Saint-Saens / Symphony No. 3 – Probably Would Not Make the Grade Today

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Saint-Saens

Our favorite performance of this magnificent work is the Fremaux on EMI from 1973

This is an old review from 2011. I doubt we would have anything nice to say about this recording these days. Our system has come a long way since then, and these Mehta Londons have revealed themselves to be much more artificial sounding than we thought they were, or, more accurately, could tell they were back in 2011.

Unlike many audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them, we have never been enamored with the recordings Zubin Mehta made with the LA Philharmonic.

They almost always suffer from exactly the same problems that we heard on this album.

We had about five copies on hand in preparation for a shootout, some of which I had noted seemed to sound fine, but once we started listening more critically we heard the problems that eventually caused us to abandon the shootout and give away the stock to our good customers for free.

Lots of microphones were used, which cause instruments and sometimes whole sections of the orchestra to appear in spaces disconnected from the place in the hall they would normally occupy, a disconcerting effect on system that reproduce three-dimensionality well.

Seemless soundstaging is what so many of the vintage orchestral recordings of the ’50s and 60s did well, often uncannily well. The recordings that came after them had much more trouble achieving this quality, if they were interested in it at all.

The multi-miking that is at the heart of Phase 4 works fine for some music, but rarely for symphonic pieces such as this.

The exceptionally rare copy of Mehta’s Planets can sound good, but 90% of them do not — just don’t make the mistake of telling that to the average audiophile who owns one. Harry and his acolytes (if there are still any around) said it was the best, he paid good money for it, and until someone tells him different it had better be “the one Planets to own.” (In Harry’s defense, Previn’s recording of the work for EMI is also on the TAS list, just not at the top with the Best of the Bunch.)

We see one of our roles here at Better Records as being the guys who actually will “tell you different,” and, more importantly, can back up our opinions with the records that make our case for us.

Our review from 2011:

This British London pressing is the winner of our shootout for this performance. We had three London pressings, all the same stamper numbers if I recall correctly, and this is the only copy to have Super Hot Stamper sound on either side. Side one is actually quite nice, with lovely texture to the strings.

The sound is transparent and natural, two qualities that are in short supply on most of the recordings Mehta did with the L.A. Phil. in our experience.

We pulled out all the copies of this famous work we could find in the backroom and most of them were just awful. This is not an easy work to record, incorporating as it does an organ with a large orchestra. (I saw the work performed back in 2009 and it was magical. There is nothing like the sound of violins playing high over organ notes below.)

Side One

Lovely A++ sound! 

Side Two

Not as good, more smeary and somewhat dark. Better than most but no Demo Disc by any means.