Classical – Large Orchestral Works

Mendelssohn & Schubert / Symphony No. 4 & Symphony No. 5 – Reviewed in 2014

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

More of the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Symphony No. 4 & Symphony No. 5

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

The strings are rich, with lovely rosiny texture and virtually no tube smear. Played with zest and the recording is every bit as lively. 

The grade on side one could even be better than Two Pluses — we just don’t have enough clean copies to know. Big bass at the end, powerful dynamics too.

Side two was good but nothing like this amazing side one. Too much smear hurts it badly, and the mark is not helping either.

We’re pricing this one for just the one side. Fortunately it’s the complete symphony, one of Mendelssohn’s most famous works.


Artist Biography by Rovi Staff

Mendelssohn was the only musical prodigy of the nineteenth century whose stature could rival that of Mozart. Still, his parents resisted any entrepreneurial impulses and spared young Felix the strange, grueling lifestyle that was the lot of many child prodigies.

Mendelssohn was a true Renaissance man. A talented visual artist, he was a refined connoisseur of literature and philosophy. While Mendelssohn’s name rarely arises in discussions of the nineteenth century vanguard, the intrinsic importance of his music is undeniable. A distinct personality emerges at once in its exceptional formal sophistication, its singular melodic sense, and its colorful, masterful deployment of the instrumental forces at hand.

A true apotheosis of life, Mendelssohn’s music absolutely overflows with energy, ebullience, drama, and invention, as evidenced in his most enduring works: the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826-1842); the Hebrides Overture (1830); the Songs Without Words (1830-1845); the Symphonies No. 3 (1841-1842) and No. 4 (1833); and the Violin Concerto in E minor (1844).

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Symphony No. 4 (Mendelssohn)

Side Two

Symphony No. 5 (Schubert)

Falla / Nights In the Gardens of Spain/ Argenta – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the music of Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)

More Nights In the Gardens of Spain/ Argenta

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

DEMO QUALITY SOUND from 1959 on this famous TAS List Super Disc recording. This copy of CS 6046 has an especially good Falla side, with Super Hot Stamper sound and fairly quiet vinyl. The Rodrigo side is no slouch either, earning a grade of A+, although it could certainly use more top end (which was the case last time we did a shootout with this title as I recall). 

The Falla side is amazingly natural sounding; the string tone is Right On The Money, something that cannot be said of most vintage Living Stereos and Mercury pressings.

The overall sound is rich, sweet and tubey magical. The hall is spacious, with superb depth, allowing your speakers to simply disappear and an orchestra to appear in their place.

A bit of tube smear can be heard on the strings, not the least bit unusual on a Golden Age recording such as this one. With a touch less smear this side one would have earned our highest grade. As it is you will have a very hard time finding a better copy.

Side two is lovely and natural as well but a bit dark and slightly veiled. A click or two of treble would work wonders.

The cover is excellent — still in the shrink!

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Rodrigo: Guitar Concerto

Side Two

Falla: Nights in the Gardens of Spain

Gilbert and Sullivan / Overtures / Ward – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More Gilbert & Sullivan

More Overtures / Ward 2011

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

SUPERB sound on BOTH sides, with side two earning our coveted White Hot Stamper sonic grade for the kind of rich, sweet Living Stereo sound that we audiophiles love. The sound is nothing short of amazing on the White Hot side. This is a Top Shaded Dog in every way.   

That lovely texture on the strings tells you that the pressing itself is partly responsible for the superb sound — the lack of smear being a pressing issue, not a mastering or recording one. For naturalness, this one earns a score of ten out of ten.

This is an incredibly good sounding side, clearly the best side two of the three copies we played in our recent shootout and by far the best I have ever heard this music sound (only natural when you take into account the continuously improving stereo and room).

The hall is HUGE: spacious and open as any you will hear, but not at the expense of richness or fullness. The orchestra is solid and full-bodied, yet the woodwinds and flutes soar above the other sections, so breathy and clear. How did the Decca (recording) and RCA (mastering) engineers succeed so brilliantly where so many others have failed, failed right up to this very day?

Who knows? It’s still a mystery that has not been explained, to my satisfaction anyway. (more…)

Liszt, Enesco, Smetana / Rhapsodies – Stokowski – Reviewed in 2010

More Franz Liszt’s music

Rhapsodies – Stokowski

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

This RCA Living Stereo White Dog LP has SUPERB SOUND!

I’m a big fan of this title. The string tone is rich and dark and just wonderful. If you want an exciting record with outstanding Living Stereo sound — dynamic, with strings to die for, and an energetic performance, this is the one! Don’t let the White Dog fool you. I doubt if the average Shaded Dog is any better. This record sounds just right to me. Listen to how clear and correct the triangle is.  (more…)

Gershwin / An American In Paris & Rhapsody In Blue

More George Gershwin

More An American In Paris & Rhapsody In Blue

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

I’ve always loved these performances, but the shrill Columbia sound has been hard to get past. So many copies suffer from upper-midrangy, glary, hard sound and blary brass. I’ve come to accept that this is nothing more nor less than the “Columbia Sound,” and as a consequence I rarely put much effort into surveying their prodigious catalog these days. (more…)

Massenet / Le Cid / Martinon – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the music of Jules Massenet (1842-1912) 

Le Cid / Martinon 

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

Superb Super Hot Stamper sound for Les Patineurs, and the Le Cid is just a step behind at A+ to A++. We had a copy of the famous Greeensleeves pressing for our shootout, along with a number of Londons, and this Stereo Treasury had the highest overall sonic grades of all of them. The original Blueback pressing — true, we only had the one, so take it for what it’s worth — was a complete disaster: shrill, with no top or bottom to speak of.

Both these pieces are audiophile Must Own Demonstration pieces, full of depth, ambience, and wonderfully correct instrumental timbres, especially from the woodwinds. Add explosive dynamics and deep bass and you have yourself a genuine audiophile recording.   (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.

As you can imagine we did not have dozens of these sets with which to shootout. We had three, and this copy is clearly the winner of the group by a substantial margin.

Side One – The Firebird Suite

A++ to A+++, better than Super Hot Stamper sound. This side was quite a bit richer and more Tubey Magical than the others we played, with solid body to the brass. We would have called it White Hot but we can imagine it would be possible to find a bit more clarity in the midrange. That said, with this kind of sound the music on this side works brilliantly. A top performance of the suite.

Side Two – La Mer

A++ to A+++, better than Super Hot Stamper sound again! Dynamic and lively sonics with a performance to match. More Tubey Magical richness coupled with transparency and plenty of top end, not something you hear often on vintage recordings.

Covers

This record will come in the original inner sleeve from the box set, and should probably be placed in a generic outer sleeve.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

The Firebird Suite (Stravinsky)

Side Two

La Mer (Debussy)

 

Holst / The Planets / Previn / LSO – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2013

More Gustav Holst

The Planets / Previn / LSO

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

This Beyond White Hot Stamper Planets has Out Of This World sound on side two, where it earned a Four Plus sonic grade for its MINDBLOWING orchestral power, especially from the brass section, a subject we discuss at length below. 

This is some of the best sound I have ever heard coming out of my two speakers, if not THE best. Side two of this very copy takes the recording to a level we had no idea was possible. Out of the fifty or so copies of The Planets we’ve played in the last decade or so, this is without a doubt the best side two of them all.

We can only hope to find a side one as good in the next ten years. It probably exists, but will it take us another fifty copies to run into it? Only time will tell! (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…)

Liszt, Enesco, Smetana / Rhapsodies – Stokowski – Classic Records Reviewed

More Franz Liszt’s music

Rhapsodies – Stokowski

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked. (The cover is clearly the original Living Stereo cover by the way.)

The lower strings are wonderful on the original — wall to wall, with that rosiny texture we love. I wrote at the time — this is twenty or so years ago — that the Classic pressing took that rich, dark sound and brightened it up, naturally ruining it in the process. Cellos and double basses just don’t sound like that. On the best pressings of LSC 2471 their timbre is Right On The Money. Of course, that’s is the real thing, not some audiophile rebutchering. 

Now if you’re a Classic Records fan, and you like that brighter, more detailed, more aggressive sound, the original is probably not the record for you.

We don’t like that sound and we don’t like most Classic Records. They may be clean and clear but where is the RCA Living Stereo Magic that made people swoon over these recordings in the first place? Bernie manages to clean that sound right off the record, and that’s just not our idea of high-fidelity, sorry. (more…)