_Composers – Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff – Audiophile Reviewers Raved About This Muddy Mess

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

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

Records that Do Not Belong on a Super Disc List

The reviews below will sound depressingly familiar to you if you have been in audio for as long as I have.

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

I guess things never change.

Reviewer malpractice? We’ve been writing about it for more than 25 years.

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Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 1 / Previn / LSO

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1 debuts on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout this original British EMI Quadraphonic pressing
  • The London Symphony Orchestra is wide, tall, spacious, rich and tubey, yet the dynamics and transparency are first rate
  • These sides are clear, full-bodied and present, with plenty of space around the players, the unmistakable sonic hallmark of the properly mastered, properly pressed vintage analog LP

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Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 2 / Previn

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

More TAS List Super Discs

  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage British EMI pressing of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2
  • A long term resident of the TAS Super Disc list, and one I never realized was anything special until my stereo got a lot better about ten or fifteen years ago
  • There are a few marks that play, but EMI’s from this era always seemed to have one problem or another, so this is not surprising – there’s simply no way around these issues if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • This recording of the work is guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of this music you may own

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Rachmaninoff / De Falla – Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini / Nights In The Gardens Of Spain

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

More Classical Recordings in Living Stereo

  • You’ll find STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Living Stereo sound throughout this vintage (but not original) RCA pressing of these wonderful classical compositions
  • The rich, textured sheen of the strings the RCA engineers achieved in the ’50s and ’60s is a joy to hear throughout these pieces
  • This is something the Heavy Vinyl crowd will never experience, because that sound just does not exist on modern remastered records the way it does on these vintage pressings
  • The Tubey Magical richness is off the charts on this copy – if you want to know what kind of sound wins shootouts around these parts, this pressing will show you
  • To see more of the best orchestral recordings with top quality sound we’ve done shootouts for, click here
  • If you’re a fan of Rachmaninoff and/or Rubinstein, this Living Stereo from 1960 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Until we heard the right later pressings, we had always been disappointed with this TAS List recording, wondering what all the fuss was about.

Well, now we know. The early Shaded Dog pressings have consistently worse sound than the reissues we are offering here.

We never offered the record in Hot Stamper form because we didn’t think the sound of the originals was all that impressive, TAS List or no TAS List.

Mystery solved, and truly Hot Stampers have now been made available to the discriminating audiophile.

Harry’s list, as was so often the case, did not provide the information needed to hear the recording properly. Did Harry ever have a good pressing? We’ll never know.

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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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The Reiner Sound – A Demo Disc for Energy, Dynamics and Top End

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Music Conducted by Fritz Reiner

This review was written in 2010. I don’t think we have found a Reiner Sound as nice as this one since then.

Wow, the first nice Reiner Sound on Shaded Dog to make it to our site. Why? Because the few copies we’ve run across that looked decent enough to clean and play were just too noisy to enjoy. Not many copies have survived the bad turntables of their day with all their top end and inner grooves intact, but we’re proud to say that this one has! 

This former TAS List record really surprised us on two counts. First, you will not believe how DYNAMIC the recording is. Of all the classical recordings we’ve played lately I would have to say this is THE MOST DYNAMIC of them all. 

I really don’t have the wattage to handle the explosively loud sections of these wonderful works, with their huge orchestral effects, dynamic contrasts that are clearly part of the composer’s intentions but ones that rarely make it from the concert hall to vinyl disc the way they do here. 

Second, there is simply an amazing amount of TOP END on this record. Rarely do I hear Golden Age recordings with this kind of ENERGY and extension up top. Again, it has to be some of the best I have heard recently.

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

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Chopin, Rachmaninoff et al. / Richter

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 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

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Rachmaninoff’s Music 

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

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

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…)