_Conductors – Dorati

The Rapture of the Purely Musical Experience

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, compromised in every imaginable way, are sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them. 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 performance. Whatever the limitations of the medium they seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the pure 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.

 

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This work is difficult to find with anything but harsh sound. Such powerful and exciting orchestration must surely be problematic to capture on tape.

But Mercury managed to do it, a feat few others labels can claim.

This side one is truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY, thanks to its superb low-distortion mastering. It’s yet another exciting Mercury recording. The quiet passages have unusually sweet sound.

This kind of sound is not easy to cut. This copy gets rid of the cutter head distortion and coloration and allows you to hear what the Mercury engineers accomplished.

Side One

The balanced tonality is key, especially when you have such lively brass and strings. The top is correct, even sweet, and you can’t say that about very many Mercs. Exceptionally tight bass too.

I don’t know of a better performance or a better recording of the work.

Side Two

Dorati breathes fire into the famous Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet on side 2. Unfortunately, the sound is never as good in our experience as it is on side one.

Clear horns, a big hall — if it were a bit less bright it would probably have earned another plus.

Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite / Dorati on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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The standard Classic Records failings are as obvious and as irritating on this remaster as they are on practically all of the others.

Lack of ambience.

Smeary and hard strings.

A lack of Tubey Magic.

Veiled and recessed in general.

Bottom line: Not a good record.

Of course, Classic Records made very few good records; why should this one be any different?

It sure fooled a lot of audiophiles though.  Allow me to quote a writer with his own website devoted to explaining and judging classical recordings of all kinds. His initials are A.S. for those of you who have been to his site.

Classic Records Reissues (both 33 and 45 RPM) – These are, by far, the best sounding Mercury pressings. Unfortunately, only six records were ever released by Classic. Three of them (Ravel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky) are among the very finest sounding records ever made by anyone. Every audiophile (with a turntable) should have these “big three”.

Obviously we could not disagree more. I’ve played all six of the Classic Mercurys; the Ravel and Prokofiev titles are actually even worse than the Stravinsky we reviewed here on the blog.

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Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite / Dorati

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

Huge hall space, wonderfully textured strings – it’s easy to forget just how REAL a recording like this from 1957 can sound. With almost none of the Mercury nasality on the strings or the brass, we were knocked out by the sound and, of course, the legendary performance.

My notes for side one read: Big hall! Transparent! Zero smear! Dynamic! Huge Bass! Realistic! If that sounds like the kind of record you would like to play for yourself, here it is.

The Scythian Suite was also very good but it seems to get a bit congested (tape overload? compressor overload?) on the loudest parts. It does sound amazing in the quieter passages. It’s not distorted, just brash. It’s very dynamic of course, as is side one. That’s Mercury’s sound.

This was obviously a record the previous owner did not care for. We acquired a copy of LSC 2449 in the same batch, but unfortunately that was a record the owner must have loved — it’s just plain worn out. (We kept it as a reference copy for a future shootout which, considering how rare the record is, may never come to pass.)

In the heyday of the ’90s, when these records were all the rage, this copy would have sold for at least $1000 and probably 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 ten years or so. (more…)

Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto No. 3 / Janis/ Dorati – Years Ago We Favorably Reviewed a Mono Pressing

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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…)

Rhapsody! – The Story of an Old Fave We Were Wrong About

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A great example of an album We Was Wrong about.

As you can see by the commentary below, I used to think this was a wonderful sounding London “Sleeper” classical recording.

That was many years ago – five, six, seven, I cannot be sure. I ended up acquiring a half dozen copies of the album or so over the course of those years, had them cleaned up and proceeded to do a shootout.

It did not go well. Immediately I noticed that the pressings I was playing were sounding clean, clear and lively, but much too modern, too much like a good CD and not enough like the good Golden Age classical recordings we audition regularly.

Those recordings, on the right pressings, will take your breath away.  Rhapsody! was leaving me asking myself what was wrong. The more I listened the more obvious the faults of the recording became.

The pressings I played lacked warmth, richness, sweetness, space, and a number of other analog qualities I won’t belabor here. Too much of what makes listening to vintage vinyl so involving was just not on these records no matter how much I may have wanted them to be.

The extreme top and bottom were also lacking, giving the sound a “boxy” quality. The presentation was wide but not tall. Of the five levels of sound we discuss on the site in various listings, levels one and five were not as evident as they should have been.

This is, again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.

We cannot rely on our previous judgments. With all the changes we’ve made over the years, we can now clean our records better and play our records better than ever before.

That means that some will rise and some will fall. This one fell, pretty hard in fact. Not a bad record, but not a good one either, and far from as good as I once thought.

Below is our previous commentary.  All of this was true for my old stereo and room, my critical listening skills at the time, my old cleaning regimen. And by old I mean my approach from only about five or six years ago!

Things have changed, dramatically, and nothing in all of audio could make me happier.

DEMO QUALITY SOUND! This is one of the greatest SLEEPER albums of all time.

This London reissue from 1979 of recordings from 1978 in Detroit, the year in which Dorati became director of the Detroit Symphony has the kind of orchestral sound we drool over here at Better Records. Dark and rich strings — the basses growl just like the real thing. Dynamic. Deep solid bass. Fluffy tape hiss, which sounds exactly the way it should. This tells you that the top end is untweaked. (Almost all Classic Records have funny sounding tape hiss as you may or may not know. It”s a dead give away that the top end is boosted. Tape hiss is like pink noise: it always sounds the same, unless somebody has fooled with it. Steve Hoffman taught me to listen for this quality and it was a lesson important to my growth as a critical listener.) (more…)

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…)