_Composers – Rachmaninoff

Chopin, Rachmaninoff et al. / Richter – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

  • This original White Dog Stereo pressing (just missed the cutoff for “Living Stereo” but the sound is awesome anyway) boasts STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • A WONDERFUL collection of solo piano works performed by one of our favorite pianists, Sviatoslav Richter
  • The piano is present and clear, with no practically no smear whatsoever – both sides are dynamic and open with plenty of weight
  • Recorded live in concert on December 26, 1960, at Carnegie Hall in New York, and December 28, 1960, at Mosque Hall in Newark
  • If you’re a fan of piano showpieces such as these, this recording from 1965 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This vintage RCA Victor Red Seal 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.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

The Piano

On the transparent and tonally correct copies it is clear and full-bodied. The piano in a solo recording such as this often makes for a good test.

How easily can you see it and how much like a real piano does it sound? 

If you have full-range speakers some of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano are WEIGHT and WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead, the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, warm, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn-out stampers and bad vinyl and five-gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But some copies survive all such hazards. They manage to reproduce the full spectrum of the piano’s wide range on vintage vinyl, showing us the kind of sound we simply cannot find any other way.

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Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 3 / Previn

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

  • An outstanding His Master’s Voice pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides are big, rich, transparent, spacious and dynamic – no Heavy Vinyl pressing can do what this record is doing
  • You will have a very hard time finding a quieter copy — we did, and we had half a dozen to play — and of course the sound with grades like these simply cannot be beat
  • A wonderful 1977 recording by the two Christophers
  • This powerful work is played with feeling – we know of no better performance or any with Rachmaninoff symphony with better sound

This is the first Rachmaninoff Symphony we have ever offered in Hot Stamper form, mostly because the second symphony with Previn that is so highly regarded by audiophiles has never sounded very good to us, and the first and fourth are not that easy to find.

We’ve never cared for The Bells, a TAS List record with music that does nothing for us.

We love the piano concertos of course, and have done shootouts for them all.

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Rachmaninoff / Symphonic Dances / Johanos – Audiophile Reviewers Raved About This Muddy Mess

I guess things never change.

Sonic Grade: F

This Athena LP is now long out of print, but it received rave reviews when it was released. (We quote many of them below.) This album is a member of the TAS Super Disc list, but we found the sound awfully opaque, smeary, slow and compressed, the kind of bad “analog” sound that Doug Sax brought to the early AP releases. 

The sticker on the shrink wrap of a previous copy had these quotes:

“…for this is the definitive symphonic recording to date.” – J. Gordon Holt/ Stereophile

“Wins ‘Best Record of the Year’ award against tough competition.” – Joe Hart/High End Audio Press & Music Review

“HP heard the Athena remastering of the Rachmaninoff and found it stunning. He could recommend it without reservation.” – Harry Pearson/The Absolute Sound #57

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

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Rachmaninoff – Symphonic Dances / Johanos

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Rachmaninoff’s Music 

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)



  • It’s an extraordinary recording, and so amazing on this pressing that after playing it, you may agree with us that few other classical Demo Discs are in its league
  • The bottom end of this record is powerful and solid like no other classical LP we’ve played in a very long time – this is the way to record tympani!
  • On a pressing this good, the sound is dynamic, lively and BIG – jumping out of the speakers and bringing not only the power but the vibrant colors of the symphony right into your listening room

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Rachmaninoff / The Complete Piano Concertos – Wild / Horenstein

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

More TAS Super Disc Recordings

  • The vinyl is as quiet as we can find it – like most Shaded Dogs and Mercs, Mint Minus Minus is about the best you can hope for (and no marks are audible, which is always nice)
  • We have been readying this shootout for probably twenty years – we had 8 box sets, all in excellent condition, and this set represents some of the best sound we uncovered for these famous TAS List recordings
  • Wild’s playing of the Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini here is one of our favorites on vinyl
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • “Rachmaninoff’s music . . . changes as the composer goes along, moving from Romantic to a tentative Modernism in such works as the fourth piano concerto and the Symphonic Dances. In this sense, he walks a path similar to Puccini’s, incorporating new approaches to extend that [which was] already essentially his. Certainly, the works here show these changes, as the composer picks up more experience, both in writing and in hearing music.”

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Venerable or Execrable? If It’s Athena the Chances Are Good It’s the Latter

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

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I spied an interesting quote on the Acoustic Sounds site years ago:

“…Analogue Productions’ 45rpm remastering improves upon the venerable Athena LP release from the late 80s, with better dynamics and a fuller ‘middle’ to the orchestral sonority.” – Andrew Quint, The Absolute Sound, October 2010

For some reason Andrew uses the word “venerable” when a better, certainly more accurate term would have been “execrable.” Having played the record in question this strikes us as the kind of mistake that would not be easy to make.

Athena was a godawful audiophile label that lasted all of five records, only one of which was any good, and it’s not this one. It was in fact the Debussy piano recording with Moravec, mastered by the venerable Robert Ludwig himself, a man who knows his classical music, having cut scores if not hundreds of records for Nonesuch in the ’60s and ’70s. (more…)

Heavy Vinyl Super Discs – “Nobody should have to listen to sound like that.”

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

This entry links up a few of the commentaries I wrote as I went back through the Classic catalog, comparing their pressings to both originals and reissues. We take to task Classic Records, The Absolute Sound, and Chesky, as you will see below.

This commentary was written in 2005, prompted at the time by a rave review in TAS for one of the new Speakers Corners Mercury reissues. I detestecheskd the sound of the first one I heard, and subsequent releases only confirmed that the mastering of the Mercury catalog for Speakers Corner was abominable, an affront, in my none-too-humble opinion, to all right-thinking audiophiles.

Here is what their Heavy Vinyl version sounded like.

Here is what a real Mercury pressing sounds like…

when you get hold of an exceptionally good one and know how to clean it.

As for my commentary, it should be obvious that these awful remastering labels have not gone out of business, but instead have prospered, making millions of dollars from audiophiles eager to lay down their hard earned money for these Heavy Vinyl pressings. (more…)

Various Composers / The Reiner Sound – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

Sonic Grade: F

There is simply an amazing amount of TOP END on the original pressing we played a while back (reviewed below). Rarely do I hear Golden Age recordings with this kind of ENERGY and extension up top.

This is of course one of the reasons the Classic reissue is such a disaster. With all that top end energy, Bernie’s gritty cutting system and penchant for boosted upper midrange frequencies positively guarantees that the Classic Reiner Sound will be all but unplayable on a good system.  

Boosting the bass and highs and adding transistory harshness is the last thing in the world that The Reiner Sound needs.

You may have read on the site that, unlike many soi-disant audiophiles who buy into HP’s classical choices, I am not the biggest Reiner fan. On these works, though, I would have to say the performances are Top Drawer, some of the best I have ever heard. The amount of energy he manages to coax from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is nothing less than BREATHTAKING.

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Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto No. 1 – RCA 1957 Living Stereo Is Hard to Beat

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  • Both sides of this vintage Victrola pressing are big, full-bodied, clean and clear, with a wonderfully preset piano and three-dimensional space around the musicians
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • I used to think that the Classic was better than the Victrola, but that was a long time ago, and I hear a lot of midrange magic on this LP that I don’t think you can find on practically any modern remaster, by Classic Records or anyone else
  • The Classic will be quieter though – we had a devil of a time finding Vics pressings with audiophile quality vinyl

I highly recommend this one, musically and sonically. Everybody loves Rachmaninoff, especially when Byron Janis is at the keyboard, and the Strauss piece is engaging on its own as well.

1957 stereo, can you imagine?

Here is a complete list of Living Stereo Classical titles we have available on the site at this time. On our blog you can find reviews for the hundreds of others we’ve auditioned over the years.

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Rachmaninoff / Concerto No. 2 – Katchen / Solti

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

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  • An outstanding reissue pressing of this superb recording with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • I’ve known how good this reissue can sound for more than twenty years – it is guaranteed to beat any and every pressing you have of the work or your money back
  • Big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the sound that simply does not exist except in the world of the properly cleaned, properly pressed vintage LP
  • On both of these sides you’ll hear rich strings, clear horns, a piano that is full-bodied and natural, with a solid low end (the kind you rarely hear on record but is nonetheless strikingly obvious in the presence of the real instrument)
  • “Is the pulse even, building in steady crescendo, or do those famous opening measures find some subtle phrase within? Most settle for the former; not so, Katchen and Solti – and that pretty much describes the attitude of these artists in this piece altogether: searching for and finding the phrase within the obvious.”

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