Gounod / Borodin / World of Ballet / Gibson / Ansermet – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

Side one contains one of the most famous and sought-after pieces of music in the entire Living Stereo catalog, the wonderful Faust Ballet Music that takes up side one of LSC 2449. (The Carmen that makes up side two of the original Shaded Dog has never impressed us sonically. There are so many better recordings of the piece, the Ansermet recording on London being one of the best.) 

The hall is HUGE — so spacious and three-dimensional it’s almost shocking, especially if you’ve been playing the kind of dry, multi-miked modern recordings that the ’70s ushered in for the major labels such as London and RCA. (EMI is super spacious but much of that space is weird, coming from out of phase back channels folded in to the stereo mix. And often so mid-hall and distant. Sorry, just not our sound.)

Or maybe you own a batch of dense Londons from the ’70s. How many Solti records are not ridiculously thick and opaque? One out of ten? If that. We’re very wary of records recorded in the ’70s; we’ve been burned too many times.

And to tell you the truth we are not all that thrilled with most of what passes for good sound on Mehta’s London output either. If you have a high-resolution system these recordings, like those on Classic Heavy Vinyl we discuss below, leave a lot to be desired. (The Planets is a favorite whipping boy around here as you may know.)

Opacity is a real dealbreaker for us. Most of the classical records we play from later eras simply do not have the transparency that’s essential to suspending one’s disbelief.

Side One

A++, so RICH, SMOOTH and SWEET. The Tubey Magical colorations are less oppressive here than on other copies we have played: they seem to work better with this material this way. The strings have lovely texture so tube smear is not really an issue. This copy was in fact quite clear; a bit more richness would have been just the thing to warm it up a degree or two — otherwise this side could easily have found itself graded White Hot.

The Smetana piece we did not play.

Side Two

There are three major works on this side, which graded out at A+ to A++. This side is a bit bright (you can tell by the cymbal crashes) but it’s also nice and clear, with virtually no smear, and transparent like you will not believe. You can really hear into the soundfield and “see” all the sections of the orchestra.

More weight and warmth would be nice but it’s still awfully good in its own way.

Ponchielli

The famous Dance of the Hours (also used as the melody for Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah) is lovely here and performed with feeling and taste.

Borodin: Prince Igor

Borodin: Polovtsian Dances

The Classic — Not Too Bad

Classic Records did a passable job with LSC 2449, one of their better efforts, but of course it has almost none of the sweetness, richness and ambience that the best RCA pressings have, and they have them more often than not in abundance. Their version is not awful, like most of the classical recordings they remastered, and considering that the original goes for many, many hundreds of dollars, might be worth picking up at a reasonable price.

Most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a classical recording of this quality. 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 labeled as such by us way back in 1994 upon their release.

I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled (HP, how could you?), but I can say that we weren’t, at least when it came to their classical releases. (We admit to having made plenty of mistaken judgments about their jazz and rock, and we have the We Was Wrong entries to prove it.)

And the fact that so many of them are currently on the TAS List is a sad comment on how far the mighty have fallen. classicalhs

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Gounod: Faust Ballet Music Act V

Waltz
Ensemble
Dance of the Nubians
Cleopatra’s Dance
Dance of the Trojan Maidens
Helen’s Dance
Bacchanalia

Smetana: The Bartered Bride

Polka, Act I
Furiant, Act II

Side Two

Ponchielli: La Gioconda

The Dance of the Hours, Act III

Borodin: Prince Igor

Polovtsian Dances, Act II

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