_Conductors – Dorati

Hearing Is All It Should Take, Right?

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Some person on some audiophile forum might feel obligated at some point to explain to you, benighted soul that you are, that the old classical records you and other audiophiles revere are so drastically compromised and limited that they just can’t sound any good.

It’s just a fact. It’s science. Technology marches on and has left those old records collecting dust on the ash heap of history.

That’s why the audio world was crying out for Bernie Grundman to recut those Living Stereo recordings from the ’50s and ’60s on his modern cutting equipment and have RTI press them on quiet, flat, high-resolution 180 gram vinyl, following the best practices of an industry that everybody knows has been constantly improving for decades.

But for those of us who actually play these records, there is little evidence to support any of these statements of “fact.”

However, the above sentence only makes sense if the following four conditions have been met for the person judging the new pressings against the old ones:

  1. He or she has a good stereo,
  2. A good record cleaning system, and
  3. Knows how to do shootouts using his or her
  4. Well developed critical listening skills

If you have spent much time on this blog, you have probably read by now that the first three on this list are what allow you to develop the fourth.

Compromises?

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, similar to the one you see pictured here, were compromised in every imaginable way.

Yet somehow they manage to stand sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them, now that we have high quality equipment on which to play them

The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. When playing them you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in the music and the quality of the performance.

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.

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Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto No. 3 – Years Ago We Liked a Mono Pressing

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos

CBFR-1/CBFR-2. This Mono pressing sounds SUPERB, much smoother and more natural than I remember the Stereo pressings sounding. What’s interesting about these Monos is they’re not mastered by Robert Fine. They are mastered by someone with the initials J.J., who apparently does all the Mono mastering. The reason Mercury Monos can sound as good as they do is because they have their own separate microphone feed and their own separate Mono tape recorder dedicated all to themselves. (London did the same thing and that’s why so many London Monos are amazing sounding.)

I don’t think you can find a better sounding Rachmaninoff 3rd on Mercury than this one. 

[Of course we no longer agree with that.  The best stereo copies are in an entirely different league. The mono can be good, but it cannot be great in the way the stereo pressings can be.] (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird – Hard to Beat for Table Setup

Reviews and Commentaries for The Firebird on Mercury

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

White Hot Front Row Center sound – amazingly lifelike. One listen to either side and you’ll know this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time. Dorati breathes life into the work as only he can.

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.

These sides really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy. Some of our favorite (and not so favorite) Mercury classical and orchestral recordings can be found here.


Table Setup

This is an excellent record for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like. Classical music is really the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge setup (and evaluation). A huge and powerful recording such as this quickly separates the men from the boys when it comes to proper orchestral reproduction.

Recordings of this quality are the reason $10,000+ front ends exist in the first place. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you do, this is the record that will show you what you got for your hard-earned dough.

Ideally you would want to work your setup magic at home with this record, then take it to a friend’s house and see if you can achieve the same results on his system. I’ve done this sort of thing for years. (Sadly, not so much anymore; nobody I know can play records like these the way we can. Playing and critically evaluating records all day, every day, year after year, you get pretty good at it. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.)

Properly set VTA is especially critical on this record, as it is on most classical recordings. The smallest change will dramatically affect the timbre, texture and harmonic information of the strings, as well as the rest of instruments of the orchestra.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More VTA Advice

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Respighi – The Birds / Brazilian Impressions / Dorati

More of the music of Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage TAS-approved Maroon Label Mercury pressing boasts superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • This copy is everything that a good Mercury should be: dynamic, open, immediate, exciting, and of course, with Dorati and the LSO, beautifully performed
  • Both “The Birds” and “Brazilian Impressions” are wonderful sounding – we guarantee you’ve never heard a better copy of both works
  • This is yet another amazingly good sounding Mercury recording engineered by Robert Fine and produced by Wilma Cozart

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Rachmaninoff – Have You Ever Noticed that Sometimes the Highs Will Come Back?

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

This side one is interesting., I would say that it starts out Super Hot (A++) and within a few minutes becomes White Hot (A+++). The piano is a bit veiled at the start, but within a relatively short period of time that subtle loss of transparency disappears and the piano is RIGHT THERE.

This is not unusual in our experience.

The first track on many records can sound dull, and by the second track the highs come back and the tonality is right from top to bottom. Who knows why?

We speculate that the vinyl did not have time to fully heat up the edge of the record, but that’s speculation, something that has almost no value in our (yours and mine) quest for better sounding records. 1A, 1B, first off the stamper, who gives a flying you-know-what. You have to play the record to know how it sounds.

The rest is BS, proffered by those who are simply too lazy to do the work of actually cleaning and playing multiple copies of an album to know what they are talking about.

Side Two

A++, with all the texture and transparency we heard on side one. The strings are PERFECTION — truly Demo Disc quality.

The piano however does not quite have the weight it does on side one, so we knocked a plus off, putting this one at A++.

Only the last quarter inch has the slightest amount of groove damage on the loudest piano peaks. We’ve never heard one that played cleaner all the way through, I can tell you that. [This was written about a decade ago. Now we have, many of them in fact. They are out there, but if you buy a copy, make sure you can return it for Inner Groove Distortion because most of them have a problem in that area.]

What an amazing recording! What an amazing piece of music!

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Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite & Scythian Suite – Dorati

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound is found throughout this original (but not FR-1, those didn’t do as well!) Mercury LP
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • We have a preference for Dorati’s work with the London Symphony Orchestra, and a record like this will show you exactly why we do
  • If you’re a fan of 20th century orchestral showpieces such as these, Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart have here produced a very special record of two of the best
  • We hope you like your sound big and bold, because that is the sound they were obviously going for
  • I have to admit I was never a fan of this album until only a few years ago, when I finally got my hands on a clean copy and heard the powerful sound of the London Symphony come blasting out of my speakers – what a thrill!
  • This record seems to have been dropped from the TAS Super Disc list, which is only fitting since the current crop of nitwits has been watering it down with one crappy title after another since HP passed in 2014
  • If you’re a fan of Prokofiev’s music, this superb All Tube Recording from 1957 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

In the heyday of the ’90s, when these records were all the rage, this copy would have sold for as much as $1000 and maybe even more. And the copy that sold for that would have been very unlikely to sound as good as this one, if only for the fact that cleaning technologies have advanced so much over the last twenty years or so (and no, I do not mean ultrasonic cleaning. I mean scrubbing the right fluids and using the right machines to vacuum them off).

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Haydn / Symphonies 59 & 81 – The Best on Record

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

These notes are taken from the first shootout we did many years ago.

These are THE BEST HAYDN SYMPHONIES I have ever heard on disc. Folks, until I heard Dorati and the Festival Chamber Orchestra perform these pieces I never knew there could be this much FIRE in Haydn’s music. (Please excuse the pun; the 59th Symphony is entitled “Fire”.)

The producers and engineers for Mercury bring the kind of recording energy and presence to this music that I have frankly never heard before. Credit must go to both Dorati and his players.

His tempi are fast and sprightly throughout, and the smaller orchestra allows the players to zig and zag with the musical changes much more quickly than would be the case with a larger and more inertia-bound group.

The FCO are so technically proficient and so light on their feet that Dorati was able to push them to dizzying heights of performance. For the first time I can honestly say that Haydn’s music really works — it’s wonderful!

(If you’ve ever heard Previn conducting Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with the L.A. Phil from 1990 you will know what I mean. In his (their) hands the work is so lively it’s hard to hear it performed by anyone else. Bad digital sound but it’s worth it to hear the piece played with such gusto.)

Dorati and Haydn

As you may know, Dorati recorded all the symphonies of Haydn for London/Decca. Having played some of them I can tell you they certainly do not sound like this! (Perhaps my copies were not the best, but how many copies of these records can be found nowadays? Not enough to do shootouts with, that’s for sure.)

This recording is not your typical dry, bright, nasaly, upper-midrangy Merc, on side one especially. Here the sound is rich and smooth like a good London, with a big stage and lovely transparency. We graded it A++ to A+++ — side two had more texture to the massed strings than this side one, so we downgraded it half a plus. In virtually every other way it was SUPERB!

Side Two

A touch of that Mercury brightness can be heard on this side, but it is well under control at normal listening levels. The strings are textured and lively, the orchestra just bursting with enthusiasm for this music and the recording captures it all! A++ to A+++, again, superb, and priced accordingly.

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When It Comes to Prokofiev, Classic Records Got One Thing Right

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

Sonic Grade: F 

The Classic has dreadful sound. Their entire Mercury series is a complete disaster.

No audiophile with good equipment and two working ears should have been fooled by the hype swirling around their Heavy Vinyl pressings, although plenty of audiophiles were. 

Bad equipment? Ears not working? Your guess is as good as mine. 

Classic Records is right about the performance, however. See for yourself:

“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  

What they are not telling you is that their mastering of the album was dreadful.

If you know the sound of Mercury’s records well, you know that the last thing you would want would be a pressing of SR 90006 that could be described by any of the following five words:

  1. Hard,
  2. Sour,
  3. Colored,
  4. Crude or 
  5. Airless.

But that is exactly what you get with the Classic Records pressing.

If you own the Classic, we can show you just how awful it is, right in your own home. Just buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings and you will hear all the things that your Classic is doing wrong. It does take two working ears and good equipment though, so if you have a top quality system, we have a top quality pressing for you to play on it.


FURTHER READING

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad. He cut some amazingly good records in the ’70s and ’80s but the by the ’90s we are not aware of any record he cut that would be worth owning.

Classic Records – Classical

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries 

Heavy Vinyl Disasters 

Wagner / Excerpts from Operas / Dorati

More of the Music of Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard this underrated Wagner album sound remotely as good as it does here
  • Mercury is one of the few labels that can bring to life the power of the orchestra that Wagner’s music demands, and the engineers (Robert Eberenz, et al) do not disappoint
  • One of the better Watford Town Hall recordings (The Firebird would be another one), this album was recorded in 1959 and it fully captures the magic of the venue as only an All Tube Recording / Mastering Chain from that era can
  • I’ve known how good the right pressings of this album can sound for more than twenty years — it’s about time we did the shootout!
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this Mercury recording from 1960 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Respighi / The Birds on Golden Import Reissue

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Classical Records on Mercury 

These days, most Golden Import reissues we play sound much too much like most of the Philips pressings we’ve played over the years: smooth, smeary, compressed, recessed and veiled. 

Can’t say what this one sounds like, it sold many years ago, but I would not expect any Golden Import to sound good to me now.

More than anything the changes we hear in the records we play now tie into the idea of Progress in audio, since without progress the records that sounded good to me in 2006 would still sound good to me now, and thank goodness they don’t.

Live and Learn is our motto, onward and upward, and we have made that approach to audio the very foundation of our business.

If you are stuck in a Heavy Vinyl rut, we can help you get out of it. We did precisely that for these folks, and we can do it for you.

(You may of course not be aware that you are stuck in a rut. Most audiophiles aren’t. The best way out of that predicament is to hear how mediocre these modern records sound compared to the vintage Hot Stampers we offer. Once you hear the difference, your days of buying newly remastered releases will most likely be over. Even if our pricey curated pressings are beyond your budget, you can avail yourself of the methods we describe to find killer records on your own.)

A TAS List Mistake?

The famous Bolero on the TAS List had seemed to me to be a Harry Pearson mistake from the old days, a record he clearly liked at one time and simply had not played later in life on better equipment.

In 2006, mostly what we were doing in the commentary you see below was bashing the Just Plain Awful Speakers Corner Mercury series that seemed to please everyone else. We thought those remastered pressings were disgraceful, the worst of the worst. Every title from that series that I played was so wrong as to defy understanding. I stopped after two. Two was all I could take.

And where, may I ask, are those awful Mercury’s now?

On the trash heap of Heavy Vinyl Rip-offs from the past I hope. (I hope — audiophiles seem to like so many bad sounding records that it would not surprise me if there were still some die-hard fans of the series.)

How bad does a stereo have to be to keep you from hearing what is wrong with the sound of these awful records? (more…)