Our favorite Scheherazade for about the last 15 years or so has been the one Ansermet conducted for Decca in 1961.
This review was written long before we discovered how good the Ansermet could be when you find one with the right stampers. We started to get a clue in 2015. By 2019 we were sure of our findings.
In 2015 we still had a lot to learn, even though we had been playing this wonderful piece of music on vintage vinyl since the early-90s. (I’m quoted about my preference for certain pressings of LSC 2446 in The RCA Bible, which was published in 1993. Don’t believe anything you read in it though, at least from me. I was as lost as everybody else in audio back in those days.)
Clearly we needed to do more Research and Development,
White Hot on Side One! Big brass, so full-bodied and dynamic. The solo violin is present and so real you will not believe it. The highest resolution we have ever heard for this performance. Hard To Fault (HTF).
This copy is huge in every dimension, just as all the best ones always are, with maximum amounts of height, width, and depth. The transparency is also superb — you really hear into this one in the way that only the best Living Stereos (and other golden age recordings) will allow.
Side two is A++, a little more tubey and less clear than side one, but full, a quality that is essential to the sound of the best pressings. Very musical and enjoyable, with minor faults that are easily overlooked.
This was a monster shootout we had been planning for more than two years. On hand were quite a few copies of the Reiner on RCA; the Ansermet on London (CS 6212, his second stereo recording, from 1961, not the earlier and noticeably poorer sounding recording he did in 1959); the Ormandy on Columbia, and a few others we felt had potential.
The only recordings that held up all the way through — the fourth movement being THE ball-breaker of all time, for both the engineers and musicians — were those by Reiner and Ansermet. This was disappointing considering how much time and money we spent finding, cleaning and playing those ten or so other pressings.
The somewhat shocking news is just how awful sounding most Shaded Dog copies are. Even the ones with the “right” stampers are often far from what they should be.
Of course, as is usually the case, hearing the phenomenally good pressings made all the time and effort we put into the shootout worthwhile. Our top Reiner side two was just mindblowing. Unfortunately the side one it was mated to was quite poor, and so for now it sets on a shelf waiting for a mate.
The Most Exciting Fourth Ever
The fourth movement on this famous RCA recording is positively breathtaking. You will not find a more exciting performance on the face of this earth, that’s for sure. Some criticize Reiner for a lack of lyricism in the quieter passages, and I have heard performances of this work that are somewhat better in that respect. But this is still overall the best performance I know of. The Chicago Symphony was on fire that day. The precision and energy of their playing is uncanny. Go back and listen to other orchestras from the ’50s and ’60s play this piece and you will hear a fair amount of slop — the technical skills required for this work were simply not as common back in those days. Modern orchestras are much more proficient in this respect.
Unfortunately the recording engineers have been letting us classical music lovers down for decades, so the better playing is for naught if good sound is important to you.
Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs.
Of course, the fact that a recording is on the TAS List doesn’t guarantee that the pressing you buy will have great sound, but Better Records does precisely that. If you don’t think a record sounds as good as we’ve described it, we’ll always happily take that record back and refund your money.
The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship
The Story of the Kalendar Prince
The Young Prince and the Young Princess
Festival in Bagdad; The Sea; The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock Surmounted by a Bronze Warrior