_Composers – Handel

Handel / Water Music / Academy of Ancient Music

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This original looking Purple Label L’Oiseau-Lyre (Decca) English pressing has some of the best sound we have yet heard for a period instrument recording. There are many good qualities that will recommend this pressing to audiophiles and music lovers alike. The group is smaller and more sprightly than most we heard, the hall they record in has wonderful sound that fits the music perfectly (not too reverberant, and not too dead), and, most importantly, the character of each of the instruments seems to come through in the recording more clearly; their “colors”, so to speak, appear to our ears to be more intense.

This is a lovely quality in a record. Years ago, fifteen I would guess, I remember playing a Telarc recording and noticing that every instrument had a “grayish” color to its sound. Since that day I have never been able to take a Telarc recording seriously. (CDs suffer from this sound even more.) (more…)

Handel / Water Music Suite (Complete) / Kubelik / Berlin Phil

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  • A+++ on side one – dynamic, huge, rich and open. This is a DG? Yes! 
  • All three suites, and one of the best performances we know of
  • Side two is exceptionally transparent – you hear into it beautifully
  • One of the best DG recordings we have ever played, a true Demo Disc

The performance here by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Rafael Kubelik is currently a favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable. With White Hot and Super Hot stampers respectively, this copy is right up there with the best recordings of the Water Music we’ve heard.

This is of course a well-known, well-respected performance by one of the greatest orchestras in the world, the home to Von Karajan at the time. We went through an elimination round for the work a while back, winnowing a large number of recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance, and we are happy to say that this one acquitted itself beautifully on all counts.

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We managed to find three (!) recordings that had both superb sound and top quality performances. On the best pressings all were of Demo Disc quality, and most were pressed on very quiet vinyl. (more…)

Handel / The Water Music Suite / Van Beinum

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This exceptionally rare original London mono pressing not only has Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides, but boasts a performance that is practically unmatched since its recording back in 1958!

This is Handel played with excitement and passion, worlds away from the draggy and listless performances with which you may be more familiar. (We like both Szell on London and Dorati on Mercury but try finding them with good sound and in good condition. It ain’t easy.)

Side One – The Water Music

A++ Rich textured strings are the first of many sonic qualities to catch your ear, followed soon enough by big, rich, solid brass, the kind of brass that mono recordings seem to capture so well.

And no smear to the transients. That alone makes it an exceptional vintage golden age recording.

As one would expect, the frequency extremes are not what they can be on a modern recordings. The midrange, however, is glorious. Also dynamics are better.

The life of the music comes through here brilliantly! A top top performance.

Side Two – The Royal Fireworks

A++ again, but different. The sound here is richer and tubier, with a more extended top end, but a bit smeary on the strings compared to side one. The sound is transparent, and the strings never get steely or edgy, with no shrillness or hardness whatsoever, which means you can really turn this one up and enjoy the hell out of it from the front row center seat you’ve purchased.

So musical and lively, this is music that belongs in any music lover’s collection. (more…)

Handel / Water Music / Marriner

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  • Super Hot sound on side , 8 of the 9 movements of Suite No. 1
  • White Hot Demo Disc sound on side two for the last movement and Suites 2&3
  • One of our two favorite performances – Marriner gets it like few others do
  • An exceptionally dynamic recording that gets QUIET like live music

This White Hot Stamper has a number of exceptionally attractive qualities, the most notable of which is how quiet the music can be during some of the quieter passages. This is a sound that we did not hear on any of the more than a dozen Water Music recordings we played, which of course is what accounts for it being so striking to the ear. Records rarely are quiet the way live orchestral music can be in performance, compression being the order of the day when the tape is rolling.

Running neck and neck with the Leppard performance we liked so much, the choice between the Marriner and that one is probably a matter of taste. Each is superb. Each sets a standard that will be hard for any other pressing to achieve. And the ’70s Philips vinyl is going to be impossible to beat, certainly with any Golden Age pressing we know of.

An Overview

The modern version of The Water Music contains three separate suites, referred to as Suite No. I, Suite No. 2 and Suite No. 3, each of which is in a different key, and each of which makes use of different instrumentation. Suite No. 1 is the one that will be most familiar to you, 2 and 3 quite a bit less so. Click on the Water Music tab above to read more about the work.

On this record, 8 of the 9 movements in Suite No. 1 are on side one.

Side Two

White Hot, and Hard To Fault (HTF). It’s clear, with lovely texture to the strings. The low bass strings are shockingly well-recorded; we did not hear that sound on any other pressing we played. The sound is dynamic but never harsh. (more…)

Milstein / Encores / Pommers – Reviewed in 2009

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This original Rainbow Label Capitol pressing has D1 / D1 stampers (!) and the shrink still on the cover — now how rare is that!? Copies in this condition regularly fetch $300-400 on ebay these days, some as much as $450, and it’s highly unlikely that any of those sound as good as this one. (Unless those sellers use the same advanced cleaning fluids and techniques we do and have access to an $8000 record cleaning machine, that is.)

The sound is SUPERB, especially on side two, which we rated A Double Plus. Side two had a bit more presence and transparency than side one and that, along with quieter vniyl, kicked the grade up a notch. The third work on side two, a piece by Fritz Kreisler, is one of the highlights of the entire album.

The sound is smooth and sweet throughout, and of course the playing is superb. We are big fans of Nathan Milstein here at Better Records and it’s records like this that justify our enthusiasm. The album comprises works for violin and piano by Kreisler, Schumann, Szymanowski, Handel, others. 

Handel / Water Music / Leppard – Our Favorite Performance with Top Quality Sound

Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

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The performance here by the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Raymond Leppard is currently my favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable. This pressing boasts the biggest hall, the most transparency, and it has more clearly layered depth and more space than any other pressing we played. With White Hot stampers on side two and a Super Hot side one, this copy is right up there with the best Water Music we’ve heard. 

In a way this may not be quite fair to other equally well-known, well-respected performances. We went through an elimination round for the work a few weeks back, winnowing the recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance — perhaps some of the discarded records had even better performances than Leppard’s. At this late stage who can say?

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We are happy to report that that does not appear to be the case with The Water Music (keeping in mind the caveat above).

We managed to find three (!) recordings that had both superb sound and top quality performances. This then is my favorite of the three, though not by much; on the best pressings all were Demo Disc quality, and most were pressed on very quiet vinyl. (more…)

Brahms / Variations And Fugue On A Theme By Handel / Katchen – Reviewed in 2008

More of the music of Johannes Brahms 

More Variations And Fugue On A Theme By Handel / Katchen 

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

Near Mint copy with excellent sound! Superb piano tone for these solo pieces and very quiet vinyl add up to a wonderful listening experience. This surprisingly quiet British vinyl is going to be hard to beat by other Golden Age labels. (Finding solo piano recordings on RCA or Mercury from this era that play quietly is practically impossible.)

Side one is super TRANSPARENT — the piano is so clear! It lacks a bit of weight on the first side; perhaps that’s the way it is actually supposed to sound, who can say? On side two it sounds a little better to my ear, big and dark and very solid. It’s pretty amazing in its own way. And Katchen’s performance is of course superb. All in all a very find piano recording.

This lovely album also includes Variations on a Theme by Paganini. (more…)

Brahms, Handel, Chopin – Lincoln Mayorga, Pianist – Reverse Your Polarity!

More Brahms, Handel, Chopin

More Direct to Disc recordings

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This IMMACULATE Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP with Very Little Sign Of Play (VLSOP) is one of the best Sheffields. Lincoln Mayorga is an accomplished classical pianist: this is arguably his best work. (I had a chance to see him perform at a recital of Chopin’s works early in 2010 and he played superbly — for close to two hours without the aid of sheet music I might add.) 

You might want to try reversing the phase when playing this LP; it definitely helps the sound, a subject we discuss below.

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

Reversing the absolute phase on this record recently was quite interesting. The sound of the piano itself was already very good. With the phase reversed what really changed with the sense of space surrounding it, which immediately became much more palpable. The piano, though tonally similar to the way it sounded with the phase left alone, came to life more — more solid and punchy and percussive.

How do you change the absolute phase you ask? You must either switch the positive and negative at the speaker, the amp, or at the head shell leads, or you must have a switch that inverts phase on your preamp or phono stage. (The EAR 324p we use has just such a switch and let me tell you, it comes in very handy in situations like these.) If you can’t do any of those, or are unwilling to do any of those, this record will still sound good. It just won’t sound as good.