- This delightful collection, a longstanding member of the TAS Super Disc List, finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
- Both sides here are wonderful — clean, clear and present with tons of energy and lots of space around all of the players
- “For what it is, it doesn’t get any better than this. What it is, of course, is a collection of Russian folk music played with astonishing artistry by the Ossipov State Russian Folk Orchestra…”
The Classic Records Reissue Was a Real Bust
It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as unpleasantly hard and sour. Many of the later Mercury reissues pressed by Columbia had some of that sound, so I was already familiar with it when their pressing came out in 1998 as part of the just-plain-awful Mercury series they released.
I suspect I would hear it that way today. Bernie Grundman could cut the bass, the dynamics, and the energy onto the record. Everything else was worse 99% of the time.
The fast transients of the plucked strings of the Balalaikas was just way beyond the ability of his colored and crude cutting system. Harmonic extension and midrange delicacy were qualities that practically no Classic Records Heavy Vinyl pressing could claim to have.
Or, to be precise, they claimed to have them, and whether they really believed they did or not, they sure fooled a lot of audiophiles and the reviewers that write for them.
The better your stereo gets the worse those records sound, and they fall further and further behind with each passing year.
This vintage Mercury 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 the Best Sides of Balalaika Favorites 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 1962
- 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 Balalaika Favorites
- 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.
Fantasy On Two Folk Songs
The Linden Tree
Fantasy On Volga Melodies
On The Moonlight
Midnight In Moscow
Under The Apple Tree
Dance Of The Comedians
The Living Room
My Dear Old Friend, Please Visit Me
Waltz Of The Faun
Flight Of The Bumble Bee
AMG Review by James Leonard
For what it is, it doesn’t get any better than this. What it is, of course, is a collection of Russian folk music played with astonishing artistry by the Ossipov State Russian Folk Orchestra, an ensemble made up of dormas, gooslis, Vladimir Shepherd’s Horns, and, naturally, balalaikas, balalaikas, balalaikas. The sound of such an orchestra is far different from any other Western ensemble — imagine an orchestra of guitars, mandolins, pan pipes, and harps — but still deep, colorful, and subtle. The sound of the music is likewise far different from any other Western music — imagine folks songs long on melody and rhythm and short on harmony and form — but still charming, delightful, and, in its own way, unutterably appealing.
Certainly, this disc charmed audiences when it was first released in the early ’60s on Mercury Living Presence: the LP was a classical best seller. Part of the appeal might have been its incredibly realistic sound: recorded on 35 mm film on three channels, the LP quickly became a favorite of stereophiles everywhere. Restored in super-audio, three-channel digital, the disc sounds more realistic than ever, with the lead balalaika sitting in a chair to the listener’s right and the lead goosli sitting in a chair on his/her left. While not for everyone, anyone who loves the exotic, the unusual, and the extraordinarily well-recorded will appreciate this disc.