_Composers – Sibelius

Sibelius – Violin Concerto / Ricci – Fjelstad

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

  • This Sibelius Violin Concerto has top sonics and a performance to match
  • It’s some of the best sound we have ever heard for the work, right up there with our longtime favorite, the Heifetz on Living Stereo (LSC 2435)
  • One of the truly great 1958 All Tube recordings from Kingsway Hall, captured faithfully in all its beauty by Alan Reeve & Gordon Parry on this very disc
  • “In the easier and looser concerto forms invented by Mendelssohn and Schumann I have not met a more original, a more masterly, and a more exhilarating work than the Sibelius violin concerto.”
  • If you’re a fan of Ricci’s (as are we), this is a Must Own from 1958 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The best Shaded Dog pressings of the Heifetz performance on RCA (LSC 2435) are the equal of this London. RCA presents the violin more immediately in the soundfield. Decca’s engineers integrated the violinist into the orchestra, which of course is the way it would be heard in the concert hall. To our ears, both approaches work exceptionally well — when you have at your disposal exceptional pressings of each. We had copies of both that were Hard to Fault, which made for a very enjoyable shootout.

Note that it has been close to ten years since our last big shootout for the work. That’s how long it takes to find enough clean London, Decca and RCA pressings for recordings such as these. Noisy, second-rate copies are everywhere. Top quality early pressings in clean condition come our way less than once a year. There are literally thousands of clean, vintage classical pressing sitting in our stockroom, waiting for a few more copies to come our way so that we can finally do a shootout.

With engineering in the legendary Kingsway Hall, there is a richness to the sound of the strings that is exceptional, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes practically everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl). It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play it’s an art that is not being lost on us.

It’s also as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is, of course, all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

I don’t think the Decca engineers could have cut this record any better — it has all the orchestral magic one could ask for, as well as the resolving power, clarity and presence that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. They cannot begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in your decision to rid yourself of their unforgiveable mediocrity.)

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Finlandia – The Music of Sibelius and Grieg / Mackerras

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

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Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • Both sides are big, rich, transparent, spacious and dynamic – no Heavy Vinyl pressing can do what this record is doing
  • Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago
  • These spectacular works are played with feeling – we know of no better performance or better sound

Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1959 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, 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.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original won’t sound as good, having been cut on cruder equipment.

And two, no modern recutting of the tapes (by the likes of Speakers Corner for example, but you can substitute any company you fancy) could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic orchestral sound. (more…)

Finlandia – Striving for Orchestral Clarity with Decca and Failing with RCA

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

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The original RCA Living Stereo pressings we played in our 2014 shootout were not competitive with the best Deccas and London reissues.

Is the original the best way to go?

In our experience with Finlandia, not so much.

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The record you see above is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1961 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, 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.
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Sibelius – Symphony No. 2 / Barbarolli

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

  • An outstanding copy of the best Sibelius Second Symphony on vinyl we know of – solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • One listen to this famous Wilkinson recording and you’ll see why it’s one of the most lauded RDG titles in all of their illustrious canon
  • “The Second Symphony has retained an extraordinary popularity for its individualistic tonal language, dark wind coloring, muted string writing, simple folk-like themes, and distinctly “national” flavor that are all Sibelian to the core.”

A truly extraordinary recording mastered beautifully but pressed on vinyl that has never been known for its quiescence (if I can get by with that ten-cent word).

The strings are clear and textured, yet rich and full-bodied. The bottom is big and weighty. The horns are tubey and full-bodied and never screech through even the most difficult passages. (more…)

Sibelius – Violin Concerto / Heifetz / Hendl

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

Superb Recordings with Jascha Heifetz Performing

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  • This copy of the Sibelius Violin Concerto boasts outstanding Living Stereo sonics from 1960 and a fiery performance from Heifetz
  • It’s some of the best sound we have ever heard for the work, right up there with the Ricci on Decca/London
  • The grading is conservative at Two Pluses; it might’ve actually deserved more
  • The nothing less than breathtaking performance by Heifetz may raise this one to the rank of First Among Equals for those of you who prize immediacy and energy in your violin recordings
  • If you have one of our killer Hot Stampers of the Beethoven or Tchaikovsky violin concertos, you know exactly the sound I am talking about
  • “In the easier and looser concerto forms invented by Mendelssohn and Schumann I have not met a more original, a more masterly, and a more exhilarating work than the Sibelius violin concerto.”

Early Shaded Dog pressings of Heifetz’s records are known to have rarely survived in audiophile playing condition. Top quality early pressings in clean condition come our way at most once a year, which means shootouts for them get done infrequently. There are literally thousands of clean, vintage classical pressing sitting in our stockroom waiting for a few more copies to come our way so that we can finally do a shootout.

This copy plays quite well for a Shaded Dog. Side one plays Mint Minus Minus all the way through, with a little extra tickiness creeping in at the very end of the side.

Side two I am happy to report plays even quieter. It starts out Mint Minus Minus, but roughly three quarters of an inch into the side it begins to play more in the range of Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus, and does so for the remainder of the side.

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes practically everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl). It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play it’s an art that is not being lost on us. (more…)

Sibelius / Finlandia / Mackerras on VICS 1069 – A $50 Hot Stamper from 2004(!)

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

DEMO QUALITY SOUND and quiet surfaces too.

I don’t know when I’ve heard this album with better sound. This one may be better than the best Shaded Dog for all I know — it’s that good.

You’ll notice that there is a copy of this very same record on the website for $1.99. That one sounds dull. I don’t think you’ll be able to find a better sounding copy of this record than the pressing we are selling here, because it really is an exceptionally good sounding record. If it weren’t, it would be more like $1.99.

[Yes, we used to sell some records for $1.99. Probably should have donated them to the Goodwill. Most of our run-of-the-mill classical goes there now. The local record stores don’t want them anymore. That ship has sailed.]

Sibelius / Finlandia / Mackerras – Reviewed in 2015

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

A shocking Stereo Treasury sleeper with a superb Shaded-Dog-beating side one. Side one is nearly White Hot – it’s exceptionally transparent and dynamic. Real Demo Disc sound and music on side one – spectacular works played with feeling.

This is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1960 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.

One of the quietest pressings we played in our shootout, if not the quietest.

Side One

More spacious than practically any other copy we heard thanks to an extended, correct top end.

This side was also very dynamic, and it gets loud in the right way, never harsh or screechy.

Correct from top to bottom, and there are not many records we can say that about. So natural in every way.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL on this side. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The brass is big and clear and weighty, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.

Side Two

Good clarity and top extension, with full-bodied, textured strings. Gets a little hot at its loudest but manages to stay under control and enjoyable throughout.

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

Two Things

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original probably won’t sound as good, likely having been cut on cruder equipment.

And two, no modern recutting of the tapes (by the likes of Speakers Corner for example, but you can substitute any company you care to name) could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic orchestral sound.

I have never heard a Heavy Vinyl pressing begin to do what this record is doing. The Decca we have here may be a budget reissue pressing, but it was mastered by real Decca engineers (a few different ones in fact), pressed in England on high quality vinyl, and made from fairly fresh tapes (nine years old, not fifty years old!), then mastered about as well as a record can be mastered.

The sound is, above all, REAL and BELIEVABLE.

The brass has weight, the top extends beautifully for those glorious cymbal crashes, the hall is huge and the staging very three-dimensional — there is little to fault in the sound on either side. (more…)

Sibelius/ The Popular Sibelius – Berglund – Reviewed in 2005

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

This Minty looking EMI Promenade Series LP is a real SLEEPER!

BIG, EXCITING SOUND! With a spirited performance to match from Berglund, a man well known for his Sibelius work. This is not one of those vague, washed out EMIs

This record is ALIVE. Recorded by Stuart Eltham in 1972, you will be hard pressed to find more immediacy in an EMI. The sound may even be a bit over the top on some selections — whether it is or not will probably depend on your tastes and playback system. But one listen to the third track on side one should convince you that you’re in the presence of a superb recording.

This record includes Finlandia, Valse Triste, Karelia – Intermezzo, The Swan Of Tuonela, Lemminkaines’s Return, King Christian II – Elegy, Musette & Nocturne.

Sibelius / Violin Concerto / Ricci – Fjeldstad – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

This is a wonderful sounding London Stereo Treasury pressing featuring one of our favorite violinists, Ruggiero Ricci, performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor. The tone of the violin on side one is just right — every nuance of Ricci’s bowing can clearly be heard!   

While the violin sounds amazing on side one, the orchestra lacks a bit of weight. This side is also not quite as tubey magical as it could be. In our opinion, however, the violin tone and the incredible dynamics are more than enough to award this an A++ grade.

Side two actually has a bit more fullness, but this also seems to rob the violin of some of its presence. We gave this side an A+.

Sibelius / Finlandia and Karelia Suite / Kord – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

A few months back we stumbled upon the London pressing of this relatively rare record — never heard of it before, and who on earth is Kazimierz Kord? — and were shocked to hear how good the random copy of this unknown-to-us recording sounded. The brass was incredibly solid and powerful; I don’t think I had ever heard Finlandia with the kind of heavy brass that this record was able to reproduce. We had to know more! 

We started by pulling out every performance on every label we had in our backroom and playing them one after another. Most never made it to the half-minute mark. Sour or thin brass on the opening salvo of Finlandia? Forget it; on to the trade-in pile you go.

(If you have too many classical records taking up too much space and need to winnow them down to a manageable size, pick a composer and play half a dozen of his works. Most classical records display an irredeemable mediocrity right from the start; it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. If you’re after the best sound, it’s the rare record that will have it, which makes clearing shelf space a lot easier than you might imagine. If you keep more than one out of ten you’re probably setting the bar too low if our experience is any guide.) (more…)