- We surveyed a large group of pressings containing this work, and in the end Marriner’s reading from 1970 had the best sound and the best performance of any we played
- Wonderfully textured string tone and huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling – everything you want in a top quality orchestral recording is here, and more
- To keep beating a horse that has been dead for years, this is precisely the sound that the modern reissue fails to offer the committed audiophile with top quality equipment
- “… one of the best-known compositions by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.”
- There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.
About 30 years ago I got hold of a Japanese pressing of Marriner conducting The Toy Symphony and was blown away by the quality of the sound. When listing the record for sale, I raved:
“DEMO QUALITY SOUND! This is the best sounding Toy Symphony you will ever hear!”
Now we know definitely that this is clearly not true.
We did the shootout in 2022 and found out that the best of the original EMI pressings are even better, a classic case of Live and Learn.
I believe I had at least one or two UK EMI pressings to play against the Japanese ones, but all the details of how I came to this conclusion — a proto-shootout, carried out long before I knew how to do a real one — are lost to the mists of time.
My stereo was dramatically less revealing back then, I had not learned how to clean records properly, and those two facts, combined with the underdeveloped listening skills that go with them, helped me to arrive at the wrong conclusion.
No, the Japanese pressing, specifically targeted to audiophiles, or “soundphiles” if you like, is not superior to a properly mastered and pressed UK LP.
If you have more than a handful of Japanese pressings in your collection, you can be sure that there is still plenty of room for improvement in your audio system.
An advanced system — the kind we are using today in our shootouts, and didn’t even exist back then — will quickly reveal the shortcomings of these formerly desirable pressings.
The Japanese pressings of this album are still good sounding, just not as good sounding as the real thing. For that reason we would not consider them Stone Age Audio records. Perhaps Bronze Age Audio records is a better way to think about them.
Our Review from Many Years Ago
I discovered how good this Japanese EMI Soundphile Series recording is almost 20 years ago [that would have been in the early 90s]. In that time I can say that I think I may have run across at most two other copies. This is a tough one to find!
But it’s worth the effort, because all the little toys that play along with the music just JUMP out of the speakers. The recording is so transparent and the toys are so well miked it’s like hearing this work for the first time, or live.
This album can easily become a favorite Demo Disc — it has that kind of “you-are-there” sound. This recording was made at Abbey Road in 1976 under the direction of the two Christophers. Perhaps that accounts for the quality of the recording.
The Eine Kleine on side two is also very nice, although I wouldn’t say it’s world class the way The Toy Symphony is.
- An early EMI UK import pressing with STUNNING Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from first note to last – just shy of our Shootout Winner
- The amazingly well recorded Toy Symphony on side two (which is fairly quiet by the way) is the real reason to own this record – you will be shocked at how realistic the toys sound, and how spaciously they are arrayed in the soundfield
- These sides are clear, full-bodied and present, with plenty of live venue space around the players, the unmistakable sonic hallmark of the properly mastered, properly pressed vintage analog LP
- The first pressing of the album I ever played, back in about 1995, was on the Japanese Soundphile Series, and it blew my mind at the time
- Fast forward 25 plus years and now we know that, as good as the Japanese pressing can be, the real EMI can be even better. That’s what shootouts are for, right?
- Super Hot sound on side , 8 of the 9 movements of Suite No. 1
- White Hot Demo Disc sound on side two for the last movement and Suites 2&3
- One of our two favorite performances – Marriner gets it like few others do
- An exceptionally dynamic recording that gets QUIET like live music
This White Hot Stamper has a number of exceptionally attractive qualities, the most notable of which is how quiet the music can be during some of the quieter passages. This is a sound that we did not hear on any of the more than a dozen Water Music recordings we played, which of course is what accounts for it being so striking to the ear. Records rarely are quiet the way live orchestral music can be in performance, compression being the order of the day when the tape is rolling.
Running neck and neck with the Leppard performance we liked so much, the choice between the Marriner and that one is probably a matter of taste. Each is superb. Each sets a standard that will be hard for any other pressing to achieve. And the ’70s Philips vinyl is going to be impossible to beat, certainly with any Golden Age pressing we know of.
The modern version of The Water Music contains three separate suites, referred to as Suite No. I, Suite No. 2 and Suite No. 3, each of which is in a different key, and each of which makes use of different instrumentation. Suite No. 1 is the one that will be most familiar to you, 2 and 3 quite a bit less so. Click on the Water Music tab above to read more about the work.
On this record, 8 of the 9 movements in Suite No. 1 are on side one.
White Hot, and Hard To Fault (HTF). It’s clear, with lovely texture to the strings. The low bass strings are shockingly well-recorded; we did not hear that sound on any other pressing we played. The sound is dynamic but never harsh. (more…)