Classical – Works for Orchestra

Stravinsky / Petrushka – Superb on Readers Digest Vinyl

 

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two, this is a Petrushka that is guaranteed to blow your mind (just as it blew ours)
  • As good as the famous Dorati recording for Mercury may be – assuming you have one that sounds as good as the best copies can – we still this Readers Digest pressing to be superior in all the most important ways, as well as being the Mercury equal in performance
  • One listen to this famous Kenneth Wilkinson Decca tree recording with the Royal Philharmonic and you’ll see why we could find no competition for it
  • The biggest problem with these wonderful recordings is the vinyl – no copy played better than Mint Minus Minus to EX++

What a recording! 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, especially on side one.

A truly extraordinary recording mastered beautifully but pressed on vinyl that has never been known for its quality.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a work of Stravinsky’s. They’re clear and textured, yet rich and full-bodied. The bottom is big and weighty. The horns are tubey and full and never screechy, even in the most difficult passages.

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

Most recordings we played were profoundly unnatural, lacking transparency and the relaxed sense of involvement that tricks you into thinking “you are there.” (more…)

Mozart/ Symphony 32 & 38/ Maag

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An exceptionally QUIET copy for an early Blueback pressing. The sound is old-fashioned Decca, which seems to suit this music quite well. The hall is reverberant, as it would have been in Mozart’s day, and the perspective is mid-hall. The string tone is excellent. Some of the louder passages might be a bit strained, but overall the sound is correct for this music. 

Maag and the LSO are of course Mozart experts and the performances here do not disappoint. A rare title and a lovely one.

Prokofiev / Lt. Kije / Abbado (45 RPM) – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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

This Japanese 45 RPM remastering of our favorite recording of Prokofiev’s wonderful Lt. Kije Suite has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND. For starters, there are very few records with dynamics comparable to these. Since this is my favorite performance of all time, I can’t recommend the record any more highly.   

Most of what’s “bad” about a DG recording from 1978 is ameliorated with this pressing. The bass drum (drums?) here must be heard to be believed. We know of no Golden Age recording with as believable a presentation of the instrument as this.

Please note: we award the Four Plus (A++++) grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. We rarely find records with this kind of sound, just a few times a year at most — this is the only one on the site at this time.

When a particular pressing we’re auditioning takes the recording to a level significantly higher than our expectations, it gets our attention, big time. This can only happen with a record we know well. We thought we knew how good Lt. Kije on Japanese 45 could sound but we were wrong — this pressing is clearly better than the copy we would be proud to call White Hot, which means this one deserves an impossible sonic rating of eleven on a scale of one to ten.

Forget the logic. It’s not about that, it’s about the sound and the music, and we make no apologies for calling this copy Beyond White Hot. It blew our minds.

This pressing fulfills the promise of the 45 RPM cutting speed so much in vogue these days. We had a pile of these 45s to play through. When we came upon this one halfway through our shootout, it was so big, so clear, so dynamic, so energetic, so extended on the top and bottom, we almost could not believe what we were hearing, especially compared to the others copies we played. There are very few records with dynamics that can compare with these.

With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard. Once the needle has dropped you will quickly forget about the sound and simply find yourself in the presence of some of the greatest musicians of their generation captured on some of the greatest analog recordings of all time. (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol & Le Coq D’Or / Danon

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  • White Hot Stamper sound for Capriccio Espagnol, with a tremendously exciting performance
  • Big stage, great ENERGY, lots of hall ambience and solid orchestral weight – hard to fault!
  • Orchestral music doesn’t get much more EXCITING or COLORFUL than Capriccio Espagnol
  • If you like Reiner’s Scheherazade – and who doesn’t? – you are sure to be knocked out by this recording

For your listening pleasure, we proudly offer our music loving fans a SUPERB sounding White Hot Capriccio Espagnol, performed with passion and precision by the Royal Philharmonic under the direction of Oscar Danon. This is only the second disc from a Reader’s Digest box set to make it to the site, but what a disc it is — orchestral music doesn’t get much more EXCITING or COLORFUL than Capriccio Espagnol. It’s truly a knockout on this pressing: White Hot Stamper As Good As It Gets sound.

This is what we mean by DEMO DISC sound. Records do not get much more spacious, open, transparent, rich or sweet. Kenneth Wilkinson was the man behind the board for many of these RDG recordings, this very one in fact, and as you will hear, he was pretty much in a league of his own as a engineer in the early days of stereo. This record is proof positive of his uncanny recording skills. (Check out the Decca Tree tab above.)

Play it against the best of the RCAs, Londons and Mercs from the period and you will see what I mean. And of course it will completely DESTROY any pressing you may have on Heavy Vinyl, from any label, at any playback speed, of any music. (more…)

Mendelssohn/ A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Mono with Maag – Reviewed in 2004

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London mono original Radio Promotion Copy with DEMO QUALITY SOUND!

Another winner on the early London FFRR Red Label. Maag’s performance here is famous, if not definitive. Audiophiles have known of this record”s qualities for decades. As our stereos get better, so do amazingly natural recordings such as this one.

Speakers corner did a reissue of this record on heavy vinyl which was quite good — too fat in the mid bass but otherwise acceptable. It sure doesn’t sound like this though! This is the real thing! You won’t find too many 180 gram records that sound like this one. (If you can find any.)

Here is the commentary I wrote for the Coppelia mono pressing. The same insights hold true.

This is the kind of record that the mono cartridge owners of the world worship. And for good reason. But you don’t need to have a mono cartridge to hear how good — in fact, how much better — this copy sounds than the stereo pressing.

I found out about mono classical records one day when I got a mono copy of the power of the orchestra, vcs 2659. It sounded better than any stereo recording of that work I had ever heard. All the instruments were so much more solid sounding, so palpable, so free from distortion, that it made me recognize for the first time what the mono record lovers of the world were talking about. That was ten [twenty five by now] years ago. Since then many high end mono cartridges have come on the market, specifically to bring out that sound.

But I don’t have a mono cartridge, and I sure don’t need one to hear how good this record sounds. Everything is right on the money. And of course with Ansermet, ballet conductor extraordinaire, you can be sure the performance is of the highest calibre. A top recommendation from better records.

By the way, there’s a good reason why London makes such good mono records. They ran a separate microphone feed into a monophonic tape recorder for their mono recordings, well into the stereo era in fact. Mercury did also, which is why many Mercury monos have excellent sound. RCA, on the other hand, frequently took the three-track master tape and simply mixed it to mono for their mono releases, which explains why a minority of RCA monos have good sound.

London knew how to do it right and the results speak for themselves.

Dvorak / Symphony #1 / Kertesz / LSO – A Bit Too Smooth

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CS 6523. This is an IMMACULATE Brand New Unplayed London LP with the old style paste-on back cover. We cracked open the factory seal just to make sure that this was a British pressing.

As we’ve said before, Kertesz is the Dvorak man! He recorded the complete cycle for London; many of those LPs have superb performances and excellent sound.

We dropped the needle momentarily on this title and heard sound that was overly smooth for my taste. If you like your records on the smooth side, this should do the trick.

Haydn / Symphonies 99-104 / Jochum / LPO / 3 LP Box Set

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Three superb sounding, PRISTINE looking Deutsche Grammophon Import LPs.

These mid ’70s DG recordings are excellent. Some of the recordings in this set sound better than others, but they are all at least very good and a number are superb.

What IS consistent in this set is the quality of the performances. You will have a hard time finding better Haydn on record. The Military Symphony (#100) and The Clock (#101) are especially good. Those also happen to be two of my favorite Haydn symphonies.

Jewels of Wolf-Ferrari / Santi / Paris Conservatory Orchestra

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One of the jewels in the London catalog, with sweet, tonally correct sound and plenty of natural hall. Another good reason to love London records! Colorful, lively and fun music, played with verve and beautifully recorded.

Overtures, intermezzos and preludes — just the good stuff.

The album is made up of 10 shorter pieces. A real standout is the first band on side one.

Beethoven / Symphony No. 5 / Solti / Vienna Philharmonic

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  • This lovely Whiteback pressing is big and lively, earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • Good weight to the brass, huge hall space, wonderfully textured string tone – it’s all here and more
  • A top performance from Solti and the Vienna Phil – it’s classic Solti: fast-paced, exciting and powerful
  • This is Beethoven played with gusto – he brings this music to life like no other conductor we know of (with the exception of Dorati perhaps)

Solti’s Beethoven has always been underrated. In some respects it’s more satisfying than his ventures into the late Romantic repertoire on which his reputation largely rests. His Fifth Symphony, for example, has all of the drama and flair one could ask for in its outer movements, and his treatment of the Third’s epic funeral march is truly gripping, with a hair-raising fugato climax.

— David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

We like our recordings to have as many of the qualities of Live Music as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this, especially when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use. It’s precisely this kind of big, clear, yet rich sound that makes audiophiles prize Decca/London recordings above those of virtually all other labels, and here, unlike in so many areas of audio, we are fully in agreement with our fellow record loving audiophile friends.

This Golden Age tape has been mastered brilliantly with “modern” mastering equipment (from the mid-’60s, 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.

You may have noticed that Beethoven’s symphonies rarely make it to the site. There’s a reason for this: most of the recordings of them don’t sound very good. We are happy to report that, at least when it comes to the Fifth, that problem has been solved, by this very record in fact.

Choices

The Leibowitz from Readers Digest that we like is tubier and richer, and more lyrical in performance.

The Solti from 1958 here is cleaner, clearer and both more exacting and lively. I would have a hard time choosing between them. (more…)

Today’s Bad Sounding Reissue Is Decca SPA 503!

Apparently mastered with no regard to sound quality, this Decca SPA reissue is muddy, dull and smeary.

How do we know that? We go out of our way to play every pressing we can get our hands on, even cheap reissues such as this. That’s our job.  We play everything so you don’t have to.

Some of them are good, some of them are mediocre, and some, like this one, are ridiculously bad.

We know this music well, having done shootouts for these works. They are Demonstration Quality recordings if you have the right import pressings on Decca or London, and the performances are second to none.

More reviews of the recordings of Mendelssohn

More reviews of records conducted by Peter Maag.