_Composers – Debussy

Debussy – La Mer / Ansermet

More of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • A vintage Decca import pressing of these wonderful orchestral pieces that was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades
  • La Mer is on side one and it is lovely – rich and sweet, tonally correct, dynamic, and extended on the top and the bottom
  • Two other major works found on this compilation are Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Clair De Lune
  • The richness of the strings 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
  •  When you hear how good this record sounds, you may have a hard time believing that it’s a budget reissue from 1972, but that’s precisely what it is. Even more extraordinary, the right copies are the ones that win shootouts
  • There are about 100 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

(more…)

Piano Works of Debussy & Ravel – This Is How to Make a Good Audiophile Record

Reviews and Commentaries for Albums Mastered by Robert Ludwig

A lovely solo piano recording from Athena, which is certainly not a label we have ever associated with good sound. Just the opposite in fact.

But they did a great job on this album (or at least I thought so many years ago when I last played it. For purposes of this commentary, let’s assume the sound still holds up).

This is how to make a good audiophile record.

Yes, there is such a thing. They may be rare but they do exist. We have quite a few of them for sale as a matter of fact.

Take a good tape, hire someone who knows his way around a normal-speed cutting lathe (with 5800+ credits on Discogs, I would hope he knows what he’s doing) as well as classical music (he cut a huge number of records for Nonesuch back in the day), press it on good vinyl and let the audiophiles of the world enjoy it.

The Connoisseur Society original may in fact be better, but where are you going to find one?

Robert, Bernie and Doug – An Honest Comparison

In another listing for an audiophile record that Robert Ludwig cut, we noted:

I suspect that if Ludwig hadn’t stopped cutting records years ago, we would not be complaining nearly as much about the questionable sound of the modern Heavy Vinyl pressings currently inundating the market.

Bernie and Doug really started letting the record lovers of the world down, beginning as far back as the ’90s. See here and here.

The muddy messes Doug Sax cut for Analogue Productions and the awful Living Stereo records Bernie cut for Classic Records were sad chapters in both men’s body of work. Here are two of the All Time Greats. Their fall was precipitous and painful for those of us who never gave up on analog.

In those dark days, they were mastering one bad record after another, all of them so unlike the amazing sounding records they had been making by the score in the ’70s and well into the ’80s.

We have nothing personal against either one of them, of course. We just haven’t liked the sound of very many of the records they’ve mastered for the last thirty years, and we have never been shy about saying so.

(more…)

Classic Records First Three Classical Releases, Reviewed Circa 1994

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Titles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Hundreds of Living Stereo Records

Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound.”

With each passing year — 28 and counting — we like that sound less.  Some Classic Records pressings may be on Harry’s TAS list — disgraceful but true — but that certainly has no bearing on whether or not they are very good records. 

I had a chance to play LSC 1806 (pictured above) not long ago and I was dumbfounded at how bright, shrill and aggressive it was.

I still remember playing my first Classic Records title, their first release, which would probably have been in 1994. The deep bass of the organ at the start of Also Sprach Zarathustra, the horns and the tympani blasting out from a dead silent background, put a lump in my throat. Had they actually managed to remaster these old recordings so well that the vintage pressings I was selling for such high prices would soon be worthless? I really do remember having that thought race through my mind.

But then the strings came in, shrieking and as bright as the worst Angel or DG pressing I’d ever heard. It was as if somebody had turned the treble control up on my preamp two or three clicks, into ear-bleeding territory. All my equipment at the time was vintage and tube, and even though my system erred on the dark side tonally, the first Classic release was clearly off the charts too bright and transistory, with none of the lovely texture and sheen that RCA was famous for in the early days of Living Stereo.

I knew right then that my vintage record business was safe.

Here is our review from the ’90s, written shortly after the release of Classic’s first three titles. (With minor additions and changes for clarity and context.)

Hall of Shame Pressings, Every One

I’m reminded of the nonsense I read in TAS and elsewhere in the mid-’90s regarding the reputed superiority of the Classic Records Living Stereo reissues. After playing their first three titles: 1806, 1817 and 2222 (if memory serves), I could find no resemblance between the reviews I read and the actual sound of the records I played. The sound was, in a word, awful.

To this day I consider them to be the Single Worst Reissue Series in History.

[To be fair, Analogue Productions probably now holds that crown.]

When Harry Pearson (of all people! — this is the guy who started the Living Stereo craze by putting these forgotten old records on the TAS list in the first place) gave a rave review to LSC 1806, I had to stand up (in print anyway) and say that the emperor clearly had removed all his clothes, if he ever had any to begin with.

This got me kicked out of TAS by the way, as Harry does not take criticism well. I make a lot of enemies in this business with my commentary and reviews, but I see no way to avoid the fallout for calling a spade a spade.

Is anybody insane enough to stand up for LSC 1806 today? Considering that there is a die-hard contingent of people who still think Mobile Fidelity is the greatest label of all time, there may well be “audiophiles” with crude audio equipment or poorly developed critical listening skills, or both (probably both, as the two go hand in hand), that still find the sound of the shrill, screechy strings of the Classic pressing somehow pleasing to the ear. Hey, anything is possible.

As I’ve said again and again, the better a stereo gets, the more obvious the differences between good vintage pressings and most current reissues become. Modest front ends and mediocre playback systems can disguise these differences and mislead the amateur audiophile.

And the “professional” too. We’ve all had the experience of going back to play a record from years ago that we remember as being amazing, only to find it amazingly bad.

The Japanese Led Zeppelin series from the ’90s comes immediately to mind. How could my system have been so dull that those bright pressings actually fooled me into thinking they sounded good all those years ago? I’ve done a few Mea Culpas over the years, and that’s one of the bigger ones.

Remember when Chesky Records were all the rage? Does anybody in his right mind play that shit anymore?

A short anecdote: A good customer called me up one night many years ago. He had just finished playing the Chesky pressing of Spain, and had pulled out his Shaded Dog original to compare. The sound of his Shaded Dog pressing was so much better that he took his Chesky and, with great satisfaction, ceremoniously dropped it in the trash can, noting, “Of course I could have sold it or traded it away, but nobody should have to listen to sound like that.”

Another anecdote: when Chesky first got started in the remastering business, a friend picked up their pressing of LSC 2150, Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije with Reiner. He played it for me when I came over to hear his system, and he and I were both shocked that his ’70s Red Seal pressing was better in every way.

We wanted to know: What kind of audiophile label can’t even go head to head with a cheap reissue put out twenty years after the initial release just to keep the bins stocked and satisfy the needs of the low-budget classical record buyer?

The answer: Plenty of them, and definitely Chesky. Playing most Classic Records classical titles is a painful experience these days. I do not recommend it to anyone with good equipment. If you love the Living Stereo sound and cannot afford vintage pressings, consider playing the CDs RCA remastered. The one I know well is clearly better than Classic’s and AP’s LP.

(more…)

Rachmaninoff and Liszt / Favorite Classics for Piano / Pennario on Capitol

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1880)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Records We’ve Discovered

We found White Hot Stamper sound on side two of this solo piano recording.

It’s big, rich and above all REAL sounding, with natural studio space. The legendary soloist Leonard Pennario is presented here at the height of his powers.

Superb choice of material, from Clair De Lune to Liebestraum to the Hungarian Rhapsody No . 2.

On the rare Stereo pressing of course — we want to hear all that studio space reproduced, just as your two ears would have heard it (more or less).

Side One

Graded Super Hot for the huge, solid-sounding piano, played with such verve and skill. The musical power on this side is stupendous. 

Side Two

Even better! No smear, with incredible clarity, and no sacrifice in weight or richness.

All of which adds up to a top quality piano recording in every way.

(more…)

Debussy / Clair de Lune / Agoult

  • This rich, sweet and full-bodied UK pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from top to bottom – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Side one gives you not only a wonderful Clair De Lune, but a number of shorter works by Faure, Massenet and Elgar as well, with side two highlighted by meditative pieces by Bach, Tchaikovsky and others
  • We can’t imagine a more beautiful record, both in terms of the program and the sound – this record is a wonderful example of what the Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on tape
  • It’s the same recording as the famous Living Stereo Clair De Lune, LSC-2326, but with a couple of extra tracks included
  • The other main difference between the Living Stereo pressing and our Decca here is that the Decca has better sound

Transparent and spacious, wide and naturally staged, clean yet rich, with zero coloration, there is nothing here to fault. So relaxed and natural you will soon find yourself lost in the music.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording. 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.

The 1959 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.

(more…)

Saint-Saens – The Best Danse Macabre on Record

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

More of the music of Paul Dukas (1865-1935)

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894)

Saint-Saens’ symphonic poem, Danse Macabre, the second piece on the second side, is the heart of the album and its raison d’être for us. This is where the real fireworks can be found, although that’s not really fair as there are fireworks aplenty on both sides.

What we have here is the best Danse Macabre we have ever played.

We have always been fans of Gibson’s performance on the legendary Witches’ Brew. As good as that recording may be, this one is clearly superior in practically every way — it’s bigger, clearer, richer, more resolving, more spacious, more real and, to my surprise, more EXCITING and involving.

If you own a copy of LSC 2225, hopefully not the awful Classic pressing, you need to hear what Fremaux and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra have accomplished.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Dukas)

This piece opens the side. There is depth and richness to beat the band, as well as clarity and tonal correctness that let you forget the recording and just enjoy the music.

A superb performance as well, as good as any we know of. And the sound is the equal of the best recordings we’ve played.

Espana. Rhapsody For Orchestra (Chabrier)

As good as Fremaux is, I think the Ansermet (CS 6438) might still have the edge, but both are so good that it might just come down to a matter of taste. You cannot go wrong with either.

And now we actually prefer the famous Argenta recording for Decca that’s on the TAS List, CS 6006.

Side One

Bolero (Ravel)

Comparable to our longtime favorite for sound and performance with Ansermet, we cannot say which one we would prefer without doing quite a bit more critical listening, a luxury we do not have at the moment.

We can tell you this: Turn it up and it really comes to life like LIVE MUSIC. It’s big, wide and believable.

This side one was far and away the best we played. 

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (Debussy)

Transparency, depth and space were superb on this side, allowing that “you are there” feeling to take hold in the mind. The best copies like this one had plenty of all three.

(more…)

Debussy / Clair de Lune – Compare and Contrast Sides One and Two

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

This Shaded Dog LP has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND, if what you’re demonstrating is not a Hi-Fi spectacular, but rather a sublime presentation of an exceptionally sweet and natural string section in an orchestra, presented here on analog disc pressed more than sixty years ago.  

I can’t imagine a more beautiful record, both in terms of the program and the sound. This record is a wonderful example of what the Decca recording engineers were able to capture on tape, and the RCA mastering engineers were able to master from that tape.

Even though the album was recorded by Decca, it’s a superb example of Living Stereo Tubey Magic at its best. There will never be a reissue of this record that even remotely captures the space, transparency, sweetness and richness of the sound here.

Side Two

A++ to A+++ or better! Without more copies in hand it’s hard to know how good the sound can get, but we found it Hard To Fault (HTF).

This side has more extension up top and down low and more texture to the strings.

Side One

A++, although it starts out a bit weaker than that and only really gets good a few minutes into the side. (We hear this effect fairly often on the records we play. Noticing things like this is what we do for a living.)

There is some smear and it is slightly opaque as well.

You will hear what we mean when you flip it over and those two problems disappear.

(more…)

Who Can Explain Why This Decca Reissue Sounds So Good?

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Music of Claude Debussy

This Decca reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. James Lock was the engineer for these sessions from 1955 to 1962 in Geneva’s glorious sounding Victoria Hall, and his work here is superb in all respects.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s, 1972 to be exact.

We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 40+ years ago, not the mediocre-at-best 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 superb sides.

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.

(more…)

Debussy / Images for Orchestra / Ansermet – London Versus Decca

More of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

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

  • INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it throughout this early London Wideband Stereo pressing
  • Our Shootout Winner here was exceptionally lively and dynamic – the RCA with Munch was slightly richer and sweeter, but you will find very little to fault in the sound of this record if you don’t have the right stampers for that one
  • And we’re eager to point out that the Decca pressings were not in the same sonic league as our best Londons, something that we run into on a regular basis but for some reason surprises audiophile record lovers to this very day, why we have no idea — all the pressings we play in our shootouts are mastered by Decca in England from the same tapes
  • There are about 100 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

(more…)

Saint-Saens / Chabrier / Danse Macabre / Espana and More

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894)

  • This EMI import pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • Both sides here are BIGGER and RICHER than any other we played – they’re super clean and clear, tonally correct from top to bottom, and have all of the weight of the orchestra down low (not to mention some of the loveliest orchestral music reproduction we’ve ever heard)
  • If you want a classical record to TEST your system and DEMO your system, you will have a hard time finding a better pressing than this very copy!
  • This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Orchestral Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

(more…)