_Conductors – Bernstein

Bernstein – Conducts Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

More music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • This vintage Columbia stereo pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from first note to last
  • The best copies are out of this world, reproducing some of the most dynamic, exciting, richest, and most spacious sound we have ever heard from Columbia records, especially those conducted by Leonard Bernstein
  • The music is wonderful of course, with the Suites giving you all the best parts of his marvelous compositions with none of the filler
  • These vibrant orchestrations are played with tremendous energy, and that, coupled with rich and tubey analog sound, combine for an especially immersive and engrossing listening experience, particularly on side one here
  • For those of you playing along at home, it should be obvious why side one earned the higher grade – some of the qualities important to the sound are in greater abundance on side one, and this is not in any way difficult to hear

This is one of the great Columbia recordings. I suspected it might have been done at their legendary Columbia studios in New York but I was wrong, Manhattan Center’s huge stage served as the venue. Either way the sound is no less glorious.

One of the biggest advantages this copy had over most of what we played is fuller brass. The shrill sounding horns on most Columbia albums is what gets them tossed into the trade pile. Fortunately for us audiophiles who care about these sorts of things, the sound here is rich and clean, with solid, deep bass. The stage is huge, with the multi-miking kept to a minimum so that you can really hear the space this big group of musicians occupies.

There is a HUGE amount of top end on this recording. Wildly splashing cymbals and other percussion instruments are everywhere, and they are a joy to hear. No original was as clean up top as this reissue, and without a clear, (mostly) distortion-free top end, the work will simply not sound the way Bernstein wanted it to.

All that percussion is in the score. The high-frequency energy – perhaps the most I have ever heard from any recording of his music — is there for a reason. He conducted his own score, and one can only assume he liked the way it came out. We sure did. (more…)

Bernstein / Symphonic Dances and the Need for Full Brass and Clean Cymbals

More music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Hot Stamper Pressings of Orchestral Spectaculars

This reissue had the sound we were looking for!

One of the biggest advantages this copy had over most of what we played is fuller brass. The shrill sounding horns on most Columbia albums is what gets them tossed in the trade pile.

Fortunately for us audiophiles who care about these sorts of things, the sound here is rich and clean, with solid, deep bass. The stage is huge, with the multi-miking kept to a minimum so that you can really hear the space this big group of musicians occupies.

This pressing is a reissue, not a Six Eye original. The reason this particular LP beat every other pressing we played comes down to one specific quality — the top is dramatically cleaner and more extended.

There is a HUGE amount of top end on this recording. Wildly splashing cymbals and other percussion instruments are everywhere, and they are a joy to hear. No original was as clean up top as this reissue, and without a clear, (mostly) distortion-free top end, the work will simply not sound the way Bernstein wanted it to.

All that percussion is in the score. The high-frequency energy – perhaps the most I have ever heard from any recording of his music — is there for a reason. He conducted his own score, and one can only assume he liked the way it came out. We sure did.

In 1959 Columbia Let Leonard Bernstein Record an Awful Version of Scheherazade

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Our Favorite Performance of Scheherazade

Even worse, they released it!

Bernstein’s performance here is far too slow to be taken seriously. This is a record you can find in the bins for five bucks, and for five bucks it’s worth picking up just to hear how awful it is.

Vintage Columbia Pressings with Hot Stampers

Albums We’ve Reviewed on Columbia and Epic

Outstanding Hot Stamper pressings of recordings from 1959 can be found here.

The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Chabrier / Espana & more / Bernstein

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894) 

Reviews and Commentaries for Chabrier’s Orchestral Music

The Chabrier side of this 360 label record has SUPER HOT STAMPER sound, which is positively SHOCKING for a Columbia recording. Dry, shrill and lean, most Columbia pressings don’t last ten seconds on our turntable these days — but this one sure did! Played it all the way through as a matter of fact. (We love Espana. Who doesn’t?)

Is it as rich and tubey magical as the best Londons, RCAs and Vanguards from the Golden Age? No, not really — that would be a bit much to expect. It does have some of that sound, and that alone is remarkable considering how few Columbia pressings have any at all. (more…)

Shostakovich / Symphony No. 5 – A Recommended Cisco LP

More of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

More music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein

Sonic Grade: B

Years ago we wrote the following:

This Cisco 180 gram LP has EXCELLENT SOUND. Without a doubt this pressing is a HUGE improvement over the majority of shrill originals. Robert Pincus, Mr. Record himself, loaned me his best original Columbia pressing for the shootout. Not surprisingly it sounded every bit as hard, shrill and aggressive as others I have heard. Sounds lovely in the quiet passages, but you better cover your ears in the tuttis.

That’s why you see so few Columbia classical LPs on our site; the sound is usually terrible, and almost always in the same way: boosted upper midrange/ lower highs.

These records no doubt sounded great on the consoles of the day, with speakers aimed at your knees, but on modern hi-fi rigs they are positively deadly.

The aforementioned Mr. Record was also kind enough to provide us with an acetate of the very same recording, one which was cut a bit too loud and couldn’t be used. It sounded very much like our test pressing — warm, rich, and natural, with not a hint of phony sound from top to bottom. It was, however, a bit more textured, spacious and resolving of detail, exactly what you would expect. That said, the finished record has more than enough of all the best qualities we look for in a classical LP, especially that rare quality of Right On The Money Tonality. The string tone is superb. Not many modern remasterings can make that claim. Very few in fact.

This wonderful music belongs in any serious collection. Now that the sound matches the performance, it can be yours, on quiet vinyl no less.

This one gets a Top Recommendation from Better Records as one of the few heavy vinyl pressings that can actually beat some if not most of the originals.

We can’t be sure we would still agree with any of this but I’m guessing the Cisco pressing is still a good sounding record at the price. (more…)

Gershwin / Rhapsody In Blue / An American In Paris – Bernstein

More George Gershwin

More Spectacular Orchestral Recordings

  • This outstanding 6 Eye pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Here is sound that is both tubey and real, with much more space and a much bigger and more realistic presentation of the hall than most of the other copies we played
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Paired with his buoyant 1958 performance of An American in Paris with the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein’s rendition of Rhapsody is lively, flashy, bluesy, and intensely romantic in feeling, and these positive characteristics no doubt contributed to keeping this album in print for many years as one of Columbia’s great successes.”

*NOTE On side one, a mark makes 6 moderately-loud pops about two and one-half inches into Rhapsody In Blue.

Here is the sound we’ve been searching for – rich, tubey and real, with nicely textured strings. The piano is solid, rich, high-rez and percussive — there is hardly any Old School smear to be heard, always important to proper piano reproduction. (more…)

Rossini et al. / William Tell and other Overtures – Bernstein – Reviewed in 2008

More of the music of Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)

Our Favorite Performance of Rossini’s Overtures – Maag and The PCO

This is a SUPERB SOUNDING Columbia Masterworks LP of favorite overtures, energetically conducted by Leonard Bernstein. It’s exceedingly rare to find a Columbia pressing with sound like this: there’s tons of tubey magic; the string tone is surprisingly good; there’s huge amounts of depth and the overall presentation is tonally rich, sweet, and correct in the best golden age tradition.

There’s a bit of compression in the loudest passages, especially on side two. But this is a small price to pay for an otherwise wonderful sounding, beautifully mastered and pressed Columbia 360 Label LP.

Carl Stern plays the cello solo on the piece by Suppe and the sound is to die for, every bit as good as the famous Mercurys and RCAs we know so well. Truth be told, the quieter passages on this record are the most wonderful. The sense of real musicians playing in space is palpable, especially on side one.

The other pieces on this record are Zampa Overture, Mignon Overture, Raymond Overture and Poet and Peasant Overture.

Shostakovich & Ravel / Piano Concerto No. 2 & more / Bernstein – Reviewed in 2011

Super Hot Stamper or BETTER sound for the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No.2, which is positively SUPERB on this later Columbia pressing. It’s shockingly transparent, rich and sweet, with wonderful depth and clarity. Where is the shrill, upper-midrangy, glary, hard sound we’ve come to expect from ’60s Columbia recordings like this one?

Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you. Right here on this very side two, the Ravel side. It’s typical Columbia from the period, with nasally, pinched upper-mids, the kind which make the strings and brass screech and blare at you in the worst way.

If Columbia’s goal was to drive the audiophile music lover screaming from the room, on this side two they have succeeded brilliantly. On side one they’ve failed; it sounds great! (more…)

Gershwin / An American In Paris & Rhapsody In Blue / Bernstein – What To Listen For

More of the Music of George Gershwin

Reviews and Commentaries for Rhapsody in Blue

This original Six Eye LP has the smooth brass and full-bodied strings that allow this wonderful music to astound.

Smooth and solid, not brash or blary, what really impressed about the sound here was how full it was, yet it was never thick or murky. Instead it was transparent in the lower mids and below, and that sound was just glorious after listening to too many thin and brash pressings. The piano is solid, rich, high-rez and very percussive — there is no tubey Old School smear to be heard, and that too was a surprise.

I’ve always loved these performances, but the shrill Columbia sound has been hard to get past. So many copies suffer from upper-midrangy, glary, hard sound and blary brass. I’ve come to accept that this is nothing more nor less than the “Columbia Sound,” and as a consequence rarely put much effort into surveying their recordings.

I won’t say all that’s changed; it really hasn’t. The vast majority of Columbia classical pressings are still going to sound as awful as they have in the past.

What has changed is that finally, with this copy (and the stereo/room we have in 2015) we’ve found the sound that we’ve been looking for on the legendary MS 6091. (more…)

Gershwin / An American In Paris & Rhapsody In Blue

More George Gershwin

More An American In Paris & Rhapsody In Blue

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

I’ve always loved these performances, but the shrill Columbia sound has been hard to get past. So many copies suffer from upper-midrangy, glary, hard sound and blary brass. I’ve come to accept that this is nothing more nor less than the “Columbia Sound,” and as a consequence I rarely put much effort into surveying their prodigious catalog these days. (more…)