Sonic Grade: F
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.
Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad.