_Conductors – Bernstein

Every Label Made Bad Sounding Records – In 1959 Columbia Let Leonard Bernstein Record an Awful Version of Scheherazade

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The performance here is far too slow to be taken seriously.

Another recording that we auditioned and found wanting.  A Free Service provided to the Audiophile Public, courtesy of Better Records.

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

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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

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

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

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More An American In Paris & Rhapsody In Blue / Bernstein

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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…)

Leonard Bernstein – Conducts Symphonic Dances…

More Leonard Bernstein

Conducts Symphonic Dances…

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides of this vintage Columbia pressing – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • 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 the man’s records
  • The music is wonderful of course, with the Suites giving you all the best parts of his marvelous compositions with none of the filler
  • Vibrant orchestrations, high quality sound and fairly quiet surfaces combine for an immersive and engrossing listening experience

One of the great Columbia recordings. I suspected it might have been done at the legendary 30th St 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.

The big advantage this copy had over most is the fullness of the brass. The shrill sound of the brass on most Columbia albums is what gets them tossed in the trade pile. Fortunately 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. (more…)

Gershwin / An American In Paris & Rhapsody In Blue

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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…)

Grofe / Grand Canyon Suite / Bernstein

More of the music of Leonard Bernstein

More Grofe / Grand Canyon Suite / Bernstein

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

This Minty Columbia Grey label Stereo LP is one of the most amazing copies ever! You will be hard pressed to find a better sounding Grand Canyon suite. Bernstein’s Columbia recordings usually leave much to be desired. This is a notable exception. The normal Columbia shrillness is gone, replaced by sweet and liquid sound. I wish more of his records sounded like this one: I’d be picking them up left and right.

Berlioz / Symphonie Fantastique / Bernstein – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Hector Berlioz 

More of the music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein 

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

And this one comes complete with the bonus 7″ entitled “Berlioz Takes a Trip” in which Bernstein explores the work “with musical illustrations by the New York Philharmonic”.

This work is difficult to fit onto a single LP, clocking in at around 45 minutes, which means that the mastering engineer has three options when cutting the record: compress the dynamics, lower the level, or filter the deep bass. On this side two it seems that none of those approaches were taken by the engineer who cut this record in the early ’80s — there’s plenty of bass, as well as powerful dynamics, and the levels seem fine. How he do it? Beats me. Glad he did though!

Side one is bass shy, however. Did the engineer filter out the lower frequencies, or is it just a case of pressing variation being the culprit. Who can say? If we had many more copies with these same stampers for side one, all with less bass, we might be able to draw a conclusion about that, one that is highly probable but of course not provable. The very next copy we might find with those stampers could have plenty of bass. Then we would be forced to say that our highly probable theory had been falsified conclusively. So much for theories.

Which is one of the main reasons we avoid them. We play the records to find out how they sound, we don’t feel the need to theorize about them much. We think the audiophile community would be better served by more critical listening and less theorizing and opining. (more…)