- 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.