_Composers – Debussy

Britten / Debussy / Schumann / Cello Sonatas / Rostropovich – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

Both sides of this promo London Blueback pressing of piano and cello music have SUPERB sound. If you’re a fan of the cello, the piano, or chamber works in general, you will have a hard time finding a better sounding recording than this.

Notice especially that there is practically no smear on the piano — the notes are clear, with their transients fully intact, something one rarely hears anywhere but in the live setting. The tonality of the piano is also correct from top to bottom.

But the real surprise here is how unusually natural the cello sounds — more like the real instrument and less like the typical recording of it.

Normally when recording the cello the microphones are placed fairly close to the instrument. This often results in what’s known as the “proximity effect”, which simply describes a boost in the lower frequencies relative to the more linear response of the microphone when placed at a distance.

The famous Starker cello recordings on Mercury — you know the ones, the orginals and even the reissues sell for hundreds and hundreds of dollars — suffer from this effect, which audiophiles seem to prefer. (The Mercury heavy vinyl reissues, at least the ones I played, were ridiculously fat and bloated in the bottom. Audiophiles did not seem to mind much, judging by the apparently strong sales and the rave reviews I read. Bass shy systems, and that means most of the systems owned by audiophiles, probably benefited from the bass boost. Systems with lots of large woofers — at least in our case — would of course make the sound of these pressings positively unbearable. That indeed was our experience.) (more…)

Debussy / La Mer / Reiner – Reviewed in 2005

More of the music of Claude Debussy 

More La Mer / Reiner 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame  from 1961.

1S RCA Shaded Dog. This is an exceptionally good sounding copy, full of that RCA Living Stereo magic. Excellent performance from Reiner as well. On a work like La Mer the timbre of the instruments is critical to the enjoyment of the piece, as they often play solo and in small groupings. This record captures those qualities perfectly.

This record also includes Strauss’ Don Juan, which never sounds good on this title and is best left unplayed. 

 

Debussy – La Mer – Munch – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Claude Debussy

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

This late label Victrola pressing (VICS 1041) has EXCEPTIONALLY rich and sweet sound and a superb performance from Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony. 

The richness of the strings, a signature sound for RCA in the Living Stereo era, is displayed here beautifully for fans of the classical Golden Age. It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years. It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful pressings and the turntables to play them it is an art that will never be lost to us.

Side One

La Mer is on side one and it is lovely. It’s tonally correct and extended on the top and the bottom, the kind of extension that seems to be much harder to find on the earlier Victrola pressings by the way. As we said above, the sound is rich and sweet. Holding it back from our top grade is that it’s a bit recessed and veiled compared to the best classical pressings we’ve played. Whether any copy of the record could sound better is not something we can know, as we do not have any other pressings that are as good, let alone better.

Side Two

Side two earned a sonic grade of A+ to A++. It lacks the top and bottom extension heard on side one, but is every bit as spacious, sweet and natural. The performance is spirited as well. The sound is a bit recessed and there is some smear, but we still found much to like about this Rapsodie Espagnole.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Debussy – La Mer

Side Two

Ravel – Rapsodie Espagnole

La Mer

Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea; 1903-1905) is one of the most famous non-symphonic orchestral pieces ever written. During the 1890s, oceanic imagery had proven a recurrent source of inspiration for the composer. Sirènes, the third of the Nocturnes (1897-1999), and passages from the opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-1905) at once bear testament to a certain nautical bent. La Mer, however, goes a great deal farther than any previous work—by Debussy or any other composer—in capturing the raw essence of this most evocative of nature’s faces. La Mer is no mere exercise in musical scene-painting, but rather a sonic representation of the myriad thoughts, moods, and basic instinctual reactions the sea draws from an individual human soul.

La Mer comprises three distinct movements: “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” (From Dawn to Noon on the Sea), “Jeux de vagues” (The Play of the Waves), and “Dialogue du vent et de la mer” (Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea). “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” unfolds in 6/8 following a Trés lent (very slow) introduction. As in so much of the composer’s mature music, it is not always possible to draw a clear distinction between thematic material and accompaniment and texture. Indeed, texture itself is often paramount in Debussy’s music; what few glimpses of discreet melodies the movement affords (such as the glassy violin solo that arrives some sixty bars into the piece, or the brief horn gesture soon after the metric change to 6/8) are soon subsumed into the complex orchestral fabric. There are passages during which the rhythmic and metric scheme is obscured, perhaps intentionally so, by as many as six or seven different layers of simultaneous activity. The movement ends with one of the most striking of the composer’s musical affirmations: In an enigmatic gesture, the final forte-fortissimo brass attack dies away to piano as the movement draws to a close.

The scoring of “Jeux de vagues” is, on the whole, more austere than that of the first movement. Frequent trills and bursts of rhythmic vitality vividly bring to life the movement’s frolicsome, unpredictable subject matter, while the extremely quiet ending purposely fails to resolve any of the musical expectations set out in the preceding, more active sections. The scoring of this passage (solo flute and harp harmonics) recalls the identical orchestration as used by the composer at the end of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; 1894), Indeed, these parallel passages are quite similiar in dramatic purpose.

The final “Dialogue” is a tumultuous juxtaposition of an urgent, articulated rhythmic gesture—first introduced pianissimo by the cellos and basses and ingeniously manipulated throughout the movement—with a grandiose legato idea that many have likened to the melodies of César Franck (an important influence upon the young Debussy). A sustained forte-fortissimo brings this violent, elemental work to a powerful close.

All Music Guide

 

The Bloated Cello Sound Some Audiophiles Seem to Love

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate any and all cello recordings you may own.

On this pressing we were a bit surprised by how unusually natural the cello sounded — more like the real instrument and less like the typical recording of it. 

Normally when recording the cello the microphones are placed fairly close to the instrument. This often results in what’s known as the “proximity effect,” which simply describes a boost in the lower frequencies relative to the more linear response of the microphone when placed at a distance. (more…)

Saint-Saens – The Best Danse Macabre on Record

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

Danse Macabre / Ravel, Debussy, Chabrier

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.      

This White Hot EMI pressing has some of the loveliest orchestral music reproduction we’ve ever heard. Man, this copy sure has it going on: it’s super clean and clear, tonally correct from top to bottom, with all of the weight of the orchestra down low on both sides.

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.

Debussy – Prelude A L’apres-midi D’un Faune is excellent here as well – it’s a piece we rarely have recordings of on the site. (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird Suite / Freccia – Our First Reader’s Digest Offering

More Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) 

More The Firebird Suite / Freccia 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This is the first time a disc from a Reader’s Digest box set has made it to the site, and we’re starting off with a bang — The Firebird Suite and La Mer are the two pieces on record 7 of the set, and both of them are knockouts. We have a devil of a time finding good recordings of either work, and to find SUPERB better than Super Hot Stamper sound (A++ to A+++) for both back to back on one disc is a surprise indeed.

You may remember that recordings from these sets were reissued by Chesky back in the ’90s (with mediocre sound of course, as all their reissues are mediocre at best; we never carried any of them even when we were carrying reissues).

I remember the first time I heard some of the records from this Scheherazade set and was knocked out — here was Tubey Magical RCA Living Stereo sound at a fraction of the price the real RCAs were commanding, a price I could not begin to afford.

The problem — and it’s still a problem, though less so — is the vinyl. These sets were produced cheaply in order to be priced affordably (under $20 for 10 LPs in a box!), and that means the best vinyl was simply not part of the budget. To find pressings that play even Mint Minus Minus is not easy, even today. Back then, before the advent of modern enzyme-based cleaning fluids and expensive record cleaning vacuum machinery, there was no way to get most of the vinyl to play even that well. (more…)

Debussy / Images Pour Orchestre / Argenta – Reviewed in 2013

More of the music of Claude Debussy 

More Images Pour Orchestre / Argenta 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND! Side two (with Iberia) is simply amazing. It”s more natural than the famous Reiner performance. Argenta brings out the folky quality of this music.  (more…)

Debussy / La Mer / Haitnik – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Claude Debussy 

More La Mer / Haitnik 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

This early Philips pressing has very good sound and a SUPERB performance from Haitink. (Gramaphone, the “world’s authority on classical music since 1923”, raves about it.) Finding a quiet, good sounding La Mer is as difficult as finding a quiet good sounding Bolero. As popular as both of these works are, and considering how many times they have been recorded in analog, quiet vinyl and good sound are still the exception and not the rule, and that goes for Bolero especially.  (more…)

Rachmaninoff & Liszt / Favorite Classics for Piano / Pennario – Reviewed in 2014

More of Franz Liszt’s music

Favorite Classics for Piano / Pennario

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fam.

White Hot Stamper sound on side two of this solo piano recording. It’s big, rich and above all REAL sounding, with natural studio space. The legendary soloist Leonard Pennario is presented here at the height of his powers. Superb choice of material, from Clair De Lune to Liebestraum to the Hungarian Rhapsody No . 2.

On the rare Stereo pressing of course — we want to hear all that studio space reproduced, just as your two ears would have heard it (more or less). (more…)

Debussy / Clair de Lune / Agoult – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the music of Claude Debussy 

More Clair de Lune / Agoult 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

This Shaded Dog LP has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND, if what you’re demonstrating is not a Hi-Fi spectacular, but rather a sublime presentation of a truly sweet and natural string section of an orchestra, presented here on analog disc created more than fifty years ago.  

I can’t imagine a more beautiful record, both in terms of the programme and the sound. This record is a wonderful example of what the Decca recording engineers were able to capture on tape, and the RCA mastering engineers were able to master from tape. (more…)