Classical – Works for Piano

Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto No. 3 / Janis/ Dorati – Years Ago We Favorably Reviewed a Mono Pressing

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CBFR-1/CBFR-2. This Mono pressing sounds SUPERB, much smoother and more natural than I remember the Stereo pressings sounding. What’s interesting about these Monos is they’re not mastered by Robert Fine. They are mastered by someone with the initials J.J., who apparently does all the Mono mastering. The reason Mercury Monos can sound as good as they do is because they have their own separate microphone feed and their own separate Mono tape recorder dedicated all to themselves. (London did the same thing and that’s why so many London Monos are amazing sounding.)

I don’t think you can find a better sounding Rachmaninoff 3rd on Mercury than this one. 

[Of course we no longer agree with that.  The best stereo copies are in an entirely different league. The mono can be good, but it cannot be great in the way the stereo pressings can be.] (more…)

Prokofiev & Rachmaninoff / Piano Concertos / Janis / Kondrashin

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  • This pressing has Beyond White Hot Stamper (A++++) sound on side one – sound that must be experienced to be believed! – backed with stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • The finest Prokofiev No. 3 and Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 1 – these performances by Janis are legendary, and with phenomenal sonics like these, this combination of sound and performance is all but unmatched in our experience
  • So big, so, rich, so transparent, so dynamic and full of life, we guarantee you have never heard a better piano concerto record in your life
  • Compare the weight of the piano on the two sides to see why the grades are so different

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.

Side one shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it that fourth plus!

This is an exceptionally quiet early Mercury Plum label stereo pressing of two of Byron Janis’s most famous performances (along with the Rachmaninoff 3rd, which is every bit as good). It’s a longtime member of the TAS Super Disc list.

The recording is explosively dynamic and on this copy, the sound was positively jumping out of the speakers. In addition, the brass and strings are full-bodied and rich, with practically no stridency, an unusual feat the Mercury engineers seem to have accomplished while in Russia.

Big, rich sound can sometimes present problems for piano recordings. You want to hear the percussive qualities of the instrument, but few copies pull off that trick without sounding thin. This one showed us a piano that was both clear and full-bodied.

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…)

Rachmaninoff / Concerto #1 For Piano & Orchestra / Katin / Boult

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CS 6055. Demo quality. Incredible sound. The piano is heard surrounded by the hall. This is much more natural than the usual spotlight. Ferocious brass. I love it. Blueback pressing.

Mozart / Piano Concerto No. 27 / Backhaus / Bohm

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Lovely music. Superb sound, one of the rarest of the London records. I haven’t seen one of these in close to twenty years. 

Performed with The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Karl Bohm, this record also features the Piano Sonata in A-major.

Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto #2 – Katchen – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: Unknown

In the late ’90s we described the sound of this pressing this way:

“Outstanding Rachmaninoff, dark and rich. Highly recommended.”

Since we have not played a copy of the album in over ten years, we have taken down our previous Sonic Grade of B as we have no idea how the record would fare today on our much-improved system.

For all we know it’s been recut, which is another problem with our old reviews of records we used to like: the new version could have very different sound from the one we played (and that’s not even taking into account the pressing variability, which we all know is sometimes huge).

Schubert / Piano Sonata in B Flat Major / Anda – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This Super Hot Stamper original Large Tulips DG pressing (with stereo in red on the cover) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling like you are sitting in a real concert hall, this is the record for you. It’s what Golden Age Classical Recordings are known for — THIS SOUND.  (more…)

Schubert / The Trout Quintet / Curzon / Vienna Octet – Original Versus Reissue

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This unusual 2-pack combines two very different pressings from very different eras to create a complete performance of The “Trout” Quintet with SUPERB Super Hot Stamper (or better) on both sides. One pressing, the one shown, is from the early ’60s; the other is from 1982. How could an imported budget late reissue beat a superb Golden Age pressing on any side you ask? Well, the answer to that question is provided by the records we will send you. 

Side one of this London Whiteback pressing is dark and opaque, with a serious lack of both top end and clarity. Side two however is GORGEOUS: so big, rich, clear and lively, it earned a sonic grade of A++ to A+++! In our shootouts the person reviewing the records (in this case me) never knows which pressing is being critiqued. Imagine my surprise when the late London handily beat the early one.

Actually it’s easy to imagine my surprise, because there was simply no surprise to imagine. In our shootouts here at Better Records late pressings beat early pressings regularly. We let the records speak for themselves, and that’s what they told us, at least on side one of The “Trout”. The reason the late pressing even made it into our shootout was that in a preliminary round it showed us that it had very good sound on side one. Side two didn’t hold up, but any record with good sound on any side is going to go in the shootout, regardless of the “incorrectness” of its label or country of origin.

On the earlier pressing (CS 6090) the sound is rich and sweet; some might say it’s too rich, but for this music it works. The piano and the strings have that Golden Age Tubey Magical sound we love. It’s been years since I’ve had the opportunity to play this record; most copies are just too beat up to bother with, so I was glad to find this one in such minty condition. (more…)

Where Cheap Turntables Fall Flat – The Music of Franz Liszt

 

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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.
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Gershwin / Rhapsody In Blue / Thomas

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  • Gershwin’s rendition of his stunning Masterpiece makes its Hot Stamper debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last 
  • Lively, dynamic, transparent, spacious and musical throughout – you won’t believe how good this copy sounds
  • Using the piano roll capturing the performance of the composer himself, Gershwin’s take on the Rhapsody is spirited and jazzy – the work is performed at a thrilling pace
  • This performance and arrangement is sure to give its audience a new perspective on what Gershwin was trying to accomplish with his “experiment for piano and jazz band”

(more…)

Brahms – Concerto No. 2- Reiner / Gilels – Cisco Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C+?

Another Heavy Vinyl pressing from Cisco / Impex reviewed.

It’s been quite a while since I played the Cisco pressing, but I remember it as being quite good. At the time we wrote: “The overall sound is smooth and spacious. The piano may lack the full weight of the live instrument, but that’s RCA’s fault, not Cisco’s. If you can look past that you will find this to be one of the better Living Stereo reissues available today.” and we’ll just have to stick with that for now, since we haven’t played the record in more than ten years.