_Composers – Stravinsky

Remind Me, What Is the Point of Listening to a Quiet Record with Mediocre Sound?

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A mediocre reissue from Philips, bad enough to qualify for our Hall of Shame.

This is some truly dead as a doornail sound, sound which is not remotely competitive with the real Mercury pressings we’ve played. The FR pressings of the recording can be phenomenally good.  Even the later M2 pressings from Philips can be excellent. 

Back in the ’80s and ’90s I actually used to like some of the Golden Import pressings.  That was a long time go, and thankfully our playback system is quite a bit more revealing than the one I had back in those days.

After playing literally tens of thousands of records since then, my critical listening skills are better too.

Now when I play these imports, they sound veiled, overly smooth, smeary and compressed, not too different from the average Philips pressing, which of course is what they are. They’re all remastered by Philips using the Mercury tapes.

Sadly, not much of the Mercury Living Presence sound has survived.

They’re good for audiophiles who care more about quiet surfaces than good sound.  We are firmly staked at the opposite side of that trade-off. Quiet vinyl means nothing if the sound is poor.

Our advice: Don’t waste your money.


This Record Is Good for Testing the Following Qualities

Ambience, Size and Space

Compression 

Energy

Smear

Transparency 

The Said and the Unsaid – The Firebird on Mercury

More on The Firebird

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that just too noisy to sell.)

We had one FR pressing and two of the later pressings with the lighter label, the ones that most often come with Philips M2 stampers.
This is how we described the winner:

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.

What we didn’t say — and what we never say in the listings — is what the second tier copies didn’t do as well as the shootout winner. (more…)

London Records Takes You on A Journey Into [Potentially Very Good] Stereo Sound

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

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[Written a very long time ago!]

INSANELY GOOD vintage Decca sound from 1958 — bigger, richer and more Tubey Magical than 9 out of 10 (or more!) records we’ve ever played from the pre-’60s early stereo Golden Age. How they got this one so right is beyond me. We were sorely tempted to grade it White Hot, but chose instead to err on the side of modesty and call it A++ to A+++ or better (which is practically White Hot when you think about it).

Can it be that THIS was the first stereophonic sound music lovers of the world were exposed to on LP? (Stereo tapes may have existed in 1954, but they had to wait until 1958 to be transferred to vinyl.) Could we possibly have fallen so far in only fifty years? Judging by the quality of the sound on this copy — dramatically better than others we’ve played, and quieter too — the answer can only be a resounding yes. If you like your sound BIG and LUSH, this record is guaranteed to blow your mind.

Chabrier’s Espana with Argenta gets things off to an amazing start — when have you heard it sound better?!

Capriccio Espagnol (Rimsky-Korsakov), Mozart’s Concerto Piano Concerto No. 27 and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring are included here as well, all with audiophile sound to die for.

Both Sides are KILLER

A++ to A+++, big, spacious, Tubey Magically Rich, as well as tonally Right On The Money (ROTM), the sound here is Hard To Fault (HTF) — IF one is willing to accept the euphonic colorations of the equipment used at the time. We know the sound isn’t real — one would never hear it sound this way in the concert hall — but we love it anyway!

Heavy Vinyl

Rather surprisingly there is a Heavy Vinyl import reissue of this album available, at a cost of $50, not cheap by any means and undoubtedly a pale shadow of this London Blueback LP. There is simply no chance in the world that a recording of this fidelity could be mastered and pressed properly these days — we sure haven’t heard one, and we’ve played them by the hundreds. We implore anyone who made the mistake of buying such a modern record to pick this one up and hear what they couldn’t possibly know they were missing, but is nevertheless clearly audible on this very pressing for all to enjoy. (more…)

Stravinsky / Song of the Nightingale / Dorati

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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I believe you’ll find that Mercury’s sonics are superior to RCA’s for this music, and I prefer Dorati’s interpretation over Reiner’s as well. Although this record looks practically unplayed, it has vinyl typical of the era.

Stravinsky – Petroushka / Dorati

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky

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  • A stunning copy of this superb recording of Stravinsky’s ballet, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the Mercury sound we love, and that is so hard to find
  • “Petrushka brings music, dance, and design together in a unified whole. It is one of the most popular of the Ballets Russes productions.”

This vintage Mercury pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird / Dorati

More on The Firebird

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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White Hot Front Row Center sound on side one – amazingly lifelike. One listen to either side and you’ll know this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time. Dorati breathes life into the work as only he can. This is the first time the Mercury Firebird has ever made it to the site, and this copy is killer.

Side One

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Side Two

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy. (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird Suite / Ansermet – Speakers Corner (Reviewed in the ’90s)

More on The Firebird

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better Speakers Corner Deccas. We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds.

Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

“Excellent sound with a wonderful performance from Ansermet.”

Letter of the Week – Rite of Spring – “This copy should go in the Smithsonian, but I’m never going to part with it so they’re out of luck”

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

More on The Rite of Spring

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

I don’t know where you dug up this copy, but I am stunned. I have been looking for 50 years for a decent sounding copy of the best performance ever. When you have a brilliant performance, one that actually birthed the music, coupled with great sound, this is a life changing experience. This copy should go in the Smithsonian, but I’m never going to part with it so they’re out of luck. You are a wizard, although I know that a lot of hard work went into this discovery. I can now eschew all the other pontificating releases that stimulated my appetite but never delivered that quintessential magic. (more…)

Stravinsky – Petrushka – Speakers Corner (Reviewed in the ’90s)

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Sonic Grade: B (I’m guessing)

One of the better Speakers Corner Deccas. We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

“One of the best of the Deccas. Superb sound. Ansermet’s performance here is definitive.”