_Conductors – Dorati

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.

Mendelssohn / Scotch Symphony & Fingal’s Cave / Dorati – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

The sound of this Super Hot Stamper side one came as a bit of a surprise to us. It’s so BIG and RICH — this is a Mercury? It sounds like a good Decca/ London.

It’s actually instead a bit of a hybrid. The recording takes place in a famous London hall with superb acoustics (Walthamstow Town Hall) in which the Mercury recording team merely set up their usual three mics and recorded to half-inch tape. Gone is the dryness and upper-midrange nasality of so many Mercury’s; no doubt that sound was caused in large part by the halls in which they were recorded.

This is some Tubey Magical Decca orchestral sound from 1956, here on a Colorback early Mercury pressing. Go figure.

Side One

With a grade of A++ this side was KILLER. A little smear but so rich, musical and enjoyable you will find yourself lost in the performance. The London Symphony is hard to beat.

Side Two

A+ for the fourth movement of the symphony, with more smear than we heard on side one. Fingal’s Cave Overture sounds better though, more like side one. We gave it an A++ grade.

This is a truly wonderful copy of one of the rarest and best Mercury recordings. (more…)

Schuller / Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee / Dorati – Reviewed in 2006

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

RFR1/ 2. DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND.

This record has 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 it’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, possibly with the same exact stamper numbers, hear how good it sounded, and congratulate himself on the fact that the non-Vendor pressings always sound so good.

All without ever having done the comparison.

Classic Records 45 RPM Remaster – This Is Your Idea of a Great Firebird?

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Classic Records 45 RPM Debunked

Sonic Grade: C-

A customer alerted me to a review Wayne Garcia wrote about various VPI platters and the rim drive, and this is what I wrote back to him:

Steve, after starting to read Wayne’s take on the platters, I came across this:
That mind-blowing epiphany that I hadn’t quite reached with the Rim Drive/Super Platter happened within seconds after I lowered the stylus onto the “Infernal Dance” episode of Stravinsky’s Firebird (45 rpm single-sided Classic Records reissue of the incomparable Dorati/LSO Mercury Living Presence recording).

That is one of my half-dozen or so favorite orchestral recordings, and I have played it countless times.

This is why I have so little faith in reviewers. I played that very record not two weeks ago (04/2010) against a good original and the recut was at best passable in comparison. If a reviewer cannot hear such an obvious difference in quality, why believe anything he has to say? The reason we say that no reviewer can be trusted is that you cannot find a reviewer who does not say good things about demonstrably bad and even just plain awful records. It’s the only real evidence we have for their credibility, and the evidence is almost always damning. (more…)

Mercury Stereo Sampler Vol. 1 (SRD-1) – Reviewed in 2012

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

This Mercury Sampler has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on side one, or better — who knows if this isn’t as good as it gets? We can’t find enough clean copies to test so we’re sticking with A++ or better just to be safe. Either way, this is the BIG, BOLD classic Mercury sound. Let’s Dance – David Carroll – from Let’s Dance (SR-60001) has the sweet Tubey Magic of the best Living Stereos and the percussion excitement of Bang Baa-room and Harp!

Not every song on side one is a knockout but some of them certainly are, making this a top quality Variety Demo Disc. (more…)

Offenbach / Gaite Parisienne / Dorati – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This lovely Mercury Golden Import LP not only has Super Hot Stamper sound on side one, which is where Gaite Parisienne can be found, but it also boasts one of the greatest performances of the piece ever recorded. 

Dorati is surely The Man when it comes to energy, drive and dynamic excitement with this venerable warhorse. He and his Minneapolis Symphony play the hell out of this boisterous music, and luckily for us audiophiles, the Mercury engineers give us Demonstration Quality Sound to go with it.

The original Mercury release of this record (90016) is a shrill piece of trash, as is the Mercury Wing pressing. So many of the early Mercurys were poorly mastered it seems. We audiophiles must wait for reissues (either by Mercury or in this case by Philips once they had bought Mercury) to show us how good the sound of a particular recording might actually be. (Of course what you really need is the right copy to know ultimately how good the recording can be, and to find it you might have to clean and play ten LPs, or more. That’s where we come in.) (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Scheherazade / Dorati – Reviewed in 2006

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One of the most dynamic Scheherazade”s on record. The brass really blasts through in this recording. 

Of course the question is how does this recording stack up to the famous Reiner. Well, I’ll tell you.

The Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra is not in the same league with the CSO, that’s well known. Dorati may be every bit as talented as Reiner, but he doesn’t have the players at his disposal capable of pulling off demanding material such as this.

But the orchestra acquits itself well here. The first violinist is quite good. That’s not the problem. What lets the side down is the Mercury recording team, who fail to adequately present the weight of the orchestra in the lower midrange and below. One thing I noticed recently when playing an original LSC 2446 was how rich and powerful the sound was in the lower strings and in the brass relative to later pressings of the same title and other recordings of the work. That opening movement of Scheherazade needs power down there and the Mercury simply doesn’t have enough of that power to qualify it as one of the top sounding Mercs. (more…)

Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite / Dorati – Classic Records Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F 

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked. 

Dreadful sound. The Mercury series on Classic is a complete disaster. 

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs but is has since been replaced by another Heavy Vinyl reissue.

“Whether you prefer the fabulous bass dynamics and savage paganism of the Scythian Suite, the colorful and captivating sound-portrait of the fairy tale Love for Three Oranges Suite, Dorati’s super-charged readings of these scores are unsurpassed. Acclaimed by critics and audiophiles alike as among the very best of the best Mercury’s, this dramatic and riveting combination of Prokofiev, Dorati and Mercury Living Presence is a sure winner.” – Classic Records   

Tchaikovsky / The Nutcracker Ballet / Dorati – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

The Nutcracker Ballet / Dorati

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

This London Symphony recording is without a doubt THE BEST SOUNDING Nutcracker we have ever played here at Better Records, and that includes not only the full ballet but the suites and excerpts as well. The sound in a word is GLORIOUS. This copy, with 8 1/2 pluses total for the four sides, has DEMO DISC quality sound on three out of four sides. We shot out nine original maroon label copies (and one oval label Philips pressing) so we had our work cut out for us when it came to this masterwork of Tchaicovsky’s. It was an absolute JOY to hear his sublime orchestration recorded so faithfully and naturally by the Mercury team, using 35MM film no less. 

The review which can be seen by clicking on the Nutcracker Review tab above discusses Dorati’s sprightly performance guiding the LSO. He brings this music to LIFE like no other conductor of which I am aware.

A top performance with top quality sound. Let’s get right to each of the four sides. (more…)

Respighi / Ancient Airs and Dances / Dorati

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

Both sides of this TAS List early Colorback RFR copy have SUPER Hot Stamper sound, so much richer and sweeter and less strident than the typical copy you might find. (I must admit the Mercury approach to sound has not worn as well as I might have hoped. When it comes to the Big Three from the Golden Age, these days we prefer London, followed by RCA, then Mercury.) 

Of course the music is wonderful, with Respighi looking back and paying homage to the music and the musical structures of the past. This is no Pines of Rome. Please see the Ancient Airs and Dances tab above for more on the music.

Side One

A++ Superb Living Presence sound. Listen especially to how textured and natural he cellos sound, as well as the strings in general. Mercury rarely recorded strings properly but here they sound tonally correct, neither nasally nor strident. (more…)