Classical – Best Performances with Top Quality Sound

Tchaikovsky / Capriccio Italien / Ormandy – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

More Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Capriccio Italien / Ormandy

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

This is a CBS White Arrows “360 Sound” LP with DEMO DISC sound and the BEST performance we have ever heard. In our experience there is no combination of sound and performance that can beat Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra captured on this Columbia record. Ormandy is on fire here! As good as the famous Kondrashin on RCA is (LSC 2323), the sound on both the Shaded Dog copies we had on hand and the Classic Records reissue (which is very good by the way) could not begin to match this wonderful pressing.

We’ve had copies of the album in the past, but they sure never sounded like this! From both an audiophile and music lover’s perspective you would have a hard time finding a record that holds this much appeal to both groups.

Capriccio Italien

Dynamic and ALIVE. Jump out of the speakers Demo Disc Sound! So spacious and 3-D. Tons of weight and power down low.

We grade this side A++ to A+++. A little more extension up top and you would have yourself a nearly flawless record.

Capriccio Espagnol

The Most Exciting, Colorful Performance of all time — Ormandy gets everything out of this famous work on this Columbia 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 the same as side one, A++ to A+++. The loudest massed violin parts have a touch of Columbia hardness. That said, I would put this record in the top 1% of the Columbia recordings I’ve played. You will find very few Living Stereos and Deccas with this kind of sound, that I can assure you.

From the Liner Notes

Tchaikovsky possessed a remarkable talent for instrumentation, instinctively scoring his works to obtain a maximum variety of color and the widest possible range of tonal effects. His “Capriccio Italien”, vibrant with the raw colors of its Italian song and dance rhythms, is one of his most popular works and shows the composer’s complete mastery of orchestration. Its music passes vigorously from the opening trumpet call (echoes of the Cuirassiers) through a slightly melancholy phase to a climax of power and brilliance reminiscent of the popular Italian dance, the Tarantella.

Wikipedia’s Entry for Capriccio Espagnol

Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34, is the common Western title for an orchestral work based on Spanish folk melodies and written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1887. Rimsky-Korsakov originally intended to write the work for a solo violin with orchestra, but later decided that a purely orchestral work would do better justice to the lively melodies.

The Capriccio consists of five movements and is scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes (one doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp and strings.

The piece is often lauded for its orchestration, which features a large percussion section and many special techniques and articulations, such as in the fourth movement when the violinists, violists, and cellists are asked to imitate guitars (the violin and viola parts are marked “quasi guitara”). Despite the critical praise, Rimsky-Korsakov was annoyed that the other aspects of the piece were being ignored. In his autobiography, he wrote:

The opinion formed by both critics and the public, that the Capriccio is a magnificently orchestrated piece — is wrong. The Capriccio is a brilliant composition for the orchestra. The change of timbres, the felicitous choice of melodic designs and figuration patterns, exactly suiting each kind of instrument, brief virtuoso cadenzas for instruments solo, the rhythm of the percussion instruments, etc., constitute here the very essence of the composition and not its garb or orchestration. The Spanish themes, of dance character, furnished me with rich material for putting in use multiform orchestral effects. All in all, the Capriccio is undoubtedly a purely external piece, but vividly brilliant for all that. I was a little less successful in its third section (Alborada, in B-flat major), where the brasses somewhat drown the melodic designs of the woodwinds; but this is very easy to remedy, if the conductor will pay attention to it and moderate the indications of the shades of force in the brass instruments by replacing the fortissimo by a simple forte.

TRACK LISTING

Side One (Tchaikovsky)

Capriccio Italien
Waltz from “Engene Onegin”

Side Two (Rimsky-Korsakov)

Capriccio Espagnol
Bridal Procession from “Le Coq D’Or”

Various Artists – Destination Stereo – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

More Living Stereo

Destination Stereoo

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

Side one is White Hot, with some of the best 1959 Living Stereo we’ve ever heard. Explosive dynamics, HUGE space and size, with unerringly correct tonality, this is a Demo Disc like no other. When “in -the-know” audiophiles discuss soundstaging and depth, they had better be talking about a record that sounds like this. Shockingly real – proof positive that the cutting systems of the day are capable of much better sound than we normally assume. 

This reasonably quiet RCA Shaded Dog LP has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND on BOTH sides. It is without a doubt THE best sounding copy we have ever heard*. (more…)

Mozart / Piano Concertos # 17 & 21 / Anda – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the music of Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Piano Concertos # 17 & 21 / Anda

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

This EARLY heavy cardboard Stereo in Red DG Large Tulips pressing is nothing short of PHENOMENAL on side one. It’s SPACIOUS and three-dimensional that goes beyond practically any classical recording I’ve ever played. I would rank it in the Top One Per Cent for those two qualities. You hear into the soundstage on this record like you will not believe.  

The string tone is especially rich and sweet on this side, yet full of texture and that lovely rosiny quality that vintage pressings capture so well. (Sometimes capture so well. Side two here has a slightly smeary quality that hurts it in that area.) (more…)

JS Bach and Liszt / Organ Music / Richter – Reviewed in 2007

More Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)  

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

You can feel the cool air in the hall! Some audiophiles buy organ records to show off their subwoofers. Records like this can do that but records this good have musical qualities far beyond simple demonstrations of bass reproduction. Karl Richter understands this music perfectly and makes it come alive in a way I’ve never heard any other musician. (more…)

Ravel / Piano Concertos / Haas – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Piano Concertos / Haas

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

This Philips recording from 1970 on exceptionally quiet Dutch vinyl has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on side one for one of Ravel’s best known piano works, the Piano Concerto in G. Most Philips records are much too thick, dull and opaque to be taken seriously, by us anyway. (In this respect they have many sonic attributes in common with Londons from the ’70s and ’80s.)

Dropping the needle on this pressing, however, was a pleasant surprise. It’s big and spacious on side one, with zero smear on a piano that is both full and clear.

This is a difficult combination to achieve in our experience, and the kind of sound we do not hesitate to praise highly here at Better Records.

To us it sounds right, and when the sound is as right as it is here, the wonderful piano music of Ravel can really work its magic. (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…)

Mendelssohn / Scotch Symphony / Maag – Reviewed in 2011

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

Scotch Symphony / Maag

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

Both sides of this record have that classic Decca chocolatey, rich, sweet sound. It”s not for everybody, it”s probably not the sound one would hear in a concert hall, but we love it and so do many audiophiles. 

The performance here by Maag is legendary and definitive. The sound is perfectly suited for this music, with massed strings to die for. This is classic Tubey Magical Decca orchestral sound. If you want immediacy, buy a Mercury. If you want luscious, rich string tone, this London should be right up your alley.

Side two had less smear and less distortion and congestion than we heard on side one. It’s also even RICHER sounding, if such a thing is possible. More transparent too. A good balance of clarity and richness. A++ all the way. (more…)

Liszt / Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2 / Richter – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

More Franz Liszt’s music

Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2 / Richter

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

This A++++ Beyond White Hot Stamper 2-pack has sound that must be experienced to be believed! The finest Liszt 1st & 2nd Concertos we know of for performance and unquestionably for sound when they sound like this. More like LIVE MUSIC than any classical recording I have played in longer than I care to remember – both sides are so big, rich and transparent we guarantee you have never heard a better piano concerto. (more…)

Borodin / Symphonies 2 & 3 / Ansermet – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More Borodin 

Symphonies 2 & 3 / Ansermet 

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This White Hot Stamper pressing has DEMO QUALITY sound of the HIGHEST ORDER on fairly quiet vinyl no less. We’ve long considered the album one of the greatest of all the Decca / London recordings, but this pressing takes the sound beyond even our high expectations.

There is simply nothing in the sound to fault. Where is the slightly dry and midrangy quality in the upper strings that so many Londons from this era suffer from? It’s nowhere to be found on this side one. And it’s not as though our stereo was hiding that quality, because some of it creeps into the sound on this very side two (which is why it earned a slightly lower grade of A++). (more…)

Mendelssohn and Bruch / Violin Concertos / Ricci / Gamba – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

Violin Concertos / Ricci / Gamba

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

One of the great London violin concerto records. With a Super Hot Stamper copy such as this one, the Mendelssohn here has DEMO QUALITY SOUND!

In Ruggiero Ricci’s hands both works are nothing short of magical (although the Bruch never sounds especially good in our experience). If you want to know why people drool over Golden Age recordings, listen to the violin on side one. If you’re not careful you may find yourself drooling too. (more…)