_Conductors – Mehta

Copland / Lincoln Portrait / Mehta

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AMAZING A+++ sound from START TO FINISH for all three works on this White Hot Stamper 2-pack!

Both of the copies in this 2-pack have one Shootout Winning superb sounding side and one side that plainly just didn’t cut it, so we combined them to give you out of this world White Hot Stamper sound for the entire album. The two good sides (out of four) boast Demo Disc sound quality!

This may not be a Copland work you know well, and I’m guessing the percussion concerto is not familiar either. Both are quite interesting and enjoyable if not exactly Must Owns. That said, the main reason audiophiles will LOVE this album is not the music, but the SOUND. The percussion works which start on side one and take up all of side two have amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one.

We are on record as rarely being impressed with the recordings Zubin Mehta undertook as Music Director of the L.A. Phil. Audiophiles for some reason hold them in much higher esteem than we do, but then again audiophiles hold a great many recordings in much higher esteem than we do. It’s dumbfounding how many audiophiles and reviewers revere records which strike our ears as hard to take seriously. The TAS Super Disc List is full of them, and so are the entries in the annual Stereophile Records to Die For issue. We debunk them on the site by the carload, and even the hundreds that we’ve done are but a fraction of the bad records receiving undeserved praise in the audiophile rags over the years. (more…)

A Reviewer Liked London CS 6357 a Whole Lot More Than I Did – A Cautionary Tale

While digging around the web I ran into a site called From Miles to Mozart, which purports to be “An exploration of the incredible world of classical and jazz recordings”

Fair enough. Here is what the reviewer had to say about a London we did not think sounded very good, CS 6357. At the time, he was most of the way through a fairly complete survey of London Bluebacks, and when those were done he went on to review a Whiteback pressing of this London, which appears to be the only pressing he had on hand. (We of course had only the one as well.)

I’d run out of blue so next up was CS 6357 with its retro FFSS label, a white back FFSS. Clifford Curzon scores a knockout with the Dvorak Quintet with a very refined late Blueback sound; truly transcendental sound of the highest order. Another white back FFSS followed in CS 6379 Mozart Clarinet Quintet with a magical clarinet but some edginess at times with some of the instruments. Overall the Clarinet Quintet had very strong sound to rival most any Blueback. Unfortunately, the Mozart Divertimenti on side 2 was not as assured with quite a few signs of strain in the highs indicative some early transistor changing the precious Blueback sound. CS 6379 was recorded by Smith and Parry October, 1963 at Sofiensaal, Vienna with the LP coming out in May of 1964. CS 6357 was recorded in Sofiensaal, Vienna by Culshaw and Parry in October 1962 with the LP in October 1963. Overall two strong LP’s without a Blueback! (Well, CS 6357 does exist with a Blueback.)

He has some ideas about “precious Blueback sound” and the half-speed mastering setup used to achieve them. I will leave that for others to discuss, mostly because I could not seriously entertain this fellow’s writing once I found out what he had to say about one of Mobile Fidelity’s earliest half-speed mastered releases:

Zubin Mehta Conducts Music from Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (MFSL 1-008)

Comments: If you want to hear what audiophile vinyl sounds like, this is a great way to start. Whether you like science fiction movies or not, this record is a must hear … and try to turn up the volume if you can. This Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab pressing of Decca SXL 6885 (London ZM 1001) is one of the most incredible sounding orchestral recordings I have ever heard. It may not be the recording used for the movies (John Williams conducted those himself), but it sounds significantly better in terms of recording quality. Talk about lifelike presence, huge dynamic range, bass depth with real visceral impact — this record has DEMONSTRATION written all over it. Even the Cantina Band track gives you the impression of an alien jazz/pop band playing right before you. I was fortunate enough to get my copy for free from a friend, and only recently did I realize that this album sells for some money. Looking for a change from the same old EMI, Decca, RCA, Mercury, DG, or Philips? Try this one.

If this is your idea of an audiophile Demo Disc, you are setting the bar awfully low, about even with the height of the carpeting. I consider it a piece of Audiophile trash, one that I never bothered to discuss on the blog. Were I to grade it today I would probably give it a D for sound and an F for music. I remember playing it back in the late-’70 or early-’80s and wondering what on earth was the appeal of such a cheesy, lowest-common-denominator schlockfest. (more…)

Strauss / Sinfonia Domestica / Mehta

More of the music of Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss Records We’ve Reviewed

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This London Whiteback LP (CS 6663) is one of Mehta’s famous Royce Hall recordings from the early ’70s, here presented with Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides!

Side One

A++, perhaps a bit less, maybe A+ to A++ is more accurate but it’s either A++ or something very close to it.

The strings are rich and textured, especially considering this recording is a bit late for London. The sound starts heading south in the late ’60s and by the ’70s not many Londons have the sound we prize here at Better Records. Just play any Solti record from the ’70s to hear what I mean.

This one still has most of the analog magic we expect from London, with a wide, deep stage. The sound is lively, fairly transparent, but a bit dark.

Side Two

Side two has a bit more top end extension, somewhat more resolution, while still retaining the bass and dynamics of side one. A slightly stronger side two, still about A++. (more…)

Varese / Arcana / Mehta / L.A. Phil.

More of the music of Edgar Varese (1883 – 1965)

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

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  • Incredible sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades  
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY form start to finish — amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality
  • A recording that allows your speakers to disappear completely like no other
  • A powerful Test Disc as well – use this one to check your speed and staging, subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this

Incredible sound for this CRAZY 20th Century music, featuring wild and wacky works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (not one, not two, but three bass drums!). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will LOVE this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with. (more…)

Holst / The Planets – Can You Imagine Sound this Bad from a TAS List Super Disc? We Can, We Played It.

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

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This 2-pack boasts White Hot Stamper sound on side two for the Mehta Planets. Yes, it IS possible. Side two shows you what this record is actually capable of — big WHOMP, no SMEAR, super SPACIOUS, DYNAMIC, with an EXTENDED top. It beat every London pressing we threw at it, coming out on top for our recent shootout. Folks, we 100% guarantee that whatever pressing you have of this performance, this copy will trounce it.

But side one of this London original British pressing was awful. We wrote it off as NFG after about a minute; that’s all we could take of the bright, hard-sounding brass of War.

Can you imagine sound this bad from a TAS List Super Disc record? We can, we played it. (more…)

Stravinsky / Petrushka and Circus Polka / Mehta – Not Recommended

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Sonic Grade: F 

A Hall of Shame Pressing and a London Classical Record we can’t recommend. We’re big fans of Decca/London Records in general, but in this case the sound and the performances are simply not acceptable.

We had three original UK pressed copies of CS 6554 and none of them sounded any good to us. What’s worse, Mehta and the Los Angeles Phil play the work quite poorly. How this album got released I have no idea. (more…)

Mussorgsky – Ravel / Pictures at an Exhibition / Ashkenazy – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This original London pressing of the solo piano version of Pictures has uncannily natural piano reproduction, which is why we are awarding this side one our highest sonic grade, A Triple Plus.

The fact that the recording takes place in Kingsway Hall in 1967 no doubt plays a large part in the superb sound. The hall is bigger here than on other copies, the piano even more solidly weighted, yet none of this comes at the expense of the clarity of the playing. There is no smear, allowing both the percussive aspects of the piano and the extended harmonics of the notes to be heard clearly and appreciated fully.

Side two has Mehta’s performance of the orchestrated work squeezed onto side two, which is never a good idea if one is looking for high quality orchestral sound. The performance itself is mediocre as well.

We are not, and never haver been, big fans of Mehta’s work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on London. The exceptionally rare copy of The Planets can sound good, but 90% of them do not — just don’t make the mistake of telling that to the average audiophile who owns one. Harry told him it was the best, he paid good money for it, and until someone tells him different it had better be “the one Planets to own.”

We see one of our roles here at Better Records as being the guys who actually will “tell you different”, and, more importantly, can back up our opinions with the records that make our case for us. (more…)

Saint-Saens / Symphony #3 / Mehta – Reviewed in 2011

More Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

Symphony #3 / Mehta

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

This British London pressing is the winner of our recent shootout for this performance. We had three London pressings, all the same stamper numbers if I recall correctly, and this is the only copy to have Super Hot Stamper sound on either side. Side one is actually quite nice, with lovely texture to the strings. The sound is transparent and natural, two qualities that are in short supply on most of the recordings Mehta did with the L.A. Phil. in our experience.

We pulled out all the copies of this famous work we could find in the backroom and most of them were just awful. This is not an easy work to record, incorporating as it does an organ with a large orchestra. (I saw the work performed back in 2009 and it was magical. There is nothing like the sound of violins playing high over organ notes below.) (more…)

Liszt – Les Preludes / Wagner – Various / Mehta

More Franz Liszt’s music

Les Preludes / Wagner – Various / Mehta

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

This London UK pressing (not the Decca as shown in the picture) from 1967 has Hot Stamper sound on both sides. Some of what we’ve always liked about Decca/London from the period (mid- to late-’60s, in this case 1967) can be heard on this pressing: transparency; the texture on the strings; the natural timbre of the instruments.  

These London pressings are quite hard to find in our experience. The music is wonderful throughout, perhaps the reason that so few of these have found their way to the record bins here in L.A.  (more…)

Dvorak / Symphony No. 9 – An Overview of Mehta’s, Kertesz’s and Kubelik’s Recordings

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An Overview

We got off to a rough start with this piece of music. The early pressings we played were often sonically uninspiring, and that’s being charitable.

  • The London Blueback pressings with Kubelik (CS 6020) that we had thought were competitive with some of the better recordings we had on hand turned out to be generally disappointing. The strings were often hard and shrill, the overall sound crude and full of tube smear. These Londons cost us a pretty penny owing to the very high quality condition we require them to be in for our shootouts. All that time, effort and money was in the end for naught. A big chunk of dough was headed down the drain.
  • The Stereo Treasury pressing of this same performance sounded better to us than any of the Bluebacks we played but far from competitive with the recordings we ended up preferring.
  • The Londons and Deccas from 1967 with Kertesz conducting the LSO also left much to be desired sonically. After hearing the 9th on both London and Decca, we did a quick needle drop on the other symphonies from the complete cycle that Kertesz conducted and concluded that none of them were worth our time. The trade-in pile was growing ever taller.
  • Then some good news came our way when we dropped the needle on the Decca/London recording with Mehta and the LA Phil. Our best London sounded shockingly good, much better than the one Decca pressing we had on hand. His 8th Symphony (CS 6979) is also quite good by the way. This is surprising because we rarely like anything by Mehta and the LA Phil. from this period — the recording in question is from 1975 — but of course we are happy to be surprised when they sound as good as the ones we played.

The one that seemed to us to be the best balance of sound and performance was conducted by Istvan Kertesz, but not with the LSO. His recording with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1961, his debut for Decca as a matter of fact, is the one that ended up winning our shootout of a dozen pressings or so. (more…)