- This vintage Columbia stereo pressing boasts outstanding sound from first note to last
- The best copies are out of this world, reproducing some of the most dynamic, exciting, richest, and most spacious sound we have ever heard from Columbia records, especially those conducted by Leonard Bernstein
- The music is wonderful of course, with the Suites giving you all the best parts of his marvelous compositions with none of the filler
- These vibrant orchestrations are played with tremendous energy, and that, coupled with rich and tubey analog sound, combine for an especially immersive and engrossing listening experience, particularly on side one here
- For those of you playing along at home, it should be obvious why side one earned the higher grade – some of the qualities important to the sound are in greater abundance on side one, and this is not in any way difficult to hear
This is one of the great Columbia recordings. I suspected it might have been done at their legendary Columbia studios in New York but I was wrong, Manhattan Center’s huge stage served as the venue. Either way the sound is no less glorious.
One of the biggest advantages this copy had over most of what we played is fuller brass. The shrill sounding horns on most Columbia albums is what gets them tossed into the trade pile. Fortunately for us audiophiles who care about these sorts of things, the sound here is rich and clean, with solid, deep bass. The stage is huge, with the multi-miking kept to a minimum so that you can really hear the space this big group of musicians occupies.
There is a HUGE amount of top end on this recording. Wildly splashing cymbals and other percussion instruments are everywhere, and they are a joy to hear. No original was as clean up top as this reissue, and without a clear, (mostly) distortion-free top end, the work will simply not sound the way Bernstein wanted it to.
All that percussion is in the score. The high-frequency energy – perhaps the most I have ever heard from any recording of his music — is there for a reason. He conducted his own score, and one can only assume he liked the way it came out. We sure did.
This vintage Columbia pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even 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 same room, this is the record for you. It’s what Vintage Records 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 Leonard Bernstein Conducts Symphonic Dances 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.
A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.
What We’re Listening For on Leonard Bernstein Conducts Symphonic Dances…
- 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 common to most LPs.
- Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as 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 players.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
What do we love about these vintage pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The unique sound of every instrument is reproduced with remarkable fidelity. That’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange.
This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this record up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it.
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 later 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.
A Must Own Orchestral Record
This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Orchestral Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.
Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”
Symphonic Suite from the Film “On The Waterfront”
Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim. According to The New York Times, he was “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history.”
His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world’s leading orchestras, and from his music for West Side Story, as well as Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town and his own Mass.
Bernstein was also the first conductor to give numerous television lectures on classical music, starting in 1954 and continuing until his death. In addition, he was a skilled pianist, often conducting piano concertos from the keyboard.
As a composer he wrote in many styles encompassing symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and pieces for the piano. Many of his works are regularly performed around the world, although none has matched the tremendous popular and commercial success of West Side Story.
On the Waterfront
When he was asked to compose the score for On the Waterfront in 1954, Leonard Bernstein was 35 and already a major celebrity, but otherwise an unlikely candidate for the job. He had never written a movie score, and was not enthusiastic about doing it. In his 1959 book The Joy of Music [highly recommended by the way] (in a chapter whimsically titled “Interlude: Upper Dubbing, California”) Bernstein wrote:
When I was first shown a rough cut of the picture I thought it a masterpiece of direction; and Marlon Brando seemed to me to be giving the greatest performance I had ever seen him give, which is saying a good deal. I was swept by my enthusiasm into accepting the commission to write the score, although I had [until then] resisted all such offers on the grounds that it is a musically unsatisfactory experience for a composer to write a score whose chief merit ought to be its unobtrusiveness.”
Bernstein contributed compelling, distinctive music that gave the film much of its intensity, and received one of On the Waterfront’s12 Academy Award nominations (he didn’t win). Still, being a novice, he was shocked at the way his music was chopped up to serve the film: entire scenes were cut, music was turned abruptly on and off, and a piece “planned as a composition, with a beginning, middle and end, would be silenced seven bars before the end.” Kazan used music sparingly (typically when there wasn’t much dialogue), and only 35 minutes of Bernstein’s music made it into the 107-minute film. Wrote Bernstein:
And so the composer sits by, protesting as he can, but ultimately accepting, be it with heavy heart, the inevitable loss of a good part of his score. Everyone tries to comfort him. ‘You can always use it in a suite.’ Cold comfort. It is for the good of the picture, he repeats numbly to himself.
The Symphonic Suite in which he used it is in five connected sections. The slow first section is the prelude to the movie, accompanying the very stark-looking credits that begin the film. The succeeding Presto barbaro, ushered in by percussion (as it is at the start of the film’s action) contains music that accompanies the frequent violence in the film. A central Andante largamente is based on the love-interest music. The fourth and fifth sections are from the final scenes, in which the hero fights with the mobsters and then staggers, bloody and bruised, to lead the dock workers (physically) into the warehouse and (symbolically) out of the domination of the gangsters.