- This wonderful collection of rhapsodies finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides
- One of the best of the Mercury Living Presence Titles – the orchestra is big, rich and tubey, yet the dynamics and transparency are first rate
- Beautifully performed by the London Symphony Orchestra (our favorite performances of these works in fact), under the direction of Antal Dorati
- Other versions — the Oscar Danon we like on RDG, for example — may be faster, but Dorati and the LSO bring an energy and spirit to these pieces that we feel is unequaled on vintage vinyl
- “The playing is flawless… if you like and/or appreciate the music of these composers, your life would be remiss not having heard these performances.”
RFR1/ 2. This pressing has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND.
Here is the sound that Mercury is famous for: immediate, dynamic and spacious. This record lives up to the Mercury claim: You immediately feel as though you are in the Living Presence of the orchestra.
This is precisely the kind of record that Speakers Corner would not have a clue how to master. I’d stake my reputation on it, for what that’s worth.
As you know, I am one of the most vocal critics of the new Speakers Corner Mercury series, and I can tell you without ever hearing their version of this recording that there is NO CHANCE IN THE WORLD they will ever cut a record that sounds like this. It’s alive in a way that none of their pressings would even begin suggest. If you don’t believe me, please buy this record and play it for yourself. If you don’t agree, I will refund your money and pay the domestic shipping back.
This record also gives the lie to those who think that Vendor pressings are inferior. This is a Vendor and I would be very surprised if there’s a better sounding copy than this one. I’ve certainly never heard one.
People who like to read labels and find some sort of pattern or connection between the label and the sound of the record are living in a world of their own making.
The stamper numbers are the only thing that can possibly mean anything on a record, and even those are subject to so much variation from pressing to pressing that they become only a vague, general guide.
This LP is a good example of a record that a misguided or misinformed record collector would pass up, hoping to find a better sounding non-Vendor pressing.
Of course the circular reasoning that would result is that such a collector would buy the non-Vendor pressing, possibly with the exact same stamper numbers, hear how good it sounded, and congratulate himself on the fact that the non-Vendor pressings always sound so much better. All without ever having done a comparison.
A good way to never be wrong!
- One listen to either side of this pressing and you’ll see why this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time
- The Heavy Vinyl reissues – at 45 or 33, on one disc or four, makes no difference – barely begin to capture the energy and drive Dorati brings to the work
- “The magic lies in the elaborate orchestration and the excitingly uneven rhythmic writing. Stravinsky changes the orchestration of his themes at each repetition, breaks them down into their constituent parts, pushes their accents across the bar-line, and moves them out of sync with their own accompaniments.”
Neither side has peak distortion or Inner Groove Distortion of any kind, which is rare for this exceptionally dynamic title in our experience.
Both sides are so clear, ALIVE, and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.
This pressing boasts rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. 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. (more…)
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. The FR pressings of the recording can be phenomenally good. Even the later M2 pressings from Philips can be excellent.
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 remastered by Philips using 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 at the opposite side of that trade-off. Quiet vinyl means nothing if the sound is poor.
Our advice: Don’t waste your money.
This Record Is Good for Testing the Following Qualities
The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s like the one you see pictured above were compromised in every imaginable way. Yet somehow they manage to be sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them, now that we can play them on the high quality equipment of today.
The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. Playing them you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in their performances. Whatever the limitations of the medium, they seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the musical experience.
That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable.
We live for records like these. It’s the reason we all get up in the morning and come to work, to find and play good records. It’s what this site is all about — offering the audiophile music lover recordings that provide real musical satisfaction. It’s hard work — so hard nobody else seems to want to do it — but the payoff makes it all worthwhile. To us anyway. Hope you feel the same.
The One Out of Ten Rule
If you have too many classical records taking up too much space and need to winnow them down to a more manageable size, pick a composer and play half a dozen of his works. Most classical records display an irredeemable mediocrity right from the start; it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it.
If you’re after the best sound, it’s the rare record that will have it, which makes clearing shelf space a lot easier than you might imagine. If you keep more than one out of ten you’re probably setting the bar too low if our experience is any guide.
- The Hot Stamper return of this stunning rendition of The Nutcracker, with a Triple Plus (A+++) side three and nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on sides one and four – just shy of our Shootout Winner
- If you love the excitement Dorati brings to warhorses such as this, coupled with the equally exciting sound that Mercury achieved under Robert Fine, you will have a hard time finding a better combination of the two than this very record
- The sound is glorious – full, rich, spacious, big and transparent, with virtually no smear
- With this early pressing the power of the orchestra will come to life right in your very own listening room
- “The last of Tchaikovsky’s three great ballets, and was premiered in 1892, the year before his enigmatic death.
Like the audiophiles of today, at the time I thought I knew a great deal more about records and their proper reproduction than I actually did.
Yes, I admit it: I suffered from the Dunning-Kruger effect. There is one very powerful benefit that I gained from being so mistaken. Having experienced it myself, the signs that you think you know more than you do are very easy to spot in others.
If you want to see the effect firsthand, go to any audiophile forum and start reading any thread you find there. It would be hard to miss.
Some thoughts on the new 180 gram Mercury reissues by Speakers Corner and a bunch of other record related stuff.
The Absolute Sound weighed in with their view of the series:
Speakers Corner has given these recordings the respect they deserve. The packaging is gorgeous: a black album titled “The Living Presence of 20th Century Music” and displaying the Mercury logo holds the three records with their original covers and liner notes. In addition, there are informative annotations on the music and Dorati, and a history of Mercury Living Presence…They sound at least as good and in some ways better than the originals…There are no negatives and not enough superlatives to describe these magnificent reissues. It’s rare that performance, sound, and musical value combine at this level in a recording.
Arthur B. Lintgen, The Absolute Sound, February/March 2004
Let me start by saying that I have not listened to a single one of the new Mercury titles.
Now that that’s out of the way, let me state for the record that the chances of the above statements as quoted in TAS being true are so close to zero that they cannot be calculated by anything but the latest Cray computer.
Has Speakers Corner produced a single classical record that’s better than a good original pressing? One or two. Maybe. So what are the chances they did so with these? Almost none I would say. (more…)
For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that just too noisy to sell.)
We had one FR pressing and two of the later pressings with the lighter label, the ones that most often come with Philips M2 stampers.
This is how we described the winner:
So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.
Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.
Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.
What we didn’t say — and what we never say in the listings — is what the second tier copies didn’t do as well as the shootout winner. (more…)
Super Hot Stamper sound for Eric Satie’s wonderfully eccentric Parade (and the Auric piece as well) can be found on this rare original promo copy of Mercury 90435, a record that was previously on the TAS List if I’m not mistaken.
It certainly deserves to be. The sound is BIG and OPEN, and like so many Mercury recordings with the London Symphony, it’s rich and full-bodied, not thin and nasally as is so often the case with their domestically recorded releases. Above all the sound is transparent, lively and dynamic.
In many ways this album would certainly serve quite well as an audiophile Demo Disc: the timbre of the wide array of instruments used is (mostly) Right On The Money.
Check out the lengthy and humorous producer’s notes for the sessions below. And people think The Beatles discovered experimental sounds in the studio.
With one small exception: the brass doesn’t have all the weight of the real thing, and for that we have deducted one plus from our top grade of three.
Side one has Classic Bad Mercury Sound — so screechy, hard and thin. How many audiophiles own records like this and don’t know that the sound of one side is awful and the other brilliant?
Since so few have ever commented publicly about such matters — and even supposedly knowledgeable audiophile reviewers never bother to even bring up the subject of one side versus the other — one must conclude that this is a subject that has yet to pierce the consciousness of most of our audiophile brethren, especially the ones who haven’t yet discovered this site.
Now’s a good time to start. Dig in, you may be surprised by what you find.
- Stunning sound for this classic Byron Janis Mercury album with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- The piano is huge and weighty, the strings rich and highly resolving, and the overall presentation is powerful, balanced, dynamic and exciting like few other piano concerto recordings we have ever had the pleasure to audition
- Not only is this the consistently best sounding copy we have had to offer in years, but we are happy to report that the vinyl is especially quiet for a vintage Plum Label Mercury stereo pressing
Not only is the sound amazing — yes, it’s on the TAS Super Disc list, and for good reason: a copy as good as this one really is a Super Disc — but this copy has another vitally important characteristic that most copies of the record do not: no Inner Groove Distortion.
We can’t begin to count the times we have had to return (or toss) a copy of these famous Byron Janis records because the piano breakup for the last inch or so of the record was just unbearable. That’s a sound no serious listener could possibly tolerate, yet I would venture to guess that a great many Mercury Piano Concerto recordings suffer from this kind of groove damage.
Enough about those typically bad copies, let’s talk about how good this one is!
This is an exceptionally quiet early Mercury Plum label stereo pressing of one of Byron Janis’s most famous performances (along with the Rachmaninoff 1st. It’s a longtime member of the TAS Super Disc list.
The sound is rich and natural, with lovely transparency and virtually no smear to the strings, horns or piano. What an amazing recording! What an amazing piece of music.
The recording is explosively dynamic and on this copy, the sound was positively jumping out of the speakers. In addition, the brass and strings are full-bodied, with practically no stridency, an unusual feat the Mercury engineers seem to have accomplished while in Russia.
Big, rich sound can sometimes present problems for piano recordings. You want to hear the percussive qualities of the instrument, but few copies pull off that trick without sounding thin. This one showed us a piano that was both clear and full-bodied.
With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard. Once the needle has dropped you will quickly forget about the sound (and all the money you paid to get it!) and simply find yourself in the presence of some of the greatest musicians of their generation, captured on the greatest analog recordings of all time. (more…)