Orchestral / Classical Music

Rimsky-Korsakov / The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner – Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn VAGUE

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Tom Port – Better Records

 

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Rimsky-Korsakov – The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner

Sonic Grade: C

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing shown here in order to see how it would fare up against a pair of wonderful sounding Londons we were in the process of shooting out a while ago. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.
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Dvorak / Cello Concerto – Munch / Boston – Hard to Recommend on Classic Records

More Antonin Dvorak

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

A Classic Records pressing (Remember the Sound!) that never sounded much good to me. But the original never impressed either, as you can see from our review of it.

I have never heard a copy of this record sound better than decent. This title is very unlikely to have the wonderful sound of the best Living Stereo pressings that you can find on our site, each of which has been carefully evaluated to the highest standards.

We love the Starker recordings on Mercury. Wish we could afford to buy some and do a shootout. At the prices they command these days, that is very unlikely to happen.

We used to recommend this Superanalogue pressing when it was in print. I doubt we would care much for it now.

Sibelius / Finlandia / Mackerras on VICS 1069 – A $50 Hot Stamper from 2004(!)

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DEMO QUALITY SOUND and quiet surfaces too.

I don’t know when I’ve heard this album with better sound. This one may be better than the best Shaded Dog for all I know — it’s that good.

You’ll notice that there is a copy of this very same record on the website for $1.99. That one sounds dull. I don’t think you’ll be able to find a better sounding copy of this record than the pressing we are selling here, because it really is an exceptionally good sounding record. If it weren’t, it would be more like $1.99.

[Yes, we used to sell some records for $1.99. Probably should have donated them to the Goodwill. Most of our run-of-the-mill classical goes there now. The local record stores don’t want them anymore. That ship has sailed.]

Rossini-Respighi / La Boutique Fantasque – Reversed Polarity Copy

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This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

This is a WONDERFUL sounding, very quiet original Shaded Dog pressing of one of the rarest Living Stereo titles. Dropping the needle on side one was a shock — the sound was terrible: thin, shrill and practically unlistenable. Since I know this to be an exceptionally good sounding record, there was only one possibility: reverse absolute phase. Sure enough, the magic of Living Stereo reappeared. If you can’t reverse your polarity, this is not the record for you! 

Are they all that way? I have no way of knowing. I run across a clean quiet copy like this once every ten years or so. If any of you out there own this record and yours is not reversed phase let me know what your stamper numbers are, I’d be very interested.

This has always been a favorite title with audiophiles. It’s full of lovely orchestral colors, much like The Nutcracker. As usual, Fiedler and the Boston Pops are accorded superb sound.

The Rapture of the Purely Musical Experience

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, compromised in every imaginable way, are sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them. The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. Playing them you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in their performance. Whatever the limitations of the medium they seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the pure musical experience.

That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable.

We live for records like these. It’s the reason we all get up in the morning and come to work, to find and play good records. It’s what this site is all about — offering the audiophile music lover recordings that provide real musical satisfaction. It’s hard work — so hard nobody else seems to want to do it — but the payoff makes it all worthwhile. To us anyway. Hope you feel the same.

 

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This work is difficult to find with anything but harsh sound. Such powerful and exciting orchestration must surely be problematic to capture on tape.

But Mercury managed to do it, a feat few others labels can claim.

This side one is truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY, thanks to its superb low-distortion mastering. It’s yet another exciting Mercury recording. The quiet passages have unusually sweet sound.

This kind of sound is not easy to cut. This copy gets rid of the cutter head distortion and coloration and allows you to hear what the Mercury engineers accomplished.

Side One

The balanced tonality is key, especially when you have such lively brass and strings. The top is correct, even sweet, and you can’t say that about very many Mercs. Exceptionally tight bass too.

I don’t know of a better performance or a better recording of the work.

Side Two

Dorati breathes fire into the famous Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet on side 2. Unfortunately, the sound is never as good in our experience as it is on side one.

Clear horns, a big hall — if it were a bit less bright it would probably have earned another plus.

Rabin / The Magic Bow / Slatkin – Reviewed in 2010

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This original Capitol record with Michael Rabin is ONE OF THE VERY BEST VIOLIN RECORDINGS we have ever played here at Better Records. The sound is OUT OF THIS WORLD! The immediacy of the violin tone is unbelievable — Rabin is in the room with you throughout the entirety of the record in a way that few recordings in our experience could hope to equal.

What more can we say, other than the music is every bit as good as the sound. If you love the Classical Romantic period, and who doesn’t, these selections will have you in a world of sound and music rarely matched by anything but the best in live performance.

Another TAS List Oversight

This is another record that is not on the TAS List, but would certainly take top honors in a head to head shootout with any of the violin works to be found there. (more…)

Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite / Dorati on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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The standard Classic Records failings are as obvious and as irritating on this remaster as they are on practically all of the others.

Lack of ambience.

Smeary and hard strings.

A lack of Tubey Magic.

Veiled and recessed in general.

Bottom line: Not a good record.

Of course, Classic Records made very few good records; why should this one be any different?

It sure fooled a lot of audiophiles though.  Allow me to quote a writer with his own website devoted to explaining and judging classical recordings of all kinds. His initials are A.S. for those of you who have been to his site.

Classic Records Reissues (both 33 and 45 RPM) – These are, by far, the best sounding Mercury pressings. Unfortunately, only six records were ever released by Classic. Three of them (Ravel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky) are among the very finest sounding records ever made by anyone. Every audiophile (with a turntable) should have these “big three”.

Obviously we could not disagree more. I’ve played all six of the Classic Mercurys; the Ravel and Prokofiev titles are actually even worse than the Stravinsky we reviewed here on the blog.

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Winds In Hi-Fi / Fennell / EWE – Reviewed in 2010

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DEMONSTRATION QUALITY. Famous TAS list LP! Superb sound. Mercury knows how to capture the bite of the brass. Fennell is a master of this sort of sweet and lyrical Wind Music.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs.

The credit must go to Fennel along with the brilliant engineering team at Mercury. I’ve been told that he was a stickler for making sure everyone was perfectly in tune and playing correctly within the ensemble. That’s exactly what you hear when you play a record like this — it’s practically sonic perfection.

Fennell made a number of band music recordings for Mercury. My favorite is British Band Classics Vol. 2, which was the first Mercury recording I ever heard. I went out and bought a copy of it immediately from my local Tower Records on Golden Import.

Years later when I heard the real thing, and original pressing, I realized the Golden Import was a pretty second rate reissue, fine for the $4.99 I might have paid but a big step down from the early pressings.

Also, if you ever see a clean copy of Vol. 1, only available in Mono, pick it up. If it’s cut right it too is out of this world.

Sibelius / Finlandia / Mackerras – Reviewed in 2015

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A shocking Stereo Treasury sleeper with a superb Shaded-Dog-beating side one. Side one is nearly White Hot – it’s exceptionally transparent and dynamic. Real Demo Disc sound and music on side one – spectacular works played with feeling.

This is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1960 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, 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.

One of the quietest pressings we played in our shootout, if not the quietest.

Side One

More spacious than practically any other copy we heard thanks to an extended, correct top end.

This side was also very dynamic, and it gets loud in the right way, never harsh or screechy.

Correct from top to bottom, and there are not many records we can say that about. So natural in every way.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL on this side. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The brass is big and clear and weighty, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.

Side Two

Good clarity and top extension, with full-bodied, textured strings. Gets a little hot at its loudest but manages to stay under control and enjoyable throughout.

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

Two Things

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original probably won’t sound as good, likely having been cut on cruder equipment.

And two, no modern recutting of the tapes (by the likes of Speakers Corner for example, but you can substitute any company you care to name) could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic orchestral sound.

I have never heard a Heavy Vinyl pressing begin to do what this record is doing. The Decca we have here may be a budget reissue pressing, but it was mastered by real Decca engineers (a few different ones in fact), pressed in England on high quality vinyl, and made from fairly fresh tapes (nine years old, not fifty years old!), then mastered about as well as a record can be mastered.

The sound is, above all, REAL and BELIEVABLE.

The brass has weight, the top extends beautifully for those glorious cymbal crashes, the hall is huge and the staging very three-dimensional — there is little to fault in the sound on either side. (more…)

Albeniz / Suite Espanola – De Burgos – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better Speakers Corner Deccas! Excellent sound and lovely music. This pressing also sounds much better than the Super Analogue pressing of the same music.

When you get the right original pressing — London or Decca — they’re even better, but they sure are hard to find on quiet vinyl.