_Composers – Respighi

Respighi / Pines of Rome – A Shootout Twenty Years in the Making

More music conducted by Fritz Reiner

Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

We did a monster shootout for this music in 2021, one we had been planning for more than twenty years. On hand were quite a few copies of the Reiner on RCA; the Ansermet on London; the Maazel on Decca and London (the Decca being on the TAS List), the Kempe on Readers Digest, and quite a few others we felt had at least the potential to sound good.

Allow me to back up a bit.

In the late-’70s, when I first started paying attention to the TAS Super Disc List, I read about the Pines of Rome with 1S stampers. I could never find one, and the Shaded Dogs and Red Seals that I did find never sounded all that good to me.

I know now that I did not have the stereo system back then (equipment, room, etc.) that could reproduce a recording of such difficulty.

In the ’80s, the Mobile Fidelity pressing of the Pines of Rome, like all of their classical releases, without exception, never sounded right to me either.

It was certainly better than the Classic Records release from 1995 of the Reiner Pines. That record was just too harsh sounding, with the shrill strings that Bernie Grundman was cutting on practically every title put out by that awful label. I fell for some of them — I actually raved about Witches’ Brew on Classic back then, an endorsement that mortifies me to this day — but most of their classical records were junk that I was selling for cheap to the audiophiles who fell for the favorable reviews written about Classic Records in the magazines. Some things never change!

In the ’90s, the Decca on Speakers Corner came along and sounded fine to me. Not great, but good enough to sell if you wanted a good, quiet Pines for $30. It might not be fair to blame Speakers Corner for the shortcomings of their pressing, since the vintage Deccas with Maazel we’ve played have pretty much the same problems as the modern heavy vinyl classical LP: smeary strings, and an obvious lack of depth and transparency

In 2006 we played a Red Seal pressing of LSC 2436 that we liked at the time, but that was on a darker and less revealing system. It was a year before we found out about the amazing Walker Enzyme Record Cleaning System, which came along in 2007 and changed everything for us.

Around 2010 we played what we thought was a fairly good sounding London with Ansermet conducting, but by 2016 that recording was no longer competitive. A nice old record, but the world is full of nice old records. We had set our sights on a Hot Stamper pressing of a great recording with a performance to match. It would take us another six years of wandering in the wilderness before we were finally able to find what we were looking for.

Cut to 2016

In 2016 we we began a serious survey of the recordings we had on hand, close to a dozen different performances I think, and found them all wanting, save three: this one (which is still on the TAS List), a Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite), and a London with Kertesz.

The Prevatelli on London you see pictured was very compressed. When the music is supposed to get loud at the end of the Pines, it never does!  If more vintage Londons had sound as bad as the three or four copies we had on hand (it’s a fairly common used record, now I know why), we would happily admit that going the Heavy Vinyl route is a good idea.

And there certainly are a lot of bad vintage pressings — we should know, we’ve played them by the hundreds — but they pale up against the number of bad Modern Heavy Vinyl pressings.

Distortion

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On these works both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

We never did find something better. Our best Shaded Dog ended up winning the shootout. The best RCA pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton nailed it — in 1960!

What to Listen For

So many recordings had screechy strings and sour horns. When the music would get loud, and both the Pines and the Fountains get very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing. Still, with the best copies going head to head with each other, Reiner’s recording had more of all the qualities we were looking for.

How did the famous 1S/1S pressing fare? No idea. I haven’t seen one in twenty years. It may be better than the White Hot copy we are offering here. I certainly would not make the mistake of saying what it sounds without having played it. If someone has one and wants to send it to me to audition, I will love to give it a spin. 

Some recordings we played lacked transparency, as well as the relaxed sense of involvement that eases one’s ability to be tricked into thinking “you (really) are there.”

The famous 1977 Maazel recording for Decca, which was on the TAS List for a long time, suffered from a bad case of multi-miking and the transparency issue mentioned above. What do you expect from 1977?

This is of course the knock on the Modern Heavy Vinyl Pressing – where is the transparency? The space? The three-dimensional depth? If your stereo can reproduce these qualities — a big if, since even as recently as twenty years ago mine could not — you should have given up on these opaque and airless frauds years ago. 

Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

This album is especially Difficult to ReproduceDo not attempt to play it on anything but the highest quality equipment.

Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable / arm / cartridge setup. The Pines of Rome would be 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 these two tones poems. 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 bought you.

It has been my experience that cheap tables (anything under $1k I would guess) more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this. If you have one of those, this is probably not the record for you.

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Respighi – The Birds / Brazilian Impressions / Dorati

More of the music of Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage TAS-approved Maroon Label Mercury pressing boasts superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • This copy is everything that a good Mercury should be: dynamic, open, immediate, exciting, and of course, with Dorati and the LSO, beautifully performed
  • Both “The Birds” and “Brazilian Impressions” are wonderful sounding – we guarantee you’ve never heard a better copy of both works
  • This is yet another amazingly good sounding Mercury recording engineered by Robert Fine and produced by Wilma Cozart

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Respighi / Pines & Fountains Of Rome / Ansermet

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pines of Rome

More Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

This review was written at least ten years ago. Since then we have done extensive shootouts for both The Pines and The Fountains of Rome.

The London with Ernst Ansermet you see pictured, though good, did not make the cut and no Hot Stamper pressings — correction, no Hot Stamper pressings hot enough to offer our customers — were found of this recording from 1964.

Here is our old review. Needless to say, we have learned a lot since then.

EXCELLENT SOUND! Not a Demo Disc by any means, but a well-recorded, well-mastered Pines.

The problem with Pines is normally too much close miking. This London places the orchestra in a more natural perspective, which I much prefer.

Side two, the Pines, also has the best sound. 

Overview of the Works

Reviewing the Pines with Kempe on Readers Digest vinyl, we noted that our shootout from a few years back has been at least thirty years in the making — that’s how long I have been picking up the RDG sets, ever since my friend Robert Pincus turned me on to them all those years ago.

Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand, close to a dozen different performances I  think, and found them all wanting, save three: the Reiner (which is still on the TAS List), the Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite, and a fairly close second at that), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with a lack of low end whomp and weight. On The Pines both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Wilkinson working with his Decca colleagues nailed it — in 1964!

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud — and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it — the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton and Kenneth Wilkinson sure did.

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.


FURTHER READING

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

What to Listen For on Classical Records

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Respighi / Strauss – Pines of Rome / Don Juan / Kempe

More Orchestral Spectaculars

More Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

  • With two top quality sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard The Pines of Rome sound remotely as good as it does here (unless you own one of killer Living Stereo LPs of the work)
  • This Readers Digest pressing of Kempe’s superb 1964 recording for Decca has glorious sound on both sides and plays reasonably quietly for any LP produced by this notoriously difficult label for audiophiles
  • There were only three performances with top quality audiophile sound, and our Wilkinson-engineered pressing here was right up there with the best we heard in our massive shootout
  • If you know anything about these works, you know that they have tons of top and bottom end, and it is the rare pressing that captures both
  • The texture and harmonic overtones of the strings are superb – as we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity Kempe and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra brought to these difficult and demanding works 50 plus years ago

This shootout has been at least thirty years in the making — that’s how long I have been picking up these RDG sets, ever since my friend Robert Pincus turned me on to them all those years ago.

Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand, close to a dozen different performances I  think, and found them all wanting, save three: the Reiner (which is still on the TAS List), this Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite, and a close second at that), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On The Pines both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton and Kenneth Wilkinson sure did.

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud — and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it — the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing.

(more…)

Rossini-Respighi / La Boutique Fantasque / Fiedler

More Music Conducted by Arthur Fiedler

More Living Stereo Recordings

  • Outstanding sound throughout this vintage RCA Victrola stereo pressing of these delightful orchestral pieces
  • Unlike the original Shaded Dog pressings, this Victrola is in correct polarity on both sides
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – this recording, when mastered and pressed right, as is the case here, is the very definition of DEMO DISC sound
  • When we talk about space and transparency, we’re talking about recordings that sound like this one
  • A favorite title with audiophiles – it’s full of lovely orchestral colors and, as usual, Fiedler and the Boston Pops know how to bring them out
  • More of the music of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1863)
  • More of the music of Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Fiedler has a way with the Ibert piece here like nobody’s business; the performance is definitive, although the sound is not as good as La Boutique Fantasque, which is nothing short of amazing. The Kay piece sounds excellent here and is beautifully performed. Fiedler is hard to beat on music like this.

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Rossini-Respighi / Ballet For Band / Fennell

More of the music of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1863)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This original Mercury Stereo LP of the Eastman Wind Ensemble’s performance of these wonderful orchestral compositions debuts on the site with INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • It’s simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than all of what we played
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – the very definition of DEMO DISC sound

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Rossini-Respighi / La Boutique Fantasque (RCA Shaded Dog) / Fiedler

More Music Conducted by Arthur Fiedler

More Living Stereo Recordings

  • INSANELY GOOD Living Stereo sound can be heard from beginning to end on this Shaded Dog pressing
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – this phenomenally good recording when mastered and pressed right is the very definition of DEMO DISC sound
  • It’s hard to find a better record with more Tubey Magical hear-all-the-way-to-the-back-of-the-hall sound than this – when we talk about space and transparency, we’re talking about recordings that sound like this one
  • A favorite title with audiophiles – it’s full of lovely orchestral colors and, as usual, Fiedler and the Boston Pops know how to bring them all out
  • Side one has its polarity inverted, something we’ve known about for twenty years – the sound is dark and smeary without the polarity corrected, so those of you who cannot change their polarity should pass on this title
  • More of the music of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1863)
  • More of the music of Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Fiedler is hard to beat on music like this.

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Respighi / The Birds on Golden Import Reissue

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Classical Records on Mercury 

These days, most Golden Import reissues we play sound much too much like most of the Philips pressings we’ve played over the years: smooth, smeary, compressed, recessed and veiled. 

Can’t say what this one sounds like, it sold many years ago, but I would not expect any Golden Import to sound good to me now.

More than anything the changes we hear in the records we play now tie into the idea of Progress in audio, since without progress the records that sounded good to me in 2006 would still sound good to me now, and thank goodness they don’t.

Live and Learn is our motto, onward and upward, and we have made that approach to audio the very foundation of our business.

If you are stuck in a Heavy Vinyl rut, we can help you get out of it. We did precisely that for these folks, and we can do it for you.

(You may of course not be aware that you are stuck in a rut. Most audiophiles aren’t. The best way out of that predicament is to hear how mediocre these modern records sound compared to the vintage Hot Stampers we offer. Once you hear the difference, your days of buying newly remastered releases will most likely be over. Even if our pricey curated pressings are beyond your budget, you can avail yourself of the methods we describe to find killer records on your own.)

A TAS List Mistake?

The famous Bolero on the TAS List had seemed to me to be a Harry Pearson mistake from the old days, a record he clearly liked at one time and simply had not played later in life on better equipment.

In 2006, mostly what we were doing in the commentary you see below was bashing the Just Plain Awful Speakers Corner Mercury series that seemed to please everyone else. We thought those remastered pressings were disgraceful, the worst of the worst. Every title from that series that I played was so wrong as to defy understanding. I stopped after two. Two was all I could take.

And where, may I ask, are those awful Mercury’s now?

On the trash heap of Heavy Vinyl Rip-offs from the past I hope. (I hope — audiophiles seem to like so many bad sounding records that it would not surprise me if there were still some die-hard fans of the series.)

How bad does a stereo have to be to keep you from hearing what is wrong with the sound of these awful records? (more…)

Respighi / Pines Of Rome – Another Title Not Fit for a Super Disc List

Our Favorite Pines of Rome

More Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

Sonic Grade: C (at best)

I found a bit of commentary in a listing for Scheherazade, and right away it was clear to me that the shootout we did for that title had much in common with the one we did recently for The Pines of Rome.

Here it is, with the necessary changes having been made.

We did a monster shootout for this music in 2021, one we had been planning for more than twenty years. On hand were quite a few copies of the Reiner on RCA; the Ansermet on London; the Maazel on Decca and London (the Decca being on the TAS List), the Kempe on Readers Digest, and quite a few others we felt had potential.

The only recordings that held up all the way through — the last movement being a real Ball Breaker, for both the engineers and musicians — were those by Reiner and Kempe. This was disappointing considering how much time and money we spent finding, cleaning and playing about twenty or so other pressings.

We learned from that first big go around something that we think will remain true for the foreseeable future: the 1960 Reiner recording with the Chicago Symphony on RCA just can’t be beat.

Could other pressings be better sounding? Of course they could.

Would we ever buy another copy? Not a chance.

Here are the notes for the Decca pressing I played, mastered by G, Ted Burkett.

Hey, here’s an idea. Why don’t you buy a bunch of them and see if any of them do not have the problems described on my notes.

If you find a good one, please let me know the stampers so I can go out and find one myself.

The above is of course all in good fun. We both know that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that anyone reading this commentary is going to go out and buy some Decca pressings of The Pines of Rome, clean them up and critique them.

The most likely thing is that, if you have any Decca pressing of Maazel’s Pines, it’s sitting on a shelf collecting dust. Odds are it has not been played in a very long time.

Which is as it should be. Good records get played and bad ones sit on shelves.

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Pines of Rome

TAS List Super Discs with Hot Stampers

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

Records that Do Not Belong on a Super Disc List

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Respighi / Pines of Rome / Reiner – Our Favorite for Performance and Sound

More music conducted by Fritz Reiner

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • This Shaded Dog pressing of Reiner’s superb 1960 recording for RCA has glorious Living Stereo sound on both sides and plays reasonably quietly for such a vintage pressing
  • There were only three performances with truly audiophile quality sound, and the Shaded Dog pressing not only had the best performances, but the sound that the team of Mohr/Layton managed to record was second to none
  • If you know anything about these works, you know that have tons of top and bottom end, and it is the rare pressing that can capture both
  • The texture and harmonic overtones of the Living Stereo strings are near perfection – as we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity Reiner and the CSO brought to these difficult and demanding works 60 years ago

A Long Time Coming

This shootout has been at least five years in the making, and the case could be made that something like fifteen is closer to the truth.. Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand, close to a dozen different performances I  think, and found them all wanting, save three: this one (which is still on the TAS List), a Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On these works both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

We never did find something better. Our best Shaded Dog ended up winning the shootout. The best RCA pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton nailed it — in 1960!

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and both the Pines and the Fountains get very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing. Still, with the best copies going head to head with each other, Reiner had more of all the qualities we were looking for.

How did the famous 1S/1S pressing fare? No idea. I haven’t seen one in twenty years. It may be better than the White Hot copy we are offering here. I certainly would not make the mistake of saying what it sounds without having played it. If someone has one and wants to send it to me to audition, I will love to give it a spin. 

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