Beethoven / Piano Concerto No. 1 / Richter – Our Favorite Performance on Vinyl

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

  • This stunning vintage RCA Living Stereo pressing boasts wonderful Double Plus (A++) sound throughout, with vinyl that is as quiet as any Shaded Dog from 1961 is ever going to play
  • This pressing has the real Living Stereo magic in spades, but unlike most of the RCA concerto recordings, Richter, the brilliant soloist featured here, is not overly spotlighted, hence the much more natural “concert hall” sound
  • The piano is part of the orchestra, and properly sized, allowing the contributions of the other musicians in the orchestra to be heard more clearly, laid out as they are so elegantly across a huge and deep Boston Symphony Hall stage

The piano is part of the orchestra, and properly sized, allowing the contributions of the other musicians in the orchestra to be heard more clearly, laid out as they are elegantly across a huge and deep Boston Symphony Hall stage.

In orchestral music, when it comes to clarity there is nothing close to the sound of the live performance, but some records, this one especially, give you the sense that you are hearing it all. Audio may be an illusion but it can be a very convincing one.

The spaciousness and three-dimensionality of the recording are also exceptional. Through the efforts and skill of the RCA engineers, that striking openness in the recording is somehow combined with an electrifying immediacy in the sound of the piano, no mean feat. One rarely hears both, except of course live (and not always even then).

There may be other performances of merit, but I know of no recording of this music with better sound. If you are demonstrating naturalistic sound, not bombastic Hi-Fi spectacularity, this pressing more than qualifies as a DEMO DISC.

What to Listen For

What typically separates the killer copies from the merely good ones are qualities that we often look for in the records we play: transparency. Transparency allows you to hear into the recording, reproducing the ambience and subtle musical cues and details that high-resolution analog is known for. (Note that most Heavy Vinyl pressings being produced these days seem to be seriously Transparency Challenged. Lots of important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate standard-weight pressings — is simply not to be found.)

Solid weighty sound for a piano concerto recording is critically important as well. The piano has to be big, powerful, and solid and massive as a boulder, just the way it can be in the concert hall. In this respect it helps to have Sviatoslav Richter pounding away on the instrument of course.

This vintage Living Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What superb sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Piano Concerto, No. 1

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Piano Concerto No. 1

Side Two

Piano Concerto No. 1
Piano Sonata No. 22