Artist Overview – Classical

The Said and the Unsaid – Stravinsky’s Firebird on Mercury

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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Another entry in our Thinking About Hot Stampers series.

For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that just too noisy to sell.)

We had one FR pressing and two of the later pressings with the lighter label, the ones that most often come with Philips M2 stampers.

This is how we described the winner:

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.

What we didn’t say — and what we never say in the listings — is what the second tier copies didn’t do as well as the shootout winner. (more…)

Big Speakers, Loud Levels and More Power to the Orchestra

Some of our favorite Big Speaker recordings
Some records that we love to play at Loud Levels

 

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The darker brass instruments like tubas, trombones and french horns are superb here. Other Golden Age recordings of the work, as enjoyable as they may be in other respects, do not fully reproduce the weighty quality of the brass, probably because of compression, limiting, tube smear, or some combination of the three.
The brass on this record has a power like no other. It’s also tonally correct. It’s not agressive. It’s not irritating. It’s just immediate and powerful the way the real thing is when you hear it live. That’s what really caught my ear when I first played Ansermet’s recording.

There is a blast of brass at the end of Catacombs that is so big and real, it makes you forget you’re listening to a recording. You hear every brass instrument, full size, full weight. I still remember the night I was playing that album, good and loud of course, when that part of the work played through. It was truly startling in its power. (Back then I had the Legacy Whisper speaker system, the one with eight 15″ woofers. They moved air like nobody’s business. If you want to reproduce the power of the trombone, the loudest instrument in the orchestra, they’re your man.)
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The Music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

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Click HERE to see the records we currently have on the site with the music of Tchaikovsky.

Click HERE to see the records with Tchaikovsky’s music that we’ve done Hot Stamper shootouts for (a substantially larger group as you can imagine).


On the better copies of the album pictured above, the lower strings are rich and surrounded by lovely hall space. This is not a sound one hears on record often enough and it is glorious when a pressing as good as this one can help make that sound clear to you.

The string sections from top to bottom are shockingly rich and sweet — this pressing is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago.

The 1958 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer. (more…)

Where Cheap Turntables Fall Flat

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

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Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge set-up. The Liszt recording you see pictured is a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as Liszt’s two piano concertos. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has paid for.

It has been my experience that cheap tables more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this.
(more…)

Beethoven’s Symphony #6 with Ansermet – Our Favorite for Performance and Sound

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

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Beethoven / Symphony #6 (Pastoral) / Ansermet

    • With Double Plus (A++) or better grades on both sides, this is a wonderful find from our first shootout in two years
    • The texture on the strings is captured perfectly – this is an area in which modern pressings fail almost completely
    • Everything sounds so right on this record, so much like live music, there is almost nothing to say about the sound other than You Are There
    • Recorded in Geneva’s exquisite Victoria Hall in 1959, this is a top performance from Ansermet and the Suisse Romande, the best we know of

Everything sounds so right on this record, so much like live music, there is practically nothing to say about the sound other than You Are There.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat none of them, will ever begin to sound the way this record sounds. Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

The texture on the strings is captured perfectly; this is by the way an area in which modern pressings fail almost completely. We have discussed this subject extensively on the site. The “rosin on the horsehair” is a sound that is apparently impossible to encode on modern vinyl.

Other Pressings (more…)

Bernard Herrmann on Vinyl

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Click here to see Four that Didn’t Make the Grade

These are just some of the recordings of the music of Bernard Herrmann that we’ve auditioned and found wanting. Without going into specifics we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place on our site, in your collection, and might even belong in a Hall of Shame.

A Free Service provided to the Audiophile Public, courtesy of Better Records.

Hot Stamper pressings of Bernard Herrmann’s Music
Various Pressings of Bernard Herrmann’s Music We’ve Reviewed

Modest Mussorgsky on Vinyl

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Three that Didn’t Make the Grade

These are just some of the recordings of the music of Mussorgsky that we’ve auditioned and found wanting. Without going into specifics we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place on our site, in your collection, and may even belong in a Hall of Shame.

A Free Service provided to the Audiophile Public, courtesy of Better Records.

Hot Stamper Pressings of Mussorgsky’s Music

Pressings of Mussorgsky’s Music We’ve Reviewed

The Tale of Tsar Saltan

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See all of our Rimsky-Korsakov albums in stock

  • This AMAZING side one with the complete Tsar Saltan was so good we gave it our rare Four Plus (A++++) grade
  • We freaked out when we heard this side – it took the sound beyond anything we had ever experienced for the work
  • It’s so rich and real, with huge WHOMP factor down low, as well as clear, uncolored brass and robust lower strings – wow!
  • We figure about one out of a hundred sides earn our Four Plus grade – you can’t get much more rare than that

We award this copy’s side one our very special Four Plus (A++++) grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a recording to a level never experienced by us before, a level we had no idea even existed. We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade.

This London pressing contains a stunningly BEAUTIFUL Tale of the Tsar Saltan Suite. It’s clearly one of the great Demo Disc Quality recordings from the Golden Age (or any age for that matter), with everything that a top Golden Age Orchestral recording should have: all the magic; all the timbral and harmonic subtlety; all the sweetness and warmth; all the Tubey Magical richness.

All that and more. Folks, this is the kind of record that makes you sit up and take notice. Finally, HERE is the kind of sound that can bring an orchestra to life in your very own listening room. (more…)

This Is Your Idea of a Great Firebird?

See more of Stravinsky’s music

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Classic Records 45 RPM Debunked

Sonic Grade: C-

A customer alerted me to a review Wayne Garcia wrote about various VPI platters and the rim drive, and this is what I wrote back to him:

Steve, after starting to read Wayne’s take on the platters, I came across this:

That mind-blowing epiphany that I hadn’t quite reached with the Rim Drive/Super Platter happened within seconds after I lowered the stylus onto the “Infernal Dance” episode of Stravinsky’s Firebird (45 rpm single-sided Classic Records reissue of the incomparable Dorati/LSO Mercury Living Presence recording).

That is one of my half-dozen or so favorite orchestral recordings, and I have played it countless times.

This is why I have so little faith in reviewers. I played that very record not two weeks ago (04/2010) against a good original and the recut was at best passable in comparison. If a reviewer cannot hear such an obvious difference in quality, why believe anything he has to say? The reason we say that no reviewer can be trusted is that you cannot find a reviewer who does not say good things about demonstrably bad and even just plain awful records. It’s the only real evidence we have for their credibility, and the evidence is almost always damning.

I want a reviewer who knows better than to play such a seriously flawed pressing and then proceed to waste my time telling me about it. He should tell us what a good record sounds like with this equipment mod. Then I might give more credence to what he has to say.

P.S.

This is one of the Classic Records titles on Harry Pearson’s TAS List of Super Discs (!).

P.P.S.

Allow me to quote a writer with his own website devoted to explaining and judging classical recordings of all kinds. His initials are A.S. for those of you who have been to his site.

Classic Records Reissues (both 33 and 45 RPM) – These are, by far, the best sounding Mercury pressings. Unfortunately, only six records were ever released by Classic. Three of them (Ravel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky) are among the very finest sounding records ever made by anyone. Every audiophile (with a turntable) should have these “big three”.

Obviously we could not disagree more. I’ve played all six of the Classic Mercurys; the Ravel and Prokofiev titles are actually even worse than the Stravinsky we reviewed.