_Conductors – Munch

Beethoven / Piano Concerto No. 1 / Richter / Munch – Our Favorite Performance on Vinyl

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  • This stunning vintage RCA Living Stereo pressing boasts wonderful Double Plus (A++) sound throughout, with vinyl that is as quiet as any Shaded Dog from 1961 is ever going to play
  • This pressing has the real Living Stereo magic in spades, but unlike most of the RCA concerto recordings, Richter, the brilliant soloist featured here, is not overly spotlighted, hence the much more natural “concert hall” sound
  • The piano is part of the orchestra, and properly sized, allowing the contributions of the other musicians in the orchestra to be heard more clearly, laid out as they are so elegantly across a huge and deep Boston Symphony Hall stage

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Tchaikovsky / Serenade for Strings – Munch – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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This original Shaded Dog pressing has WONDERFUL sound and exceptionally quiet vinyl for a record made in 1958. Like most recordings from the era, it has the strengths and weaknesses of simply-miked analog tapes recorded and mastered during The Golden Age. It’s every bit as RICH and Tubey Magical as one could ever want, but evidences some congestion in the loudest passages and a touch of tube smear even when quiet. With All Tube Mastering, this is of course to be expected.

The soundstage is especially wide on both sides but not quite as deep as one might expect. With more copies we could have done a better job of investigating the sound of the recording, but where does one find minty Shaded Dogs these days at affordable prices? Most of what we see is scratched and overplayed.

Be that as it may, the PERFORMANCE IS KING HERE — one of the greatest ever recorded, more powerful and more emotional than any with which we are familiar. This orchestra is on fire with this stirring music. If you haven’t heard Munch’s definitive performance, you haven’t really heard the Serenade for Strings. This is your chance to hear string playing that will have you sitting up in your chair, transfixed by the energy and enthusiasm of the Boston Symphony strings. (more…)

Dvorak / Cello Concerto – Munch / Boston – Hard to Recommend on Classic Records

More Antonin Dvorak

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

A Classic Records pressing (Remember the Sound!) that never sounded much good to me. But the original never impressed either, as you can see from our review of it.

I have never heard a copy of this record sound better than decent. This title is very unlikely to have the wonderful sound of the best Living Stereo pressings that you can find on our site, each of which has been carefully evaluated to the highest standards.

We love the Starker recordings on Mercury. Wish we could afford to buy some and do a shootout. At the prices they command these days, that is very unlikely to happen. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Violin Concerto / Szeryng – Munch

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A decent reissue, a record worth buying at the right price but no Demo Disc by any means.

This plum label original Victrola pressing is actually better than most pressings of the rare Shaded Dog that we’ve played, LSC 2363. The violin tone is lovely on side one, but the orchestra is not what it should be.

Side two has Tartini’s Devil’s Trill which takes up about half the side and has the best sound here, earning a grade of A+ to A++.

Szeryng is excellent throughout.

Tchaikovsky – Serenade for Strings – Munch – A Cisco Recommended LP

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Sonic Grade: B

[Reviewed many years ago, so take it with a grain of salt.]

This Cisco 180 gram LP has Very Good sound. The original Shaded Dogs tend to be warmer and sweeter, but also more compressed and a bit smeary. This pressing is alive and present, although the string tone can be a bit steely at times.

If you have a warm, tubey system this record may just be the ticket. If your system leans toward the dry and analytical, this is not the record for you.

Be that as it may, the PERFORMANCE IS KING HERE — one of the best ever recorded, more powerful and more emotional than any I know. This orchestra is on fire with this stirring music. If you haven’t heard Munch’s definitive performance, you haven’t really heard the Serenade for Strings. This is your chance to hear string playing that will have you sitting up in your chair, transfixed by the energy and enthusiasm of the Boston Symphony strings. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Violin Concerto / Szeryng – Munch – Not Recommended

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1S/ 1S Shaded Dog.

The violin is very immediate sounding on this recording, maybe too much so. The sound of the orchestra is where this record falls short.

It’s congested, thin and shrill in places. The right copy of Heifetz’s performance on LSC 1992 is a much better record overall. Some may prefer Szeryng’s way with this famous piece, which is a matter of taste of course.

If you’re listening for just the performance and the sound of the violin, you may find this record to be more acceptable.

Saint-Saëns / Rondo Capriccioso / Chausson / Poeme / Oistrakh

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  • With two Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning sides, this collection of violin showpieces simply could not be beat 
  • This copy was dramatically fuller, richer, tubier and smoother than the others we played, and ALIVE with pyrotechnic fireworks on side one
  • A superb 1963 Living Stereo recording with Tubey Magic to die for, one of the best violin recordings we have ever offered
  • The highlight for us on a collection like this is always going to be The Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, “one of Saint-Saëns’ few genuine showpieces.”

The violin here is superb — rich, smooth, clear, resolving. What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound. The Tubey Magical richness is to die for. This record sounds like a Living Stereo recording from 1963 in all the best ways.

Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Zero smear, high-rez transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — it takes the sound of this recording beyond what we thought was possible. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Serenade for Strings – Munch

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side two and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy had some of the best sound we have ever heard for Charles Munch’s recording with the Boston Symphony
  • The 14 minute long Elgar piece is on the second side here, with strings that are substantially more Tubey, rich and sweet than on any other side two we played
  • Surely one of the greatest performances ever recorded, more powerful and emotional than any with which we are familiar
  • “In his conception of the Serenade, Tchaikovsky envisioned a work which falls somewhere between a symphony and a string quintet. The work is as personal as any of the composer’s symphonies and as intimate as his chamber music.”

The texture and harmonic overtones of the strings are near perfection. As we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity the performers brought to the work in 1958, as well as the quality of RCA’s engineering. (more…)

Violin Recordings (Vintage or Modern) and the Problem of Smear

More Violin Recordings

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

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This copy had practically no smear on either the violin or the orchestra. Try to find a violin concerto record with no smear. We often say that Shaded Dogs, being vintage All Tube recordings, tend to have tube smear. But what about the ’70s Transistor Mastered Red Label pressings – where does their smear come from?

Let’s face it: records from every era more often than not have some smear and we can never really know what accounts for it.

The key thing is to be able to recognize it for what it is. (We find modern records, especially those pressed at RTI, to be quite smeary as a rule. They also tend to be congested, blurry, thick, veiled, and ambience-challenged. For some reason most audiophiles — and the reviewers who write for them — rarely seem to notice these shortcomings.)

Of course, if your system itself has smear it becomes that much harder to hear the smear on your records.  Practically every tube system I have ever heard had more smear than I could tolerate – it comes with the territory. And high-powered transistor amps are notoriously smeary, opaque and ambience-challenged. Our low-powered, all-transistor rig has no trouble showing us the amount of smear on records, including those that have virtually none.

Keep in mind that one thing live music never has is smear of any kind. Live music is smear-free. It can be harmonically distorted, hard, edgy, thin, fat, dark, and all the rest, but one thing can never be is smeary. That is a shortcoming unique to the reproduction of music, and one which causes many of the pressings we sell to have their sonic grades lowered. (more…)

Ravel / Daphnis et Chloé / Munch – Reviewed in 2011

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

We actually had three clean Shaded Dog pressings for our shootout of this Ravel classic (which took us somewhere between five and ten years to acquire) with this copy showing itself as CLEARLY the best, with transparency and openness not heard on the others. The sonic grade for side one was at least A++ to A+++, meaning that the sound was Hard To Fault (HTF), but of course there’s no telling if a better copy exists. One must assume such a thing is possible but where would one find such a copy? Clean shaded dogs do not come cheap. 

This copy might not have been the quietest in our shootout at Mint Mnus Minus but it is without a doubt the best sounding. With quiet music such as this surfaces for vintage pressings are always an issue, but we think you will find the superb sound more than compensates.

Side One

A++ to A+++ or better. This work includes a chorus, always a tough test for any recording/pressing to pass. The good news here is that the voices are clear, natural, separate and full-bodied. This is the hallmark of a vintage Golden Age recording — naturalness.

The top is also quite good, with a triangle that sounds harmonically correct and clear. The transparency on this side is superb.

In addition the bass is big and powerful. You will not find many recordings of the work that do a better job of capturing such a large orchestra and chorus, and of course Munch is a master of the French idiom. (more…)