Conductors

Saint-Saëns / Rondo Capriccioso / Chausson / Poeme / Oistrakh

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  • With two Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning sides, this collection of violin showpieces simply could not be beat 
  • This copy was dramatically fuller, richer, tubier and smoother than the others we played, and ALIVE with pyrotechnic fireworks on side one
  • A superb 1963 Living Stereo recording with Tubey Magic to die for, one of the best violin recordings we have ever offered
  • The highlight for us on a collection like this is always going to be The Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, “one of Saint-Saëns’ few genuine showpieces.”

The violin here is superb — rich, smooth, clear, resolving. What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound. The Tubey Magical richness is to die for. This record sounds like a Living Stereo recording from 1963 in all the best ways.

Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Zero smear, high-rez transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — it takes the sound of this recording beyond what we thought was possible.

The Miracle of Living Stereo

This record shows off Living Stereo sound at its best. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented (on side one; side two is simply violin and piano) with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy. If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD ever sounded like this.

The richness of the strings, a signature sound for RCA in the Living Stereo era, is displayed here beautifully for fans of the classical Golden Age.

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years. 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 lost on us.

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

This is pretty much as good as it gets, folks.

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Mussorgsky et al. / Danse Infernale / Fiedler – Our Favorite Night On Bald Mountain

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  • Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides make this the consistently best sounding batch of Orchestral Showpieces we have ever played
  • After a two year hiatus, our favorite performance of Night on Bald Mountain is back, and it’s guaranteed to blow your mind (and maybe a woofer or two)
  • Side one also boasts an excellent Danse Macabre, with a powerful finish that may remind you of the thrill of live orchestral music
  • Side two contains a wonderfully exciting Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Both sides are clear and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling
  • Watch your levels – this pressing is dramatically more DYNAMIC than most Golden Age recordings

If you like Orchestral Spectaculars, have we got the record for you!

This pressing clearly has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND — not in every way, but in some important ways. The ENERGY of both the sound and the performances of these barnburning showpieces is truly awesome. Fiedler brings this music to LIFE like no other conductor we have heard.

This pressing boasts relatively rich, sweet strings, especially for a Deutsche Grammophon LP. Both sides really get quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy (and the reason it is so hard to find a copy that plays better than Mint Minus Minus. We do have a quieter copy with lower grades if you are interested though.) (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird / Dorati – A Mediocre Mercury Golden Import

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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 lately. The FR pressings of the recording can be phenomenally good.  Even the later M2 pressings from Philips can be excellent. There is a commentary on this blog about them. Look under Dorati or Stravinsky.

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 pressed by Philips from 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 to the opposite side of that trade-off. Quiet vinyl means nothing if the sound is poor.

Our advice: Don’t waste your money.

Rossini Overtures with Reiner on RCA and Gamba on London – Audiophiles Should Give These Two a Miss


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None of the pressings we played of this RCA were remotely competitive with Maag and the PCO on London. The sound of this recording was consistently boxy and congested, a case of the “old school” sound that is found on far too many vintage pressings.


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No good either. Opaque, up front and completely lacking in layered depth.

Here is the kind of sound that makes Heavy Vinyl so unpleasant to those of us who have Big Speaker systems that reproduce space, depth and soundstaging well.

What We’re Listening For on Rossini Overtures

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Rossini Bio (more…)

Rachmaninoff / Concerto #1 For Piano & Orchestra / Katin / Boult

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CS 6055. Demo quality. Incredible sound. The piano is heard surrounded by the hall. This is much more natural than the usual spotlight. Ferocious brass. I love it. Blueback pressing.

Rossini / Overtures with Maag – The Best on Record

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one and a side two that’s not far behind, the orchestral power of display here is positively PHENOMENAL
  • This Decca Tree recording is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl
  • Performances and sound like no other – Maag’s William Tell is in a league of its own
  • “You’d think Maag would approach the scores the way most conductors do: gung-ho and hell bent for leather. He doesn’t. In fact, Maag displays a good deal of reserve, calculating his interpretations for the biggest payoff. For instance, in William Tell he keeps the opening sections in check, and then he builds the final segment into a most-exciting whirlwind, the conclusion carrying you away.”

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Tchaikovsky / Serenade for Strings – Munch

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side two and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard for Charles Munch’s recording with the Boston Symphony
  • The 14 minute long Elgar piece is on the second side here, with strings that are substantially more Tubey, rich and sweet than on any other side two we played
  • Surely one of the greatest performances ever recorded, more powerful and emotional than any with which we are familiar
  • “In his conception of the Serenade, Tchaikovsky envisioned a work which falls somewhere between a symphony and a string quintet. The work is as personal as any of the composer’s symphonies and as intimate as his chamber music.”

The texture and harmonic overtones of the strings are near perfection. As we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity the performers brought to the work in 1958, as well as the quality of RCA’s engineering. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture / Reiner – The Best Sound Here Is Everything But the 1812

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

The real stars here are NOT the 1812, but the three coupling works, which demonstrate, on this copy at least, The Real Power of the Orchestra. The remarkably rich, Tubey Magical and oh-so-rosiny Living Stereo strings and powerful, dynamic brass make this a real demo quality orchestral heavyweight. Lizst’s Mephisto Waltz, Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture, and the Tragic Overture by Brahms are the Must Own 36 minutes worth of music on the record. (more…)

Rossini-Respighi / La Boutique Fantasque / Fiedler – Reviewed in 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

DEMO QUALITY. It’s hard to find a better record with more Tubey Magical hear-all-the-way-to-the-back-of-the-hall sound than this, at least on side one.  

Fiedler has a way with the Ibert piece here like nobody’s business; the performance is definitive, although the sound is not as good as La Boutique Fantasque, which is nothing short of amazing. The Kay piece sounds excellent here and is beautifully performed. Fiedler is hard to beat on music like this.