Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake Highlights / Fistoulari

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London


  • An outstanding copy of Fistoulari’s powerful and exciting recording with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • So transparent, dynamic and REAL, this copy raises the bar for the sound of ballet music on vinyl
  • The most popular ballet in the world with out-of-this-world Decca engineered All Tube sound – it’s a match!
  • It took us years to find enough copies to do this shootout – not many copies will play as quietly as this one
  • “It is a superb account of Swan Lake, perhaps better than most recordings out there. Maestro Fistoulari and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam are in top form.”

This London UK import is one of the best single-disc versions of the ballet we have ever played. This is the one folks, assuming you do not want a (nearly) complete performance of the work. (For that we recommend the 2 LP box set with Ansermet.)

Note that the big finale at the end of side two is loud and HUGE on this album. There is a touch of compressor overload, but no actual inner groove distortion. At first we thought the former may have indeed been the latter because we had a copy or two with chewed-up inner grooves.

This one plays clean to the end, and boy does it get loud and powerful at the climax of the work.

This vintage 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 Swan Lake Highlights 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.

The Sound We Love

All the qualities we look for in a classical recording are found here: lovely string tone and texture, rich bass, a big hall, no smear, lovely transparency — the sound is simply hard to fault. Highlights of the recording include huge bass, a clear snare at the back of the hall, a good test of transparency (of the record and of your system and room), full horns and strings, never becoming blary or shrill, and huge space.

How many records have all these qualities? One out of a hundred?

In my notes I remarked that when the music is quiet the sound is so spacious, clear, and sweet it will have you thinking you are sitting in the concert hall. One thing live classical music does much better than any recording in my experience is that it gets very, very quiet, yet stays clear and spacious. No records I have heard reproduce that quality completely, but this one gets awfully darn close.

What We’re Listening For on Swan Lake

  • 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.
  • 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.


Kenneth Wilkinson engineered this album for Decca in 1961.

It’s as wide, deep, and three-dimensional as any, which is, of course, all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. They cannot begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in your decision to rid yourself of their mediocrity.)

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.


Side One

Act One

Scene (No. 1)
Valse (No. 2)
Danse Des Coupes (No. 8)
Act 2

Scene (No. 10)
Scene (No. 11)
Danses Des Petits Cygnes (Allegro Moderato) (No. 13d)

Side Two

Act 2 (continued)

Danses Des Cygnes (Andante) (No. 13)
Act 3

Danse Honroise – Czardas (No. 20)
Pas De Neux (No. 5b)
Scene (No. 24)
Act 4

Danses Des Petits Cygnes (Moderato) (No.27)
Scene Finale (No. 29)

Rave Reviews

It is a superb account of Swan Lake, perhaps better than most recordings out there. Maestro Fistoulari and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam are in top form. The Act IV finale (abridged)will knock your socks off. The best finale recorded to date. Next to the old Ormandy mono LP of the 50’s, Maestro Fistoulari also pounds out on the tippani and bass drum to the work’s climax. The finale alone makes this a treasure to own. – by mangiafrani on May 19, 2008

This fully deserves the Penguin Rosette it achieved, and is my personal favorite Swan Lake. I own Monteux, Ansermat, Dorati, Rostropovich, Pletnev, and undoubtedly a few others I have forgotten. Great as the others are, this is the most alive, inspired and magical — for me. Is it the best? Who can answer that. My point is that if you love this ballet, this is a recording that you simply must have. Though brief at 46 minutes, every moment is magical. – By Great Faulkner’s Ghost on July 31, 2012

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