- This superb Chabrier album contains our favorite Espana Rhapsody, and this copy lets you hear it with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER and exceptionally quiet vinyl on both sides
- The “Espana” rhapsody for orchestra in Nearly White Hot stamper sound here is guaranteed to blow your mind
- This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the sound we love
- All the energy and power of Chabrier’s remarkable orchestration, thanks to the brilliant engineering of Roy Wallace
- Ansermet’s Chabrier disc has long been a favorite of ours here at Better Records – this copy will show you why
If you want a classical record to TEST your system, if you want a classical record to DEMO your system, you will have a hard time finding a better pressing than this very copy.
Who can resist these sublime orchestral works? To quote an infamous (around here) label, they are an audiophile’s dream come true. The Tracklist tab has extensive background information on most of these works.
So clear and clean, and spread out on such a huge stage, either one or both of these sides will serve you well as your go-to reference disc for Orchestral Reproduction.
Listen for the waves of sound in Espana — only the best copies bring out the energy and power of Chabrier’s remarkable orchestration.
What The Best Sides Of This Classical Masterpiece 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 1965
- 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.
A Longtime Favorite
This has been a favorite recording of ours here at Better Records for a very long time, since at least the mid-’90s or thereabouts. We’ve mentioned how much we like the sound of Londons with catalog numbers ranging from about 6400 to 6500 or so (which are simply Decca recordings from the mid-’60s), and this one (CS 6438) is one of the best reasons we hold that view.
You get some of the Tubey Magic and golden age sound from Decca’s earlier days, coupled with the clarity and freedom from compression and tube smear of their later period. In other words, this record strikes the perfect sonic balance, retaining qualities from different periods that are normally at odds with each other. Here they work together wonderfully.
The Average Pressing
Most pressings of this fairly common London have real issues, the most common ones being a lack of top end and a lack of midrange presence, making the sound darker and more distant than it should be. On the other extreme, many copies lack weight down low, thinning out the sound and washing out the lower strings. We’ve been saving up copies of this title for a while now, and dropping the needle on some of them made us wonder what the hell we saw in the title in the first place.
On many copies the strings are dry, lacking Tubey Magic. This is decidedly not our sound, although it can easily be heard on many London pressings, the kind we’ve played by the hundreds 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. It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.
What We’re Listening For On Chabrier’s Orchestral Music
- 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 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.
Production and Engineering
James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from 1958 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. Released in 1960, it’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.
The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, perhaps of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound that goes beyond all the other recordings we have played, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.
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 weight and power of the brass, combined with timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.
Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.
Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
The Best Performance with the Best Sound
I much prefer Ansermet’s and Argenta’s performances to those of Paray on Mercury. I know of none better. It should also be noted that the famous Classic pressing of the Mercury (SR 90212) is a grainy, gritty, shrill piece of crap. I don’t know how dull and smeary a stereo would have to be in order to play a record that phony and modern sounding and make it listenable, but I know that it would have to be very dull and very smeary, with the kind of vintage sound that might work for Classic’s Heavy Vinyl pressings but not much else.
The Speakers Corner reissue of the Decca pressing is one that we used to like; we graded it a “B” years ago. We would probably like it a lot less now, but without one around to play we can’t really know what it sounds like. It could have been remastered again and ruined for all we know. And are we really going to crack open and clean and critically listen to ten copies of a Heavy Vinyl pressing that has very little chance of competing with our Hot Stampers? The question answers itself.
TAS List, Really?
The fact that the Mercury is on the TAS List of Super Discs is disgraceful. Of course this lovely London is nowhere to be found on Harry’s List, which should not be too surprising. Most of the best recordings we have ever played are exactly that — not to be found on his list.
Inclusion on The TAS List doesn’t guarantee great sound, but Better Records does. If you don’t think a Hot Stamper pressing sounds as good as we’ve described, we’re always happy to take it back and refund your money. We want you to be satisfied with every record you buy from us. Good luck getting ol’ Harry to send you a check when the TAS-approved pressings you pick up don’t sound right. In our experience, most of them don’t.
A Must Own Classical Record
This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.
España, rhapsody for orchestra (España, rapsodie pour orchestre) is a piece of music for orchestra by French composer Emmanuel Chabrier (1841–1894), being one of his most well-known works.
After a short guitar-like introduction, the first theme appears low on muted trumpets, and recurs four times during the piece. This is followed by a flowing second theme (bassoons, horns, cellos). Bassoons introduce another idea ben giocoso, sempre con impeto after which instrumental sections take up a dialogue with another highly rhythmic theme. After a return to the first theme, another flowing melody dolce espressivo on upper strings leads to a climax only broken by a marcato theme on trombones. Instrumental and thematic variants lead the piece to its ecstatic and joyous conclusion.
Chabrier’s España inaugurated the vogue for hispanically-flavoured music which found further expression in Debussy’s Ibéria and Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole.
From July to December 1882 Chabrier and his wife toured Spain, taking in San Sebastian, Burgos, Toledo, Seville, Granada, Málaga, Cádiz, Cordoba, Valencia, Saragossa and Barcelona. His letters written during his travels are full of good humour, keen observation and his reactions to the music and dance he came across – and demonstrate his genuine literary gift. In a letter to Edouard Moullé (1845–1923); a long-time musician friend of Chabrier, himself interested in folk music of Normandy and Spain, the composer details his researches into regional dance forms, giving notated musical examples. A later letter to Lamoureux, from Cadiz, dated 25 October (in Spanish) has Chabrier writing that on his return to Paris he would compose an ‘extraordinary fantasia’ which would incite the audience to a pitch of excitement, and that even Lamoureux would be obliged to hug the orchestral leader in his arms, so voluptuous would be his melodies.
Although at first Chabrier worked on the piece for piano duet, this evolved into a work for full orchestra. Composed between January and August 1883, it was originally called Jota but this became España in October 1883. Encored at its first performance, and received well by the critics, it sealed Chabrier’s fame overnight. The work was praised by Lecocq, Duparc, Hahn, de Falla (who did not think any Spanish composer had succeeded in achieving so genuine a version of the jota) and even Mahler (who declared it to be “the start of modern music” to musicians of the New York Philharmonic).
“Without hesitation,” Poulenc wrote, “I declare that the Pièces pittoresques are as important for French music as Debussy’s Préludes.” Only seven of the ten were given by Marie Poitevin at their Société Nationale premiere, August 9, 1881 — according to Cortot — though among them were the four numbers Chabrier would later orchestrate as his Suite pastorale, and for which he seems to have had an especial fondness.
But to speak of them merely as piano music, or of the Suite pastorale as a pianist’s music orchestrated, as is sometimes done, is to miss Chabrier’s distinctive compact richness and his exquisite awareness of style.
Ostensibly polite drawing room fare evoking pleasant country scenes, the first number of the Suite pastorale, “Idylle,” on the keyboard, demands, sans pedal, a Lisztian legato for its fetching melody, simultaneously accompanied by two motoric parts in Alkanesque staccato.
Though the pianistic allusions are lost, the superb and constantly varied resourcefulness with which their effects are transferred to the orchestra demonstrates the implicitness of Chabrier’s orchestral imagination in one of his most pianistic pieces. After the quietly percolating animation of the Idylle, the “Danse villageoise” has all the rumbustious vigor of a rustic clog dance. Turning raucous in its orchestral guise, it is set off by a fleet trio whose additions of instrumental color shade its spirited frolic with winsome grace. As in the first two pieces, the undulating charm of the gently ecstatic “Sous-bois” provides a foil for high-kicking gaiety in the concluding scherzo-valse. In their alternations of boisterousness and tendresse, we have the essential Chabrier.
Too often, such distinguished composers as Berlioz, Fauré, and Chabrier — quintessential Parisians all — were forced to seek recognition in the provinces or abroad. Chabrier orchestrated the Suite pastorale for a Chabrier festival offered by the Association Artistique of Angers, which he conducted November 4, 1888, with his Habañera, the Joyeuse marche, Prélude pastoral, and España.
During rehearsals under his direction, the orchestra caught on immediately to his rollicking style and were convulsed with laughter, while the critics, though generally approving, felt obliged to comment on Chabrier’s “Wagnerism” — an astounding charge as nothing could be further from the heavy metal solemnities of Wagner’s scores than these scintillant, often coruscating, dialogues between subtlety and éclat.
The short Joyeuse marche of nineteenth century French composer Emmanuel Chabrier is his second most popular orchestral work, with his España taking the lead. Both of these works were written in 1888, along with his Prélude pastorale. Chabrier also drew that year upon his previously published piano pieces as a source for new orchestrations. Four 1881 vintage pieces from the Dix Pièces pittoresques were refashioned into the Suite pastorale, and Chabrier also pressed into orchestral service a Habañera written in 1885. All of these works were first presented at a concert conducted by Chabrier in Angers, France, on November 4, 1888. This group of pieces forms the core of Chabrier’s stand-alone orchestral music.
As for the Joyeuse marche, it is indeed joyous, even comical. In this work, Chabrier interrupts a high-stepping march with little tongue-in-cheek quotations and technical surprises that were designed to amuse the audiences of his day and to furrow the brows of his colleagues. Modern audiences generally do not “get” the jokes, but the spirited good fun of the Joyeuse marche is enough to put the work over in any situation, and that is what has kept it vital as a concert favorite.
There are a couple of unusual facts relating to the Joyeuse marche. First of all, the work did originate as a piano solo, despite that most sources cite Chabrier’s piano version as an “arrangement.” Secondly, there is a considerable amount of confusion regarding the correct title of the work. At its 1888 premiere, the Joyeuse marche was entitled “Marche française.” By the time of its Paris premiere the following year, the title had been changed to “Marche Joyeuse,” and in 1890 it first appeared on a Concerts Lamoureux program as Joyeuse marche. The last-named title is used as the standard in France, probably as it represents Chabrier’s own final thoughts on the matter. However, outside of France the title “Marche Joyeuse” appears interchangeably with Joyeuse marche, and in English-speaking nations this alternate title tends to be favored.