- Glorious Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides
- Quiet ’70s Decca vinyl
- Rich and lush Golden Age sound, so effortless and analog
- Rodrigo’s two most famous works on one LP
This Super Hot (on both sides) Decca pressing has Rodrigo’s two most famous works, the better known of course being the Concierto De Aranjuez.
With a sonic grade of A++, the sound is glorious, with practically all of the qualities that make listening to classical music in analog so involving. The presentation is shockingly three-dimensional, with an exceptionally wide and deep stage. The orchestral sound is rich and sweet, yet the guitar is clear and immediate. Managing to balance — so effortlessly — two dissimilar elements such as these, in 1959 no less, requires an enormous amount of skill and effort. Fifty-odd years later, those of us with good turntables are profoundly thankful for their achievement, in terms of both performance and sound.
If you were only to be allowed one Guitar Concerto recording, this would probably be the one to own. You will recognize the main theme instantly; it’s the one Miles Davis appropriated for the astonishingly innovative Sketches of Spain album he did with Gil Evans.
Side One – Guitar Concerto: “Concerto De Aranjuez” (1939)
A++, including all the qualities we discussed above, with an especially immediate and real solo guitar.
With a bit more top end extension this side would have been White Hot. It should be noted that no Decca or London copy in our shootout had as much top end as we would have liked on the Rodrigo, a fault perhaps in the recording?
Side Two – Fantasìa Para Un Gentilhombre (1954)
A++, equally good in its own way. Rich and lush strings, but slightly veiled compared to side one. So musical and analog, although, like many concerto recordings, the guitar is much larger in the soundfield of the recording than it would be in the concert hall.
The music is reminiscent of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, for those of you familiar with the work (a longtime resident of the TAS List. Wish we could find them!).
What to Listen For (WTLF)
On some copies of this album the strings are dry, lacking the full measure of Tubey Magic we know the tape to have. This is decidedly not our sound, although we’ve heard if often enough, having played hundreds of vintage Decca and London pressings over the years. If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange that so many moving coils have these days, you will not notice this tonality issue nearly as much as we do. Our 17D3 is ruler flat and quite unforgiving in this regard. While it certainly makes our shootouts much easier, it does bring out the flaws in all but the best pressings — exactly the job we require it to do.
The copy we offer here is not the least bit dry; it’s rich and tubey in the best Decca tradition.
This record plays exceptionally well. Mint Minus or something very close to it, but it does have 10 moderate ticks starting about 1/4″ in . Please click on the Sonic Grade tab above to read more about this copy’s surfaces.
Concierto De Aranjuez
Joaquín Rodrigo was born in Sagunto, Spain, on November 22, 1901. In 1926, he moves to Paris, and becomes a student of Paul Dukas at the Schola Cantorum. From the French composer, Rodrigo learns the post-Debussy art of orchestration—the science of combining various instruments to create new sonorities, as well as the imaginative use of each intrument’s particular color.
In the first movement of the Concierto, for example, the answer to the guitar’s quasi-ostinato is given to the distinct and incisive attacks of the woodwinds, thus sustaining its rhythmic energy and vitality. In sharp contrast of mood, the characteristic rhythmic motion—alternating subdivisions of 2 and 3 beats per bar of the 6/8—is then picked-up, sotto voce, by the string’s spiccato. Similarly, it is the natural melancholy of the English horn—reminiscent of Ravel’s use of the instrument—that is chosen to answer the desperate chant of the guitar.
Apart from Paul Dukas, the general musical climate in France in the late-1920s—the neoclassical Six—also had an influence on Rodrigo’s style. The typical pointillism of neoclassicism endows the orchestral texture with a much-needed transparency, without forfeiting the instrumentation’s rich luster, thus ensuring the guitar’s audibility.
Even though Rodrigo calls for a full orchestra—2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trombones, and strings—rarely are all instruments used together. Certain only provide brief commentaries, darken or enlighten the palette (as if a mosaic), and Rodrigo chooses with care—according to the rhythmic impulse, the desire to produce a purely Spanish tone, or even to underline the color of a particular key—which instruments will accompany the guitar.
The Concierto de Aranjuez was premiered in 1940, and has since been, with the composer’s Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre, one of the most appreciated pieces of the repertoire for guitar and orchestra.
Fantasia Para un Gentilhombre
The music of Joaquin Rodrigo is steeped in the music and culture of his native Spain, including Baroque music of the early Spanish church as well as folk melodies and traditional Spanish folk instruments, especially the guitar. Born in Sagunto, Valencia, in 1901, Rodrigo was blinded at the age of three by diphtheria, which he said turned him early to a life of music. After winning early honors at the Conservatoire in Valencia, he studied in Paris with Paul Dukas at the École Normale de Musique, adding French influences to his style. He spent the Spanish Civil War exiled in Paris, but returned to Spain in 1939 and became the leading composer of his country. He is best known for his concerti, especially the haunting Concierto de Aranjuéz for guitar.
The Fantasia para un gentilhombre (Fantasia for a Gentleman) was written in 1954 for Andrés Segovia, the “gentleman” of the title. The thematic elements are based on short works by a 17th-century Spanish baroque guitarist, Gaspar Sanz, who wrote the first Instruction Book of Music for Spanish Guitar in 1674. The melodies compiled by Sanz were based on still older, traditional dance tunes. Rodrigo expanded on these short melodies, in some cases completing themes from the older composer’s original sketches, and said he orchestrated the work to produce a sound in the “manner of strong spices that were so popular in the victuals of the period.” Segovia premiered the work in 1958 with the San Francisco Symphony.
In the late 1970s, flutist James Galway asked Rodrigo for permission to arrange the Fantasia for flute. Rodrigo readily agreed, and also checked the score and attended the recording sessions in 1978, marking suggestions for changes. It is Galway’s arrangement that is performed here today.
The first movement, Villano y Ricercare, opens with the villano, a 17th-century dance with song popular in both Spain and Italy. The violins state the main theme and the flute elaborates, then the soloist leads the fugue of the ricare, while various sections of the ensemble follow. Throughout the interweaving of the fugal theme, the orchestration never overwhelms the flute–something we can attribute directly to Rodrigo, who was scoring for the equally delicate sound of guitar.
Españoleta y Fanfare de la Caballería de Nápoles combines the slow, lilting dance of the españoleta with a fanfare for, as the title states, the cavalry of Naples, which was under Spanish rule in Sanz’s time. The brisk fanfare includes a col legno section for the strings, where the players use the wooden side of the bow against the string.
The fast, rhythmic Danza de las Hachas is a “hatchet dance” meant to be performed with torches. Soloist and orchestra trade roles, each accompanying and then leading the dance.
The lively Canario is a folk dance from the Canary Islands in 6/8 time, in which orchestra and soloist compete in brilliant figures that grow in intensity until the flute breaks free in a virtuosic cadenza.
Classical Music on Vinyl — An Overview
We sometimes mention the benefits to be gained from listening to classical music on a regular basis. Once a week is a good rule of thumb for playing a recording from the classical world I should think. We all love our rock, jazz, folk and the rest, but there is something about classical music that has the power to restore a certain balance in your musical life that, for whatever reason, cannot be accomplished by other music. Perhaps it grounds your listening experience in something less immediately gratifying, yet deeper and more enriching over time. Once habituated to the effect, the changes in one’s mood are easy to recognize.
Moving Beyond the Average
Of course it should be pointed out that the average classical record is at best a mediocrity and more often than not a sonic disaster. There are many excellent pressings of rock and jazz, but when it comes to classical music — by its nature so much more difficult to record (and reproduce!) — the choices narrow substantially.
Most of what passed for good classical sound when I was coming up in audio — the DGs, EMIs, Sheffields and other audiophile pressings — are hard to take seriously when played on the modern high quality equipment of today.
We probably audition at least five records for every one we think might pass muster in a future shootout, and we’re pulling only from the labels we know to be good. We wouldn’t even waste our time playing the average Angel, Columbia or DG, or EMI for that matter. The losers vastly outweigh the winners, and there are only so many hours in a day. Who has the time to hunt for so few needles in so many haystacks?
Commitment of Resources
With the above in mind, it should be clear that assembling a top quality classical collection requires much more in the way of resources — money and time — than it would for any other genre of music. We are happy to do some of that work for you — our best classical pressings are amazing in almost every way — potentially saving you a lifetime of work. But we do so at a price; the service we provide is time-consuming to carry out and, as you may have noticed, vintage classical records are not getting any cheaper or easier to find.
On the positive side, every Hot Stamper we sell is 100% guaranteed to satisfy in every way: music, sound, and playing condition. Ideally this means less work for you and more time for listening enjoyment, weekly or more if you can manage to carve it out of your schedule.
Heavy Vinyl – A Lost Cause
This wonderful vintage disc will surely shame 100% of the Heavy Vinyl pressings ever made, as no Heavy Vinyl pressing — not one — has ever sounded transparent or spacious to us when played against the best Golden Age recordings, whether pressed back in the day or twenty years later. Many of the major labels were producing superb classical records well into the ’70s. By the ’90s no one, and we really do mean no one, could manage to make a record that compares with them.
Precisely the reason we stopped carrying The Modern LP Pressing — it just can’t compete with good vintage vinyl, assuming that the vinyl in question has been properly mastered, pressed and cleaned. This is of course something we never assume — we clean the records and play them and that’s how we find out whether they are any good or not. There is no other way to do it — for any record from any era — despite what you may have read elsewhere.