from the Golden Age.

Side Two – Karelia Suite

A++, and one of the few side twos that wasn’t too hard and dry. Although it has some slight dryness, it’s mostly rich and full. It’s not quite as big and present as the best we played, but it’s still big and spacious compared to most of what we played. The brass is big and clear and weighty, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.

Side One – Finlandia

A+++ and shockingly good in every way. Listen to how clear the huge tympani thwacks are, surrounded in space, with lovely hall decay. This pressing is hi-rez, baby!

The brass has weight, the top extends for the glorious cymbal crashes, the hall is huge and the staging 3-D — there is practically nothing to fault in the sound on this side one.

Finlandia on Living Stereo

None of the Shaded Dog pressings we’ve played in the last few years had the White Hot Stamper sound of our best Londons and Deccas. The top didn’t open up as much as we would have liked and there tended to be more compression and congestion in the climaxes. If we had ten RCA LPs to play perhaps some better copies would have turned up. At the cost of clean Living Stereo pressings these days, that’s simply not a shootout we can afford to do, given the number of noisy and/or mediocre sounding pressings we would be sure to discover.

Finlandia on Classic Records

Classic Records, as should not be surprising to anyone by now, completely ruined the album. Their version is dramatically more smeared and low-rez than our Hot Stamper Shaded Dogs, with almost none of the sweetness, richness and ambience that the best RCA pressings have in such abundance.

In fact their pressing is just plain awful, like most of the classical recordings they remastered, and should be avoided at any price.

If you’re tempted to pick one up for a few bucks to hear how badly mastered their version is, go for it. If you actually want a record to play for enjoyment, don’t bother — it’s a complete waste of money.

Most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a classical recording of the quality of a good original pressing. If they had Classic Records would have gone out of business immediately after producing their first three Living Stereo titles, all of which were dreadful and characterized as such by us way back in 1994.

I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled (to this very day! There are dozens on the TAS List for Pete’s sake), but I can say that we weren’t, at least when it came to their classical releases. (We do admit to having made plenty of mistaken judgments about their jazz and rock records, and we have the We Was Wrong entries on the site to prove it.)


Side One

Tone Poem – Finlandia
The Swan of Tuonela (from Four Legends)

Side Two

Karelia Suite (First Three Movements)
Valse Triste (from the Incidental Music for Kuolema)