Classical – Works for the Violin and Cello

Paganini / Violin Concerto 1 & 2 / Ricci (LL 1215) – Reviewed in 2010

More of the music of Niccolò Paganini

Violin Concerto 1 & 2 / Ricci (LL 1215)

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

This is one of the MOST AMAZING VIOLIN RECORDINGS in the history of the world. For sheer violin virtuosity it doesn’t get any better than this. Ricci and London in the early ’50s cannot be beat! This is a true Demo Disc with music of the highest caliber, and I’m betting whoever takes this one home will be THRILLED. 

Both sides are dynamic, full-bodied, lively and sweet. This is a vintage London mono recording of the ’50s and consequently has some limitations in terms of bandwidth and of course soundstage, but the luscious midrange more than makes up for both. The violin is REAL in a way that few other recordings manage to make it.

Since this is a particularly thick piece of vinyl, you’ll get the best sound from this one by adjusting your VTA a bit as if it were a modern Heavy Vinyl release. Of course, I don’t think there’s any modern Heavy Vinyl out there that could hold a candle to a record like this! And when the VTA locks in perfectly on this record you will know it — the tonality is Right On The Money. (more…)

Brahms / Violin Concerto / Szeryng / Dorati – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More of the music of Johannes Brahms 

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

These later Mercury stampers are wonderful: gorgeous woodwinds, a large, full-bodied orchestra and of course a Tubey Magical violin to die for. Both sides earned SUPERB Super Hot Stamper grades (but for very different reasons). The exciting sound is matched by an equally exciting performance by Dorati. Dorati and the LSO pull out all the stops; they’re staking out a position as to just how powerfully and emotionally this work ought to be performed.

The opening is so dramatic — in the style of the First Brahms Symphony — that it’s hard to imagine there is any recording medium that can capture it without a fair amount of dynamic compression. This vintage pressing suffers from a relatively (in our experience) small amount of congestion and shrillness at the opening and elsewhere.

I find it hard to believe that any attempt to record the work would not encounter quite a lot of difficulty with the prodigious dynamic power of the piece.

Side One

A++, most of the high grade coming from the sound of the violin, which is tonally correct, rich, real and just AMAZINGLY good, surrounded by space, with extended harmonic structures intact — let’s just say it’s hard to fault! It’s a bit recessed compared to the other violin concertos we know well — those with Heifetz come to mind — but it is certainly no less natural for it.

The orchestra holds up pretty well, it’s fairly smooth, with just a slight amount of very-hard-to-avoid shrillness and congestion,

Side Two

A++. Bigger space, more clarity, more top end, zero distortion — this side was really delivering the sonic goods. Note that the sound is slightly less rich here, the orchestra lacking some weight in the lower strings, but the overall presentation is exceptional — clearly Super Hot Sound!

The massed strings here, such as those found at the opening, are close miked and immediate in the “Mercury recording style”. Your electricity better be good when you play this record, because it presents a test many of you will have trouble passing at anything above moderate levels.

I’ve mentioned to many of you over the years about unplugging things in your home and testing the effect of clean electricity on your playback system. The opening of this record is a perfect example of the kind of material with which you should be testing in order to hear these changes. I’d be very surprised if the strings on this record don’t sound noticeably better after you’ve unplugged a few things in your house. The effect should not be the least bit subtle. It’s certainly not in our system.

The same would be true for any of the tweaks we sell. The Talisman or Hallographs would be a godsend for playback of this record. Hard to imagine what it would sound like without them. (To tell you the truth we don’t really want to know.)

Overall Sonic Grade:

Side One – A++
Side Two – A++

Vinyl Grade:

1) Not play graded yet but should end up around Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus.
2) Not play graded yet but should end up around Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus.

Cover Grade: 8 out of 10

Commentary and Background

In addition to being Europe’s leading violinist of the second half of the 19th century, Joseph Joachim was also one of Brahms’s closest friends and musical colleagues. Brahms could conceive of no other soloist for his Violin Concerto. A formidable composer in his own right, Joachim had also championed Brahms’s music early on, not least as first violinist of the Joachim Quartet, which introduced a number of his chamber works. But he was best known as a brilliant violin soloist. Because Brahms was primarily a pianist, during the inception of the Violin Concerto he apparently relied upon Joachim’s suggestions as to the limitations and possibilities of the violin, and perhaps even as to the work’s structure.

In 1876 Brahms finally finished his First Symphony, which had occupied him for more than 20 years. This long-awaited work was something of a watershed in the 43-year-old composer’s creative life, and its completion unleashed in Brahms an unprecedented outpouring of masterpieces during the next three years. The most significant of these were the Second Symphony and the Violin Concerto, completed within a few months of one another.

The Violin Concerto was begun in the summer of 1878, at the composer’s favorite resort at Pörtschach am Wörthersee in the Carinthian Alps. Many commentators have imagined they heard something of this idyllic natural landscape in the gentle triple meter of both the Concerto and the Second Symphony.

In October Brahms wrote to Joachim that he had “stumbled” in the middle of composing the adagio and scherzo of what was initially conceived as a four-movement work. The next month he wrote that “the middle movements have fallen out; naturally they were the best! I have replaced them with a poor adagio.” Though the Violin Concerto’s incomparable slow movement is anything but “poor,” we can only be curious as to why this four-movement plan – taken up that same year, with considerable success, for the Second Piano Concerto in B-flat – was abandoned for this Concerto.

Though Joachim received the finalized solo part only on December 12, he prepared and played the Concerto’s premiere just weeks later – on January 1, 1879, at Leipzig’s Gewandhaus with the composer conducting. It was a moderate, if not overwhelming, success. The Viennese performance on January 14 was apparently more auspicious, though Brahms later noted in a letter to Joachim that the orchestral players “wanted rather to hear you than to play their own notes. At their desks they were always looking sideways – quite fatal, though understandable.” This Viennese performance was also notable for the fact that Joachim’s cadenza – which Brahms had left for the violinist to compose – received spontaneous applause, even before the movement had ended. “The cadenza went so magnificently at our concert here,” wrote Brahms to his friend Elisabet von Herzogenberg, “that the people clapped right on into my coda.” This celebrated cadenza, later published, has become the standard choice for most violinists, in the absence of one by the composer himself.

The Concerto’s first movement (Allegro non troppo) is especially rich in themes, beginning with the lilting opening subject in bassoons, horns, and lower strings, and continuing with the flowing subsequent theme for oboe. It is the explosive closing subject that remains uppermost in our memories, however, leading (in its first appearance) to the soloist’s dramatic entrance. At several points in the movement, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto of the same key seems to lurk just around the corner. (Joachim was considered the foremost interpreter of the Beethoven Concerto during his lifetime.) The slow movement is a brief, humble Adagio based on an almost folk-like tune; the simplicity is deceptive, for Brahms reworked the movement many times before it satisfied him. The finale (Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace), with its touches of the alla zingarese (“gypsy”) vein, is imbued with all the play and ferocity of the parallel movement of Beethoven’s Concerto.

Paul Horsley

 

Sibelius / Violin Concerto / Ricci – Fjeldstad – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Violin Concerto / Ricci – Fjelstad

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

This is a wonderful sounding London Stereo Treasury pressing featuring one of our favorite violinists, Ruggiero Ricci, performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor. The tone of the violin on side one is just right — every nuance of Ricci’s bowing can clearly be heard!   

While the violin sounds amazing on side one, the orchestra lacks a bit of weight. This side is also not quite as tubey magical as it could be. In our opinion, however, the violin tone and the incredible dynamics are more than enough to award this an A++ grade.

Side two actually has a bit more fullness, but this also seems to rob the violin of some of its presence. We gave this side an A+.

Favorite Beethoven Concertos / Heifetz & Rubinstein / BSO – Reviewed in 2007

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven

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

RCA Red Seal LPs. DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND!

The first LP of this disc is the equivalent of LSC 1992 and sounds AMAZING. The mastering is right on the money. (more…)

Paganini / Violin Concertos 1 & 2 / Menuhin – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

More of the music of Niccolò Paganini

Violin Concerto 1 & 2 / Menuhin

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

Another remarkable Demo Disc from the Golden Age of recording, in this case 1961, with the benefit of more modern mastering from the ’70s, a combination that works wonders on this title, as you will hear from both of these White Hot sides.

The sound is so transparent, undistorted, three-dimensional and REAL, without any sacrifice in solidity, richness or Tubey Magic, that we knew we had our shootout winner with this copy.

It simply could not be beat: no other copy excelled in so many areas of reproduction whilst striking the ideal balance between soloist and orchestra. (more…)

Paganini / Violin Concertos 1 & 2 – Fenn Music Debunked

More of the music of Niccolò Paganini

Violin Concertos 1 & 2

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl Classical LP debunked.

We managed to get hold of the Heavy Vinyl pressing put out by Fenn Music in Germany, about which a well known record dealer on the web (you may recognize the style) had this to say:

Stunning Reissue Of EMI ASD 440 Recorded In Stereo In 1961. This Recording Featuring The Royal Philharmonic Conducted By Alberto Erede Provides Convincing Proof, If Any Were Needed, That Menuhin Was One Of The Great Violinists Of The 20th Century.

The “convincing proof” provided by this record is that those responsible for it are Rank Incompetents of the Worst Kind (see what I did there?). Screechy, bright, shrill, thin and harsh, it’s hard to imagine worse sound to be subjected to from this piece of Heavy Vinyl trash.

NO warmth. NO sweetness. NO richness. NO Tubey Magic. In other words, NO trace of the original’s (or the early reissue’s) analog sound. I may own at most one or two classical CDs that sound this bad, and I own quite a few. I have to wonder how records this awful get released. Then again, the Heavy Vinyl Buyer of today is not known for his discrimination; if he were Sundazed and Analogue Productions would have gone out of business many years ago. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Concerto for Violin / Campoli / Argenta / LSO

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Concerto for Violin / Campoli / Argenta / LSO

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  • Another Blockbuster classical recording comes to the site – a rare and amazing Blueback pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades 
  • One of the best sounding copies of the work we have ever played – the orchestra is big, rich and tubey, yet the dynamics and transparency are first rate
  • The violin here is superb, as good as we’ve heard — rich, smooth, clear, resolving
  • What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound 

The violin here is superb, as good as we heard — rich, smooth, clear, resolving. What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound. The Tubey Magical richness is to die for. Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Practically zero smear, maximum resolution and transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — this pressing took the sound of this recording beyond what we thought was possible.

Quick Notes for Side One

Richer and smoother when loud. Tubey and sweet. Loud passages are huge, yet clear, with no smear. HTF (Hard To Fault).

Quick Notes for Side Two

Amazing rosiny violin. 100% transparent yet so rich and tubey. Performance is tops. Deep bass too. (more…)

Ravel, Saint-Saens et al. / Tzigane, Havanaise / Kyung-Wha Chung – Reviewed in 2012

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

Tzigane, Havanaise / Kyung-Wha Chung

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

This 1979 London original English pressing of violin showpieces has Super Hot Stamper sound on side two, which came as a bit of a shock to us after playing side one, which is as congested and opaque as one would expect from such a late London recording. Side two is fabulous — full-bodied, rich and sweet. Even though it may have been recorded in 1977, the engineer is Kenneth Wilkinson, and the hall is Kingsway — not many bad recordings can be attributed to either.    

But bad mastering or bad pressing quality are surely not the fault of either; when the record doesn’t come out of the oven right, the sound is going to suffer, and the sound on this side one is insufferable all right. But side two is GLORIOUS; it has wonderful music played with the greatest skill and feeling.  (more…)

Beethoven / Septet In E Minor / Members of the Vienna Octet – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven 

More Beethoven / Septet In E Minor / Members of the Vienna Octet 

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

We rarely put the effort into finding top quality pressings of chamber music that we do for the large orchestral works favored by audiophiles, works such as Scheherazade and The Planets. However, if more of them sounded as good as this one, and played as quietly, we would be more than happy to do just that.

My first note on side one is “HTF” — Hard To Fault, for the sound was both rich and sweet, with easily recognized, unerringly correct timbres for all seven of the instruments which are heard in the work. The legendary 1959 Decca Tree microphone setup had worked its magic once again.

And, as good as it was, we were surprised to discover that side two was actually even better! The sound was more spacious and more transparent; we asked ourselves, how is this even possible?

Hard to believe but side two had the sound that was TRULY Hard To Fault. This is precisely what careful shootouts and critical listening are all about. If you like Heavy Vinyl, what exactly is your frame of reference? How many good early pressings could you possibly own, and how were they cleaned?

Without the best pressings around to compare, Heavy Vinyl can sound fine. It’s only when you have something better that its faults come into focus. (We, of course, have something much, much better, and we like to call them Hot Stampers!) (more…)

Brahms / Sonata in D Minor / Laredo – Reviewed in 2007

More of the music of Johannes Brahms 

More Sonata in D Minor / Laredo 

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

DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND for this incredibly rare Living Stereo violin record.

This is the first copy I’ve ever seen. Side one, the Brahms Sonata, has very good sound and is played beautifully. When I dropped the needle on side two I went “Wow!” (more…)