_Composers – Liszt

Witches’ Brew / Gibson – Living Stereo Pressing Reviewed in 2007

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DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND, of a sort. As I’ve said elsewhere on the site, this is not my idea of natural tonality.

As for the music, I have long held that the Danse Macabre on this album is the best ever. I probably still agree with that [not anymore, here’s a better one], but so much of the material on this record is amazingly good that that’s actually kind of a left-handed compliment. The entire side 2 is outstanding from start to finish.

The excerpt on side 1 from Pictures at an Exhibition and the complete A Night on Bare Mountain are both played with a kind of energy and requisite orchestral technical quality that makes these pieces come alive right in your living room.

Only the Arnold piece on this record is not particularly inspiring, although it does have excellent sound. All in all, an amazing group of warhorses given a fresh reading by Alexander Gibson and the New Symphony Orchestra of London.

Now let’s talk about the Classic Records 200 gram version, painful as that may be. I’ve long held that the remastering of that album is nothing less than a crime against music lovers and audiophiles of every stripe. Boosting the bass and highs and adding transistory harshness is the last thing in the world that Witches’ Brew needed.

At the risk of insulting some of you out there, if you think the Classic Records version of this album sounds good, your system must be very dull and bass shy, or you must like really hi-fi-ish sound. There is no way that that record should ever sound good on a system that’s remotely accurate. I’ve heard this record played by people attempting to demonstrate the sound of their system, which nearly caused blood to run from my ears. All the while they had a big grin on their face, so pleased with the sound. I don’t understand how anyone can put up with that kind of sound, but obviously people do, so what can I say? People like lots of things I don’t like, and the Classic record is just one more to add to that list. If you want to know why I hate the Classic, buy this pressing and see for yourself where Bernie went wrong.

Comparing Witches’ Brew on RCA with Danse Macabre on Decca from Way Back in the Day

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This commentary was written a very long time ago so caveat lector.

The Decca reissue above just happens to have the material found on one of the most famous and sought-after Shaded Dog pressings in the world, Witches’ Brew (shown below), along with another track added, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice conducted by Ansermet. (As a budget reissue they felt they needed to give you more music in order to get you to buy performances that were no longer current.)

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The Decca pressing is tonally much more natural from top to bottom. I used to think that it was the best way to hear the music on Witches’ Brew. Like so much of what happens in the world of records, it is and it isn’t.

Huh?, you say. Okay, here is what I mean. We played a handful of Witches’ Brews over the last year or two, and most of them left a lot to be desired. More than that — most of them were just plain awful. One, and only one, lived up to the hype that surrounds the record. It was so big and so powerful that I would have had no trouble ranking it with the five best sounding classical recordings I’ve ever heard. It was a real WOW moment when the needle hit the groove on that one.
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Liszt / Sonata in B Minor / Curzon – A Speakers Corner Disaster

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Sonic Grade: F

More vinyl dreck from Speakers Corner and a Hall of Shame pressing if there ever was one. Pure mud. (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…)

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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copy Witches’ Brew / Gibson – Classic Records

xxxxx

DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND, of a sort. As I’ve said elsewhere on the site, this is not my idea of natural tonality.

As for the music, I have long held that the Danse Macabre on this album is the best ever. I probably still agree with that [not anymore, here’s a better one], but so much of the material on this record is amazingly good that that’s actually kind of a left-handed compliment. The entire side 2 is outstanding from start to finish.

The excerpt on side 1 from Pictures at an Exhibition and the complete A Night on Bare Mountain are both played with a kind of energy and requisite orchestral technical quality that makes these pieces come alive right in your living room.

Only the Arnold piece on this record is not particularly inspiring, although it does have excellent sound. All in all, an amazing group of warhorses given a fresh reading by Alexander Gibson and the New Symphony Orchestra of London.

Now let’s talk about the Classic Records 200 gram version, painful as that may be. I’ve long held that the remastering of that album is nothing less than a crime against music lovers and audiophiles of every stripe. Boosting the bass and highs and adding transistory harshness is the last thing in the world that Witches’ Brew needed.

At the risk of insulting some of you out there, if you think the Classic Records version of this album sounds good, your system must be very dull and bass shy, or you must like really hi-fi-ish sound. There is no way that that record should ever sound good on a system that’s remotely accurate. I’ve heard this record played by people attempting to demonstrate the sound of their system, which nearly caused blood to run from my ears. All the while they had a big grin on their face, so pleased with the sound. I don’t understand how anyone can put up with that kind of sound, but obviously people do, so what can I say? People like lots of things I don’t like, and the Classic record is just one more to add to that list. If you want to know why I hate the Classic, buy this pressing and see for yourself where Bernie went wrong.

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…)