_Conductors – Bernstein

Bernstein / Symphonic Dances and the Need for Full Brass and Clean Cymbal Crashes

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

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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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. (more…)

Shostakovich / Symphony No. 5 / Bernstein – Cisco Reviewed and Recommended

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

More music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein

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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

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  • 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…)

Every Label Made Bad Sounding Records – 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 – Ansermet with the Suisse Romande

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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

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

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

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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

More George Gershwin

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 from West Side Story

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

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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  • This stunning 2-pack offers Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from first note to last on vintage Columbia pressings – 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, played with more energy than you may have imagined, coupled with top quality sound combine for an immersive and engrossing listening experience

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 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.

Spectacular Analog

This vintage Columbia pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even 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 same room, this is the record for you. It’s what Vintage Records 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.

What the Best Sides of Leonard Bernstein Conducts Symphonic Dances Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

What We’re Listening For on Leonard Bernstein Conducts Symphonic Dances…

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • 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 common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as 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 players.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Hi-Fidelity

What do we love about these vintage pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The unique sound of every instrument is reproduced with remarkable fidelity. That’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange.

This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this record up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it.

Our Famous 2-packs

Our 2-pack sets combine two copies of the same album, with at least a Super Hot Stamper sonic grade on the better of each “good” side, which simply means you have before you a pair of records that offers superb sound for the entire album.

Audiophiles are often surprised when they hear that an LP can sound amazing on one side and mediocre on the other, but since each side is pressed from different metalwork which has been aligned independently, and perhaps even cut by different mastering engineers from tapes of wildly differently quality, in our experience it happens all the time. In fact it’s much more common for a record to earn different sonic grades for its two sides than it is to rate the same grade. That’s just the way it goes in analog, where there’s no way to know how a any given side of a record sounds until you play it, and, more importantly, in the world of sound everything is relative.

Since each of the copies in the 2-pack will have one good side and one noticeably weaker or at best more run-of-the-mill side, you’ll be able to compare them on your own to hear just what it is that the Hot Stamper sides give you. This has the added benefit of helping you to improve your critical listening skills. We’ll clearly mark which copy is Hot for each side, so if you don’t want to bother with the other sides you certainly won’t have to.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

A Must Own Orchestral Record

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Orchestral Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”

Side Two

Symphonic Suite from the Film “On The Waterfront”

Wikipedia

Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim. According to The New York Times, he was “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history.”

His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world’s leading orchestras, and from his music for West Side Story, as well as Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town and his own Mass.

Bernstein was also the first conductor to give numerous television lectures on classical music, starting in 1954 and continuing until his death. In addition, he was a skilled pianist, often conducting piano concertos from the keyboard.

As a composer he wrote in many styles encompassing symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and pieces for the piano. Many of his works are regularly performed around the world, although none has matched the tremendous popular and commercial success of West Side Story.

On the Waterfront

When he was asked to compose the score for On the Waterfront in 1954, Leonard Bernstein was 35 and already a major celebrity, but otherwise an unlikely candidate for the job. He had never written a movie score, and was not enthusiastic about doing it. In his 1959 book The Joy of Music [highly recommended by the way] (in a chapter whimsically titled “Interlude: Upper Dubbing, California”) Bernstein wrote:

When I was first shown a rough cut of the picture I thought it a masterpiece of direction; and Marlon Brando seemed to me to be giving the greatest performance I had ever seen him give, which is saying a good deal. I was swept by my enthusiasm into accepting the commission to write the score, although I had [until then] resisted all such offers on the grounds that it is a musically unsatisfactory experience for a composer to write a score whose chief merit ought to be its unobtrusiveness.”

Bernstein contributed compelling, distinctive music that gave the film much of its intensity, and received one of On the Waterfront’s12 Academy Award nominations (he didn’t win). Still, being a novice, he was shocked at the way his music was chopped up to serve the film: entire scenes were cut, music was turned abruptly on and off, and a piece “planned as a composition, with a beginning, middle and end, would be silenced seven bars before the end.” Kazan used music sparingly (typically when there wasn’t much dialogue), and only 35 minutes of Bernstein’s music made it into the 107-minute film. Wrote Bernstein:

And so the composer sits by, protesting as he can, but ultimately accepting, be it with heavy heart, the inevitable loss of a good part of his score. Everyone tries to comfort him. ‘You can always use it in a suite.’ Cold comfort. It is for the good of the picture, he repeats numbly to himself.

The Symphonic Suite in which he used it is in five connected sections. The slow first section is the prelude to the movie, accompanying the very stark-looking credits that begin the film. The succeeding Presto barbaro, ushered in by percussion (as it is at the start of the film’s action) contains music that accompanies the frequent violence in the film. A central Andante largamente is based on the love-interest music. The fourth and fifth sections are from the final scenes, in which the hero fights with the mobsters and then staggers, bloody and bruised, to lead the dock workers (physically) into the warehouse and (symbolically) out of the domination of the gangsters.

LA Phil

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…)

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.