Composers

Iberia from 1960 – Amazing on the Original and the Right Reissues Too

1960 – A Great Year for Top Quality Recordings of Timeless Music

When you look closely at all the great records that were released that year — some of which can even be purchased in Hot Stamper form on this very site — you may come to agree with us that 1960 was a wonderful year for recorded music.

Click HERE to see the records currently on the site that were recorded or released in 1960.

And HERE to see the records from 1960 that we’ve reviewed, a substantially larger group as you can imagine, with more than 90 entries at the time of this writing.

 

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 A Top Quality Reissue (Potentially of Course)

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 A Wonderful Original (On the Right Pressing, Again, Of Course)

More of the music of Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from May of 1960 in Geneva’s glorious sounding Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable Demo Disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s. (We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 30+ years ago, not the bad modern mastering of today.)

The combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on both of these better than Super Hot sides.

The sound of this copy is so transparent, undistorted, three-dimensional and REAL, without any sacrifice in solidity, richness or Tubey Magic, that we knew we had a real winner on our hands as soon as the needle hit the groove.

We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way.

Side One – Iberia (1-4)

A huge hall, correct string tone, spacious and open as practically any orchestral recording you can find! (more…)

Rhapsody! – The Story of an Old Fave We Were Wrong About

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A great example of an album We Was Wrong about.

As you can see by the commentary below, I used to think this was a wonderful sounding London “Sleeper” classical recording.

That was many years ago – five, six, seven, I cannot be sure. I ended up acquiring a half dozen copies of the album or so over the course of those years, had them cleaned up and proceeded to do a shootout.

It did not go well. Immediately I noticed that the pressings I was playing were sounding clean, clear and lively, but much too modern, too much like a good CD and not enough like the good Golden Age classical recordings we audition regularly.

Those recordings, on the right pressings, will take your breath away.  Rhapsody! was leaving me asking myself what was wrong. The more I listened the more obvious the faults of the recording became.

The pressings I played lacked warmth, richness, sweetness, space, and a number of other analog qualities I won’t belabor here. Too much of what makes listening to vintage vinyl so involving was just not on these records no matter how much I may have wanted them to be.

The extreme top and bottom were also lacking, giving the sound a “boxy” quality. The presentation was wide but not tall. Of the five levels of sound we discuss on the site in various listings, levels one and five were not as evident as they should have been.

This is, again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.

We cannot rely on our previous judgments. With all the changes we’ve made over the years, we can now clean our records better and play our records better than ever before.

That means that some will rise and some will fall. This one fell, pretty hard in fact. Not a bad record, but not a good one either, and far from as good as I once thought.

Below is our previous commentary.  All of this was true for my old stereo and room, my critical listening skills at the time, my old cleaning regimen. And by old I mean my approach from only about five or six years ago!

Things have changed, dramatically, and nothing in all of audio could make me happier.

DEMO QUALITY SOUND! This is one of the greatest SLEEPER albums of all time.

This London reissue from 1979 of recordings from 1978 in Detroit, the year in which Dorati became director of the Detroit Symphony has the kind of orchestral sound we drool over here at Better Records. Dark and rich strings — the basses growl just like the real thing. Dynamic. Deep solid bass. Fluffy tape hiss, which sounds exactly the way it should. This tells you that the top end is untweaked. (Almost all Classic Records have funny sounding tape hiss as you may or may not know. It”s a dead give away that the top end is boosted. Tape hiss is like pink noise: it always sounds the same, unless somebody has fooled with it. Steve Hoffman taught me to listen for this quality and it was a lesson important to my growth as a critical listener.) (more…)

Jascha Heifetz Plays the 1st Movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (Brilliantly)

Amazing! If only the sound of the original records were better!

[Oh but they are, or they certainly can be. We admit we was wrong! We review a killer copy of LSC 1992 right here on our site.]

For more Heifetz, click here.

Falla / Three-Cornered Hat / Argenta (CS 6050) – This Copy Sure Was a Letdown

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Sonic Grade: F

This London original pressing with 1K/1K stampers was so bright, dry, and shrill I could hardly stand to listen to it for more than the half minute it took to realize it was not going to get any better. It’s bad enough to go right into our Hall of Shame.

The copy we had back in 2010 was a very good sounding record, or so we thought. Maybe we were wrong! You can read all about it below.

Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat is positively WONDERFUL on this copy (A++), and the Sinfonia Sevillana by Turina on side two is every bit as good! The second suite on side one is particularly lovely — check out how rich and full the sound is. Side two has a HUGE soundstage, as wide as they come. The sound is very rich and full of audiophile colors — this is the kind of record that you’re going to love playing for your audio pals!

Argenta brings the authentic Spanish flavor out in these works. Like so many audiophile reviewers over the years, you may find these performances definitive.

The strings on the first side are a bit dry to start, kind of like the sound many of you will recognize from Mercury’s classical records. Still, there’s much to like about the sound and you’ll have a very hard time finding a copy that’s any better. Most pressings do not have such an extended top end, and that quality here really brings this music to life. (more…)

Bruch / Scottish Fantasy – Airless, Smeary and Low-Rez on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

It should go without saying that a good original pressing kills the Classic reissue, and the Classic version is one of the better Classics. Still, it’s no match for the real thing, not even close. The Classic is airless, smeary and low-rez, which means that all the subtleties of the music and the performance will be much more difficult to appreciate. 

I dare say that were you to hear a top quality copy it would be all but impossible to sit through the Classic ever again. (That might be true for all Classic records — once you hear the real thing it’s hard to imagine be able to tolerate the sound of this reissue.)

OUR HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY

WHITE HOT Stamper sound for the Bruch side of this original RCA Shaded Dog, one of the best Heifetz concerto titles of all time. (I’m trying to think of a Heifetz title that sounds better and coming up blank.)

This was our shootout winner on side two, beating all comers, earning our highest grade, the full Three Pluses (our blue ribbon, gold medal, and best in show all wrapped into one). The sound is nothing short of DEMO DISC QUALITY.

If you want to demonstrate the magic of Living Stereo recordings, jump right to the second movement of the Bruch. The sonority of the massed strings is to die for. When Heifetz enters, the immediacy of his violin further adds to the transcendental quality of the experience. Sonically and musically it doesn’t get much better than this, on Living Stereo or anywhere else.

The violin is captured beautifully on side two. More importantly there is a lovely lyricism in Heifetz’s playing which suits Bruch’s Romantic work perfectly. I know of no better performance. (more…)

The “Not-So-Golden-Age” of RCA, Mercury, London and More

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Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings.

We ran into a number of copies of this title that had what we like to call that “Old Record” sound, which is surprisingly common on even the most revered Golden Age labels, RCA included.

No top, no real bottom, congested climaxes and a general shrillness to the sound — we’ve played Living Stereos by the dozens that have these shortcomings and many more.

Some audiophiles may be impressed by the average Shaded Dog pressing, but I can assure you that we here at Better Records are decidedly not of that persuasion. Something in the range of ten to fifteen per cent of the major label Golden Age recordings we play will eventually make it to the site. The vast majority just don’t sound all that good to us. (Many have second- and third-rate performances and those get tossed without ever making it to a shootout.)

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Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite / Rozhdestvensky – Our 4+ Shootout Winner from 2019

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

Unbelievable Shootout Winning Demo Disc quality sound throughout — QUADRUPLE PLUS (A++++) on the first side and Triple Plus (A+++) on the second. Side one has by far the better music – it’s where the most exciting, most percussive movements can be found – and this pressing, with Beyond White Hot sound for that side, is guaranteed to be bigger and more lively than you ever imagined (because that’s how we felt about it, hence the fourth plus).

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.

Both sides show up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave side one that fourth plus!

This Angle Melodiya pressing of Bizet’s Carmen, rearranged by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin for strings and 47 percussion instruments, has two incredible sides. Demo Quality Sound barely begins to do it justice. If you have the system to play it, this copy is a KNOCKOUT.

But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce. You better have everything working right when you play this one — it’s guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. Speed, resolving power and freedom from distortion are what this record needs to sound its best. Is your system up to it? There’s only one way to find out.

And if you have any peaky audiophile wire or equipment in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that rewards your system’s neutrality. (more…)

The Power of the Orchestra – Remastered by the Geniuses at Chesky!

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Sonic Grade: F

Lifeless, compressed and thin. It’s clean and transparent, I’ll give it that, which is no doubt why so many audiophiles have been fooled into thinking it actually sounds better than the original. But of course there is no original; there are thousands of them, and they all sound different.

The Hot Stamper commentary below is for a pair of records that proves our case in the clearest possible way. (more…)

Saint-Saens / Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso / Friedman

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  • A nearly White Hot side two with the complete Saint-Saens work
  • Side two has explosive dynamics and near-perfect violin reproduction
  • Side one has the first movement of the Paganini Concerto No. 1
  • A Mohr/Layton Living Stereo Shaded Dog pressing from 1962

Side Two – Paganini – 2nd / 3rd Movements / Saint-Saens – Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso 

A++ to A+++, nearly White Hot. Big and lively, and so involving. Huge space, great dynamics, so immediate and engrossing. 

It’s one of the best sounding violin-led orchestral recordings we have played in recent memory, and we’ve played them by the hundreds and hundreds. (Practice makes perfect as they say.)

Side two of this copy easily puts most of the TAS Super Discs to shame. I would venture to say that there’s a very good chance that you have NEVER heard a violin-led orchestral recording as good as this one (that is, unless you own some of our White Hot Stamper violin records).

Side One – Paganini – Concerto No. 1 – First Movement (more…)

Saint-Saëns / Rondo Capriccioso / Chausson / Poeme / Oistrakh

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  • With two Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning sides, this collection of violin showpieces simply could not be beat 
  • This copy was dramatically fuller, richer, tubier and smoother than the others we played, and ALIVE with pyrotechnic fireworks on side one
  • A superb 1963 Living Stereo recording with Tubey Magic to die for, one of the best violin recordings we have ever offered
  • The highlight for us on a collection like this is always going to be The Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, “one of Saint-Saëns’ few genuine showpieces.”

The violin here is superb — 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. This record sounds like a Living Stereo recording from 1963 in all the best ways.

Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Zero smear, high-rez transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — it takes the sound of this recording beyond what we thought was possible.

The Miracle of Living Stereo

This record shows off Living Stereo sound at its best. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented (on side one; side two is simply violin and piano) with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy. If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD ever sounded like this.

The richness of the strings, a signature sound for RCA in the Living Stereo era, is displayed here beautifully for fans of the classical Golden Age.

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years. It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play it’s an art that is not lost on us.

I don’t think the RCA engineers could have cut this record any better — it has all the Living Stereo magic one could ask for, as well as the clarity and presence that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

This is pretty much as good as it gets, folks.

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