_Conductors – Gibson

Gounod / Faust – A Wonderful Victrola Pressing from 1965

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This RCA Plum Label Victrola LP has many shortcomings, but its strengths more than compensate for them.

The MIDRANGE is pure MAGIC. The sweet, textured strings, the back of the stage percussion, the placement of the orchestral sections in the soundstage, the performance itself — all combine to make you forget you are listening to an old, somewhat flawed record.

What has been captured in the grooves of the vinyl allows the listener to do what few recordings can — suspend his disbelief.

It’s not an old record. It’s living, breathing music being performed in the present, at this very moment. It’s happening — one is under the sway of Gounod’s music just as if one were attending the live event. The mind has somehow lost track of the fact that its owner is sitting at home.

The listener is transported by the sound, mentally, not physically, to a plane where the real world has no meaning, where music is the only reality.

I played this record and made critical notes for a while. At some point I lost interest in that activity.

I simply began to marvel at what the Decca engineers had managed to do, which was to draw me in completely.


Bizet – Carmen and L’Arlesienne Suites / Gibson / Morel

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • A superb UK Decca pressing of these lively orchestral showpieces with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • 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
  • Vibrant orchestrations, top quality sound and reasonably quiet surfaces combine for an astounding listening experience
  • This is a spectacular recording – it’s guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of orchestral music you own
  • Speaking of Heavy Vinyl, Alexander Gibson conducts two of the most sought-after and valuable RCA Living Stereo titles of them all, LSC 2225 and LSC 2449. We have not been able to find either for about ten years at anything under $1000, and that is too pricey for records that may not sound the way we want them to


Gounod – Does Your Copy Have Clipped Bass?

This RCA Plum Label Victrola LP, the budget reissue of the incredibly rare LSC 2449, has some of the best and worst Golden Age sound I’ve ever heard. It has most of the magic of the better VICS copy I rave about.

When a cutting amplifier runs out of juice, the bass simply “clips.” The beginning of the bass note is heard, and then it just stops. A fair number of RCA Shaded Dog originals have this problem. The cutting amplifiers of the day were often not up to the job. They ran out of power.

It’s amazing to me that so few collectors of these records even know what I’m talking about when I mention this shortcoming. They just assume it’s something in the recording perhaps. But it’s not. Oftentimes it is simply stamper variations that separate the clipped records from the unclipped records.

The more compression that is used, the less likely it is that the amplifiers will clip at all. But that’s obviously not the solution. And of course if you play records like this back on say, Quads, a notoriously compressed and bass-shy speaker to begin with, you’ll never notice any of this.

You also won’t hear it on this system.

Ah, but here is a wonderful recording that, on the better pressings at least, has deep, powerful, unclipped bass that can rattle the walls and sound like your flooring is in danger of being warped. But you need big woofers to get that effect, and lots of them.

But side two actually sounds quite good. Not as good as the best Shaded Dog copies possibly, but since those are $1000 and up, this has to be considered a good alternative at a fair price.

Lots of Living Stereo magic and a wonderful performance by Gibson make this record easy to recommend.


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Gounod / Ballet Music from Faust – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

Reviews and Commentaries for Guonod / Faust Ballet Music

Sonic Grade: C

Classic Records did a passable job with LSC 2449, one of their better efforts, but of course it has almost none of the sweetness, richness and ambience that the best RCA pressings have, and they have them more often than not in abundance.

Their version is not awful, like most of the classical recordings they remastered, and considering that the original goes for many, many hundreds of dollars, might be worth picking up at a reasonable price.

Most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a classical recording of the quality of a good original. If they had Classic Records would have gone out of business immediately after producing their first three Living Stereo titles, all of which were dreadful and labeled as such by us way back in 1994 as soon as we had a chance to play them.

I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled (HP, how could you?), but I can say that we weren’t, at least when it came to their classical releases. (We admit to having made plenty of mistaken judgments about their jazz and rock, and we have the We Was Wrong entries to prove it.)

And the fact that so many of them are currently on the TAS List is a sad comment on how far the mighty have fallen.


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Comparing Witches’ Brew on RCA with Danse Macabre on Decca from Way Back in the Day


This commentary was written a very long time ago so caveat lector.

The Decca reissue above just happens to have the material found on one of the most famous and sought-after Shaded Dog pressings in the world, Witches’ Brew (shown below), along with one track added, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, conducted by Ansermet. (As a budget reissue they felt they needed to give you more music in order to get you to buy performances that were no longer current.)

The Decca pressing is tonally much more natural from top to bottom. I used to think that it was the best way to hear the music on Witches’ Brew. Like so much of what happens in the world of records, it is and it isn’t.

Huh?, you say. Okay, here is what I mean. We played a handful of Witches’ Brews over the last year or two, and most of them left a lot to be desired. More than that — most of them were just plain awful. One, and only one, lived up to the hype that surrounds the record. It was so big and so powerful that I would have had no trouble ranking it with the five best sounding classical recordings I’ve ever heard. It was a real WOW moment when the needle hit the groove on that one.

witchesThis later Decca pressing is made from a copy tape, but it’s CORRECTLY mastered from that tape and therefore sounds worlds better than most originals and all the heavy vinyl reissues. This record I can play and enjoy. Those I cannot.

Side Two

Mephisto Waltz sounds about as good as it can considering the source tapes that were used. It’s rich, spacious and huge but does have some smear. The tonality is correct and that alone puts it well ahead of the pack. We call it A++, Super Hot.

Side One

If you compare the Danse Macabre here with the same work on the earlier pressings one thing that jumps out clearly is how CLEAN the top end of this pressing is and how DISTORTED it is on even the best originals. The old cutter systems were a bit crude up top and this pressing will show you just how crude they were (assuming you have an original, not an easy record to come by these days).

That said, we graded this side one A+ to A++, a step below side two. Yes, it’s tonally correct and has a clean top, but it is also somewhat recessed and not nearly as lively as the best originals. (Gnomus is not very good here I regret to say.)

In Summary

A mixed bag of sonic qualities, no doubt about it. We would love to find these wonderful performances mastered correctly and on quiet vinyl, but that combination has proven to be much more difficult than we thought it would be. This pressing gets you most of the way there. Most of the others we have tried have been painfully bad, so we would have to say, all things considered, this is a good record that you should consider giving a spin.

The Music

As for the music, I have long held that the Danse Macabre on this album is the best performance of it ever put to tape. I probably still agree with that, but so much of the material on this record is amazingly good that that’s actually kind of a left-handed compliment. The entire side one is outstanding from start to finish: the excerpt from Pictures at an Exhibition and the complete A Night on Bare Mountain are both played with a kind of energy and requisite orchestral technical quality that makes these pieces come alive right in your living room.

Only the Arnold piece on this record is not particularly inspiring, although it does have excellent sound. All in all, an amazing mix of warhorses and obscurities given a fresh reading by Alexander Gibson and the New Symphony Orchestra of London.

Gounod / Borodin / The World of Ballet, Vol. 2 / Gibson / Ansermet – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

Side one contains one of the most famous and sought-after pieces of music in the entire Living Stereo catalog, the wonderful Faust Ballet Music that takes up side one of LSC 2449. (The Carmen that makes up side two of the original Shaded Dog has never impressed us sonically. There are so many better recordings of the piece, the Ansermet recording on London being one of the best.) 

The hall is HUGE — so spacious and three-dimensional it’s almost shocking, especially if you’ve been playing the kind of dry, multi-miked modern recordings that the ’70s ushered in for the major labels such as London and RCA. (EMI is super spacious but much of that space is weird, coming from out of phase back channels folded in to the stereo mix. And often so mid-hall and distant. Sorry, just not our sound.)

Or maybe you own a batch of dense Londons from the ’70s. How many Solti records are not ridiculously thick and opaque? One out of ten? If that. We’re very wary of records recorded in the ’70s; we’ve been burned too many times.

And to tell you the truth we are not all that thrilled with most of what passes for good sound on Mehta’s London output either. If you have a high-resolution system these recordings, like those on Classic Heavy Vinyl we discuss below, leave a lot to be desired. (The Planets is a favorite whipping boy around here as you may know.)

Opacity is a real dealbreaker for us. Most of the classical records we play from later eras simply do not have the transparency that’s essential to us suspending our disbelief. (more…)