Classical – “Sleeper” Top Quality Recordings

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol / Black / London Fest. – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

AN AMAZING A++++ SIDE TWO, presenting the complete work by Rimsky-Korsakov. The Capriccio Espagnol here is one of THE BEST on record. Not only does it have incredibly powerful DEMO DISC sound, but the performance is superb on every level as well. The energy and excitement of the piece are brought to life by Stanley Black and the London Festival Orchestra like no other you have ever heard. 

This beyond White Hot Stamper may make you reevaluate virtually every classical recording in your collection. The energy, size, scope and immediacy found on this Four Plus copy is easily superior to that of any other recording of the work we have ever heard!

What this album has going for it over the London/Decca with Argenta is an even more exciting Capriccio Espagnol, with orchestral power and vibrant color that rival the composer’s Scheherazade and arguably exceed it, compressing as it does its bright orchestration into fewer than 15 minutes of unalloyed brilliance. I would argue that the sound here easily beats nine out of ten copies of LSC 2446, quite a feat when you consider what that record is selling for these days.

Who can resist these sublime orchestral works? To quote an infamous label, they are an audiophile’s dream come true. Scroll down to read more about them.

Capriccio Espagnol

The Most Exciting, Colorful Performance of all time — Black gets everything out of this famous work on this London recording.

Huge Wall to Wall Demo Disc sound, with the kind of IMMEDIACY that would make the folks at Mercury jealous. We grade this side A++++. You will find very few Living Stereos and Mercuries with this kind of sound, that I can assure you. (more…)

JS Bach / Two and Three Part Inventions / Glenn Gould

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  • Bach’s Inventions returns to the site with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side two and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Amazingly natural “you are there” sound – the room and the piano sound exactly the way I’ve heard them in real life, so what more can you ask for?
  • “The little 2 and 3 part creations last just a couple minutes each and present a wealth of creativity from the mind of Johann Sebastian, expertly enunciated by the most technically complete Bach pianist of the century.” Larry VanDeSande
  • 4 1/2 stars: “For many, the albums Glenn Gould recorded for Columbia between 1955 and 1981 are documents of unalloyed genius, particularly in his imaginative and masterful performances of Bach’s keyboard works.”

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Mussorgsky et al. – Danse Infernale – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky

Danse Infernale

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

It took two copies — one for side one, one for side two — to find two sides this good. We love this album but most copies are unbelievably dreadful. (Actually, if you’ve played a fair number of DG recordings over the years you might not have any trouble believing how bad the average one is, so I take that back.) 

This German Import has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND — of a kind. Being a DG recording, one of the things you won’t be demonstrating with this record is natural string tone — it’s just not part of the DG sound. But, this record is ALIVE.

Some of the most powerful deep bass I have ever heard on LP. Dynamics that are rarely heard outside of the concert hall. Wonderful spaciousness, openness and depth. String basses and cellos that growl like the real thing.

But you don’t really want to buy this record for the sound, as good as it is in its own way. What you want to buy this record for is the best performance of Night On Bald Mountain ever recorded. Fiedler plays it with a kind of abandonment that no other conductor has to my knowledge. It’s supposed to be a wild witches’ frenzy, and this is the only performance I know of that allows you to picture such diabolic revelry in your mind’s eye. (more…)

Borodin / Sym. No. 2 / Tchaikovsky / Francesca Da Rimini / Varviso – Reviewed in 2012

More Borodin 

More Sym. No. 2 / Tchaikovsky / Francesca Da Rimini / Varviso 

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

This London Whiteback pressing (CS 6578) has SHOCKINGLY GOOD sound; in many ways it deserves to be called a Demo Disc. It has at least one quality that one virtually never hears on an audiophile reissue: a smooth, natural top end. This record only sounds correct and “real” at louder volumes, in the same way that a live orchestra often sounds a bit lifeless in the quiet passages, only to get exciting, big and powerful when the score calls for it. For this to happen on record you need real dynamics and tonal neutrality. (more…)

Mendelssohn / Violin Concerto in E Minor / Rybar – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Violin Concerto in E Minor / Rybar

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

This Whitehall budget reissue stereo pressing has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides and a performance by Peter Rybar that can hold its own against any you may have heard.   

This recording easily beats most vintage Shaded Dogs, Mercurys and London records we’ve ever played here at Better Records, and it was released on vinyl by a relatively obscure budget label that most audiophiles have never even heard of and would probably not want to be caught dead with.

Which is a good reason to judge records by playing them, not reading about them, on the net or in magazines. The sound of this record is so wonderful that, had it been a rare Shaded Dog, Merc or London it would have sold for something approaching twice the money we are asking here. In my experience relatively few of those recordings are as good as this one. (more…)

Offenbach & Chopin / Gaite Parisienne & Les Sylphides – Reverse Your Polarity

More Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

Reverse Your Polarity

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This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

Amazing in every way! The top end of this record is clear, clean and correct. No other copy sounded like this one on the first side. When you hear all the percussion instruments — the tambourines, triangles, wood blocks and what-have-you — you know instantly that they sound RIGHT.

The overall sound is very different from many of the other recordings of the work that we have offered in the past. Rather than smooth, rich and sweet, the sound here is big and bold and clear like nothing we have ever played.

This is Front Row Center sound for those whose systems can reproduce it!

And this is truly a top performance by Fistoulari and the Royal Philharmonic. I know of none better. For music and sound this is the one!

Side One

The Triple Plus sound makes this THE Gaite Parisienne to Own.

If you have a hot copy of LSC 1817 consider yourself very fortunate. If your copy of LSC 1817 has never thrilled you, then this pressing will beat the pants off it, as it is pretty darn THRILLING. Even if you do have a great 1817 I would still put this up against it and expect it to win the shootout.

It’s clear, clean and above all, TRANSPARENT. This is a claim no modern remastered record, in our opinion, can make. The energy is spectacular on this side. Not only that, but listen to the bite of the brass — that’s some high-rez sound! (more…)

Saint-Saens / Violin Con #3 & Chausson / Poeme – Milstein – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens

Saint-Saens / Violin Con #3 & Chausson / Poeme – Milstein

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

This White Hot Stamper original Blue Angel pressing has some of the most exquisite sound for a violin/orchestral recording we have ever heard here at Better Records. I do not think there is any Heifetz album on RCA Shaded Dog (or otherwise) to compete with it. We would rank this Angel recording/pressing with the best of Rabin and Milstein on Capitol, as well as the wonderful Ricci and Campoli discs on London/Decca. In other words, this is one of the best sounding violin-led orchestral recordings we have yet to play, and we’ve played them by the hundreds and hundreds. (Practice makes perfect they say.)

So clear, so three-dimensional, so relaxed, rich and sweet — can it get any better? I’d have to say not much!

It’s the Chausson piece that earned our highest grade of Three Pluses, a work that is certainly less well-known than the legendary Saint-Saens Third. Both are superb examples of the kind of sophisticated, melody-driven music the French Romantic school was producing in the latter part of the 19th century. You may become as big a fan of the Chausson as we happily admit to being now, having heard this wonderful pressing. (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…)

Sibelius / Symphony #2 / Barbarolli

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Symphony #2 / Barbarolli

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

A truly extraordinary recording mastered beautifully but pressed on vinyl that has never been known for its quiesecece (if I can get by with that ten cent word).

The strings are clear and textured, yet rich and full-bodied. The bottom is big and weighty. The horns are tubey and full-bodied and never screech through even the most difficult passages.

My notes mention that it’s rich and tubey but clear and lively; big, with great energy, and lastly, superbly spacious and never harsh or shrill. (It can be a bit dark in places; as you know this is much preferable to the alternative.)

About as close to live music as I think this piece can sound in my listening room. (more…)

Dvorak / Symphony No. 9 / Kertesz / Vienna Phil. – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

More Antonin Dvorak

More Symphony No. 9 / Kertesz / Vienna Phil.

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

Presenting yet another remarkable Demo Disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, in this case 1961, with the added benefit of mastering courtesy of the more modern equipment of the ’70s, in this case 1970. (We are of course here referring to the good modern equipment of 40 years ago, not the bad modern mastering equipment of today.) 

Dvorák draws the musical threads together in the last movement, weaving new material with moods and themes from previous movements into a grand finale that resulted in extended cheering from the New York audience at its December 1893 premiere.

The New York critic W. J. Henderson raved: “It is a great symphony and must take its place among the finest works in the form produced since the death of Beethoven.”

This combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on either of these Super Hot sides. And the 1970 British vinyl plays mostly Mint Minus!

Side One

A++ to A+++, just shy of the sound of White Hot shootout winning side. The hall is huge, so wide and deep, spacious and open. The perspective is above all natural. A little more extension up top and this side would have been impossible to beat.

Solid, powerful tympani whacks — listen for them. Sweet woodwinds too. (more…)