Respighi / Pines & Fountains Of Rome / Ansermet

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This review was written at least ten years ago. Since then we have done extensive shootouts for both The Pines and The Fountains of Rome.

The London with Ernst Ansermet you see pictured, though good, did not make the cut and no Hot Stamper pressings — correction, no Hot Stamper pressings hot enough to offer our customers — were found of this recording from 1964.

Here is our old review. Needless to say, we have learned a lot since then.

EXCELLENT SOUND! Not a Demo Disc by any means, but a well-recorded, well-mastered Pines.

The problem with Pines is normally too much close miking. This London places the orchestra in a more natural perspective, which I much prefer.

Side two, the Pines, also has the best sound. 

Overview of the Works

Reviewing the Pines with Kempe on Readers Digest vinyl, we noted that our shootout from a few years back has been at least thirty years in the making — that’s how long I have been picking up the RDG sets, ever since my friend Robert Pincus turned me on to them all those years ago.

Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand, close to a dozen different performances I  think, and found them all wanting, save three: the Reiner (which is still on the TAS List), the Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite, and a fairly close second at that), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with a lack of low end whomp and weight. On The Pines both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Wilkinson working with his Decca colleagues nailed it — in 1964!

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud — and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it — the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton and Kenneth Wilkinson sure did.

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.


FURTHER READING

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

What to Listen For on Classical Records

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

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