_Conductors – Munch

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.

The Miracle of Living Stereo

This record shows off Living Stereo sound at its best. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented (on side one; side two is simply violin and piano) with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy. If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD ever sounded like this.

The richness of the strings, a signature sound for RCA in the Living Stereo era, is displayed here beautifully for fans of the classical Golden Age.

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years. It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play it’s an art that is not lost on us.

I don’t think the RCA engineers could have cut this record any better — it has all the Living Stereo magic one could ask for, as well as the clarity and presence that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

This is pretty much as good as it gets, folks.

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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…)

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…)

Debussy – La Mer – Munch – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Claude Debussy

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

This late label Victrola pressing (VICS 1041) has EXCEPTIONALLY rich and sweet sound and a superb performance from Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony. 

The richness of the strings, a signature sound for RCA in the Living Stereo era, is displayed here beautifully for fans of the classical Golden Age. It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years. It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful pressings and the turntables to play them it is an art that will never be lost to us.

Side One

La Mer is on side one and it is lovely. It’s tonally correct and extended on the top and the bottom, the kind of extension that seems to be much harder to find on the earlier Victrola pressings by the way. As we said above, the sound is rich and sweet. Holding it back from our top grade is that it’s a bit recessed and veiled compared to the best classical pressings we’ve played. Whether any copy of the record could sound better is not something we can know, as we do not have any other pressings that are as good, let alone better.

Side Two

Side two earned a sonic grade of A+ to A++. It lacks the top and bottom extension heard on side one, but is every bit as spacious, sweet and natural. The performance is spirited as well. The sound is a bit recessed and there is some smear, but we still found much to like about this Rapsodie Espagnole.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Debussy – La Mer

Side Two

Ravel – Rapsodie Espagnole

La Mer

Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea; 1903-1905) is one of the most famous non-symphonic orchestral pieces ever written. During the 1890s, oceanic imagery had proven a recurrent source of inspiration for the composer. Sirènes, the third of the Nocturnes (1897-1999), and passages from the opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-1905) at once bear testament to a certain nautical bent. La Mer, however, goes a great deal farther than any previous work—by Debussy or any other composer—in capturing the raw essence of this most evocative of nature’s faces. La Mer is no mere exercise in musical scene-painting, but rather a sonic representation of the myriad thoughts, moods, and basic instinctual reactions the sea draws from an individual human soul.

La Mer comprises three distinct movements: “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” (From Dawn to Noon on the Sea), “Jeux de vagues” (The Play of the Waves), and “Dialogue du vent et de la mer” (Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea). “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” unfolds in 6/8 following a Trés lent (very slow) introduction. As in so much of the composer’s mature music, it is not always possible to draw a clear distinction between thematic material and accompaniment and texture. Indeed, texture itself is often paramount in Debussy’s music; what few glimpses of discreet melodies the movement affords (such as the glassy violin solo that arrives some sixty bars into the piece, or the brief horn gesture soon after the metric change to 6/8) are soon subsumed into the complex orchestral fabric. There are passages during which the rhythmic and metric scheme is obscured, perhaps intentionally so, by as many as six or seven different layers of simultaneous activity. The movement ends with one of the most striking of the composer’s musical affirmations: In an enigmatic gesture, the final forte-fortissimo brass attack dies away to piano as the movement draws to a close.

The scoring of “Jeux de vagues” is, on the whole, more austere than that of the first movement. Frequent trills and bursts of rhythmic vitality vividly bring to life the movement’s frolicsome, unpredictable subject matter, while the extremely quiet ending purposely fails to resolve any of the musical expectations set out in the preceding, more active sections. The scoring of this passage (solo flute and harp harmonics) recalls the identical orchestration as used by the composer at the end of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; 1894), Indeed, these parallel passages are quite similiar in dramatic purpose.

The final “Dialogue” is a tumultuous juxtaposition of an urgent, articulated rhythmic gesture—first introduced pianissimo by the cellos and basses and ingeniously manipulated throughout the movement—with a grandiose legato idea that many have likened to the melodies of César Franck (an important influence upon the young Debussy). A sustained forte-fortissimo brings this violent, elemental work to a powerful close.

All Music Guide

 

Various Artists – Destination Stereo – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

More Living Stereo

Destination Stereoo

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

Side one is White Hot, with some of the best 1959 Living Stereo we’ve ever heard. Explosive dynamics, HUGE space and size, with unerringly correct tonality, this is a Demo Disc like no other. When “in -the-know” audiophiles discuss soundstaging and depth, they had better be talking about a record that sounds like this. Shockingly real – proof positive that the cutting systems of the day are capable of much better sound than we normally assume. 

This reasonably quiet RCA Shaded Dog LP has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND on BOTH sides. It is without a doubt THE best sounding copy we have ever heard*. (more…)

Ravel / Concerto in G / Munch – Reviewed in 2010

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Concerto in G / Munch

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

This is a wonderful sounding performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto, originally available on Shaded Dog (LSC 2271) and overflowing with Tubey Magical Living Stereo sound from 1958. The Victrola here is from 1964, and may or may not sound better than the average original RCA pressing. LSC 2271 is not a record we run into every day, so comparisons would be speculative to say the least.

What we can tell you is that our Victrola here is big, spacious, transparent and clear, with dead-on tonality throughout.

The overall sound seems to lack weight at first but with continued listening it appears to be the result of the orchestration being “lighter”, more appropriate to the jazz influences in the music. If you like Gershwin this piece will be right up your alley. (more…)

Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto #3 / Janis / Munch – Reviewed in 2007

More Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Piano Concerto #3 / Janis / Munch

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

Outstanding! Sounds just like the already very good shaded dog, in many ways better. (I don”t have that one around to compare anymore but this LP has that same natural, smooth sound, while being cut a bit cleaner.) 

We have two copies of this Victrola, both with the same stamper numbers, and this is definitely the better of the two sonically. It has more presence, more transparency and better dynamics.

Prokofiev / Romeo and Juliet / Munch – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

More Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Romeo and Juliet / Munch

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

Superb Sound on this Victrola pressing, with TRANSPARENCY, spaciousness and low level detail you will not believe. And plenty of Living Stereo COLOR.  

DEMO QUALITY SOUND, if what you’re demonstrating is the three dimensional quality of Living Stereo recordings. Amazing space, depth and width can be heard on this side one. And the music is sublime.

The low level detail in the opening and the amount of ambience heard in the quieter sections is shockingly realistic Yes, the recording is compressed, which led me to think that the entire record was compressed, but that’s not completely true. In some parts it’s quite dynamic. The quiet portions are very quiet; in a couple of places there are just horns playing off in the deep distance, followed by some flutes, and they sound very natural, just as you would hear them in a concert hall. (more…)

Mendelssohn & Prokofiev / Concertos / Heifetz / Munch – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

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

This BETTER than Super Hot Stamper (A++ to A+++) White Dog pressing has DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND on side one for the Mendelssohn concerto! It really has the Breath of Life. On top of that it’s quiet, playing mostly Mint Minus, something that we don’t run into too often with fifty year old Living Stereo pressings! Now I see why Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List. Most copies do not sound remotely as good as this one on side one. (Side two is a step down; it would almost have to be.)  

And the performance by the Boston Symphony under Munch is the best we’ve ever heard. The orchestra is on fire with passion for this music. (more…)

Dvorak / Cello Concerto – Munch / Boston – Hard to Recommend in Living Stereo

More Antonin Dvorak

More Munch / Boston

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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.

If you can get one for cheap, go for it. Otherwise I would pass.