Liszt / Smetana / Mussorgsky – Les Préludes / The Moldau / Night On Bald Mountain / Dorati

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

More Recordings on Mercury

  • With seriously good sound on both sides, this copy will show you just how good the Mercury engineers were back in those days
  • Liszt’s Les Preludes on side two has the better sound here, and it is one of the best on record
  • Dorati breathes life into these concert hall favorites as only he can, and the Mercury engineers (Fine and Eberenz) capture the excitement on tape as only they can
  • We have a preference for Dorati’s recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra, and a record like this will show you exactly why we do
  • The exciting sound of Mercury lives on through the vintage disc they made all those years ago
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this LP from 1960 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This vintage Mercury Living Presence 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 the Best Sides of SR 90214 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 1960
  • 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 SR 90214

  • 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

The Moldau
A Night On Bald Mountain

Side Two

Les Préludes
Valse Triste

Commentary on Les Préludes

by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Les Préludes, the most popular of Liszt’s thirteen symphonic poems, had its beginning in 1844, when the composer met the French poet Joseph Autran in Marseilles at a banquet in Liszt’s honor. Within days, Liszt set one of Autran’s poems, Les Aquilons (“The Winds”), for mixed chorus and piano; this work was performed by a local chorus almost before the ink had dried. Liszt set three further of Autran’s poems – Les Flots (“The Oceans”), Les Astres (“The Stars”) and La Terre (“The Earth”) while on tour in Spain the following year. In 1848, Liszt, having made a study of orchestration during the intervening years, tried his new-found skill in an overture called The Four Elements to preface the quartet of vocal compositions set to Autran’s verses. Three years later (by which time the overture had been rechristened Symphonic Meditations), Autran sent Liszt his Poèmes de la Mer. Reading these verses recalled to Liszt his earlier pieces inspired by the poet and, referring to the overture and four choruses, he replied, “We will do something with it one fine day.” Between 1852 and 1854, Liszt, indeed, did something with it — he completely recomposed the overture as a symphonic poem, and presented it in 1854 under the title Les Préludes.

During the revision process, Liszt discovered that a long, meditative poem by the French writer and statesman Alphonse de Lamartine evoked emotions similar to those he envisioned in his music. It was from the title of Lamartine’s poem – Les Préludes from the collection entitled Nouvelles méditations poétiques – that Liszt derived the name for his new work. Though the words have little more in common with the music than a general sharing of contrasting sentiments (love–war), Liszt chose to preface the published score with his prose interpretation of the original poem:

What else is life but a series of preludes to that unknown hymn, the first and solemn note of which is intoned by Death? Love is the enchanted dawn of all existence; but what fate is there whose first delights of happiness are not interrupted by some storm, whose fine illusions are not dissipated by some mortal blast, consuming its altar as though by a stroke of lightning? And what cruelly wounded soul, issuing from one of these tempests, does not endeavor to solace its memories in the calm serenity of rural life? Nevertheless, man does not resign himself for long to the enjoyment of that beneficent warmth which he first enjoyed in Nature’s bosom, and when the ‘trumpet sounds the alarm’ he takes up his perilous post, no matter what struggle calls him to its ranks, that he may recover in combat the full consciousness of himself and the entire possession of his powers.

Liszt was the originator of the “symphonic poem,” a one-movement orchestral composition whose music bears a relationship to a literary work, painting, historical event, legend, topographical feature or some other extra-musical stimulation. The symphonic poem, a genre later enthusiastically adopted by many other composers, is sectional in design, with frequent borrowing from such traditional forms as the sonata and rondo. Les Préludes loosely resembles a sonata form. It opens with a slow introduction which presents the work’s principal theme. Much of the music that follows grows from transformations of this germinal melody. The theme is presented in a bold, vigorous version by trombones to begin the sonata form proper, and is soon joined by a swaying, complementary melody sung by the horns. The “development” section contains sentiments first martial, then loving, and finally pastoral. The “recapitulation” is devoted mostly to the lyrical complementary theme. The brilliant coda, a grand, heroic transformation of the main theme again led by the trombones and tuba, brings Les Préludes to a stirring close.

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