_Composers – Liszt

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…)

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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Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture / Reiner – The Best Sound Here Is Everything But the 1812

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

The real stars here are NOT the 1812, but the three coupling works, which demonstrate, on this copy at least, The Real Power of the Orchestra. The remarkably rich, Tubey Magical and oh-so-rosiny Living Stereo strings and powerful, dynamic brass make this a real demo quality orchestral heavyweight. Lizst’s Mephisto Waltz, Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture, and the Tragic Overture by Brahms are the Must Own 36 minutes worth of music on the record. (more…)

Where Cheap Turntables Fall Flat – The Music of Franz Liszt

 

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Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge set-up. The Liszt recording you see pictured is a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as Liszt’s two piano concertos. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has paid for.

It has been my experience that cheap tables more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this.
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Liszt, Khatchaturian et al. / Fiedler / BPO

More Franz Liszt’s music

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

Breathtaking 1961 Living Stereo sound on side two – huge, open and Tubey Magical as all get out. Living Stereo Hot Stampers mean the hall is huge, the strings rich and sweetly textured. Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of Fantasia On “Greensleeves” is especially lovely here. Fiedler and his Boston Pops play these 8 shorter pieces with great gusto and skill. 

This Shaded Dog had precisely the right sound on side two, and very close to that sound on side one, making some of the best sound we have ever heard on this album. I’ve known about this recording for twenty years or more; it’s taken us a while to get around to it, there being so many wonderful (and frankly more famous) Fiedler records to play in the pipeline.

There are other recordings with Fiedler at the helm from 1961 but this is clearly the best of the batch, some of them being not very good at all, or good only intermittently. Practically every track on this title is excellent and some of them are superb. Take home this copy and you will quickly see what I mean.

Side Two

White Hot and superb on practically every level. Rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, with depth and transparency like few recordings you may have heard, the music flows from the speakers effortlessly. You are there.

The brass and string sections of the music are almost never brash or shrill, something that no other side could manage. (more…)

Liszt & Weber / Ballade No. 2, Mephisto Waltz, more / Bar-Illan

More Franz Liszt’s music

Ballade No. 2, Mephisto Waltz, more / Bar-Illan

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

The Liszt side here actually has the best sound, earning a seriously good grade of A++ to A+++. This is one of the few audiophile-oriented recordings I have ever played that actually sounded NATURAL and CORRECT. This is a very real sounding piano; there are not many recordings that can capture that instrument’s weight, but this one sure does. (more…)

Everything But the Beer / Fiedler Conducts a Boston Pops Concert – Reviewed in 2012

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

This VERY RARE 2 LP Shaded Dog pressing has Super Hot Stamper sound. Much of what’s good about Golden Age recordings is heard here, with side one for example having the sound of a HUGE hall and that Three-Dimensional quality that the best vintage recordings are able to convey so well.

We constantly knock Heavy Vinyl here at Better Records for the simple reason that we play vintage recordings such as this by the score every month and can hear what they do so well. Unfortunately the huge hall and the 3-D soundstaging they effortlessly reproduce cannot be found on any Heavy Vinyl pressing we know of.

Such qualities allow this record to sound — in some ways, to be sure not all — like live music. Heavy Vinyl just plain doesn’t. (more…)

Bach and Liszt / Organ Music / Richter – CS 6172

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

You can feel the cool air in the hall! Some audiophiles buy organ records to show off their subwoofers. Records like this can do that but records this good have musical qualities far beyond simple demonstrations of bass reproduction. Karl Richter understands this music perfectly and makes it come alive in a way I’ve never heard any other musician.

For those of you who think technology marches on — which of course it does in some ways — this 1954 recording shows that they could capture the authentic sound of the real instrument with the equipment of the day. Maybe they could even capture it better back in those days. I certainly can’t think of a better organ record than this, and musically I don’t think there are too many organists in Richter’s class.

All in all, practically the best of its kind, if not THE best.

Various / Heart of the Piano Concerto – Rubinstein – Reviewed in 2008

More Living Stereo

Various / Heart of the Piano Concerto

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

This is an EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD SOUNDING Shaded Dog pressing with fairly quiet vinyl. What’s surprising about this is how transparent and low distortion it is. Just as with Destination Stereo (LSC 2307), the excerpts here frequently sound better than they do on the original complete performances. Rubinstein’s piano is solid and clear sounding, which is rarely the case, especially for his Beethoven concertos. Those almost never sound good, but the excerpt here for Concerto #3 is excellent. 

Liszt / Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2 / Kondrashin / Richter – Awful Mercury Mastering

More of Franz Liszt’s music

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Sonic Grade: F

An Orchestral Hall of Shame pressing.

This recording was released through Mercury, recorded by Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart, mastered by George Piros, the legendary Mercury team of renown. It is instructive to note that the Philips mastering is dramatically superior to the mediocre Mercury mastering, which may strike you as counterintuitive, but is nonetheless a fact. It’s precisely the reason we play records all day here at Better Records. You can’t judge a record by its credentials. The only way to know how it sounds is to play it, and to really know how it sounds you must play it against a sizeable number of other copies.

Then, and only then, can you talk knowledgeably about the sound. (Note to forum posters: this means you.) (more…)