Classical – “Sleeper” Top Quality Recordings

Beethoven – String Quartet Opus 130 / Grosse Fuge / Quartetto Italiano

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

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  • This wonderful Philips recording makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • This is a superb recording – big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic, and is guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of chamber music you own
  • This copy showed that it had the balance of clarity and sweetness we were looking for in the tone of the violins, viola and cello
  • Above all, the recording sounds natural and real, and with Shootout Winning sides, this pressing was the most natural and most real of all the copies we played

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Bartok – Music For Strings Percussion And Celeste / Marriner

The Music of Bela Bartok Available Now

Album Reviews of the Music of Bela Bartok

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  • This wonderful Decca Argo release makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • 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 reproduce well
  • “… one of the best-known compositions by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.”

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Handel / Water Music Suite (Complete) / Kubelik / Berlin Phil

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  • A+++ on side one – dynamic, huge, rich and open. This is a DG? Yes! 
  • All three suites, and one of the best performances we know of
  • Side two is exceptionally transparent – you hear into it beautifully
  • One of the best DG recordings we have ever played, a true Demo Disc

The performance here by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Rafael Kubelik is currently a favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable. With White Hot and Super Hot stampers respectively, this copy is right up there with the best recordings of the Water Music we’ve heard.

This is of course a well-known, well-respected performance by one of the greatest orchestras in the world, the home to Von Karajan at the time. We went through an elimination round for the work a while back, winnowing a large number of recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance, and we are happy to say that this one acquitted itself beautifully on all counts.

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We managed to find three (!) recordings that had both superb sound and top quality performances. On the best pressings all were of Demo Disc quality, and most were pressed on very quiet vinyl. (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol & Enesco, Smetana, et al.

 

A SUPERB White Hot side one coupled with a better than Super Hot (A++ to A+++) side two, back to back on one disc, is a surprise indeed.This is only the second time a disc from a Reader’s Digest box set has made it to the site, and we’re continuing with more exciting orchestral music — Capriccio Espagnol (side two) and the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 (side one) are the two longest pieces on record 8 of the set, and both of them are knockouts on this pressing.

This is truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND! Records do not get much more spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. Kenneth Wilkinson was the man behind the board for many of these RDG recordings, this very one in fact, and as you will hear, he was pretty much in a league of his own as a recording engineer in the early days of stereo. This record should provide you with all the proof you need.

Play it up against the best of the RCAs, Londons and Mercs from the period and you will see what I mean. And of course it will completely DESTROY any pressing you may have on Heavy Vinyl, from any label, at any playback speed, of any music.

Living Stereo Sound

You may remember that recordings from these sets were reissued by Chesky back in the ’90s, with mediocre sound of course, as all their reissues are at best mediocre. We never carried any of them even when we were carrying audiophile reissues.

I remember the first time I heard some of the records from this Scheherazade set and was knocked out — here was Tubey Magical RCA Living Stereo sound at a fraction of the price the real RCAs were commanding (a price I confess I could not begin to afford).

The problem — and it’s still a problem, though not much of one if you have a high quality, properly set up front end — is the vinyl. These sets were produced cheaply in order to be priced affordably (under $20 for 10 LPs in a box!), and that means the best vinyl was simply not part of the budget. To find pressings that play even Mint Minus Minus is not easy, even today. Back then, before the advent of modern enzyme-based cleaning fluids and expensive record cleaning vacuum machinery, there was no way to get the vinyl to play even that well.

This copy plays a bit quieter than most at Mint Minus Minus to Mint Minus, about as quiet as a well cared for vintage Shaded Dog or Merc.

As you can imagine we did not have dozens of these sets with which to do our shootout. We had three, and this copy is clearly the overall winner of the group by a substantial margin. (more…)

Handel / Water Music / Leppard – Our Favorite Performance with Top Quality Sound

Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

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The performance here by the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Raymond Leppard is currently my favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable. This pressing boasts the biggest hall, the most transparency, and it has more clearly layered depth and more space than any other pressing we played. With White Hot stampers on side two and a Super Hot side one, this copy is right up there with the best Water Music we’ve heard. 

In a way this may not be quite fair to other equally well-known, well-respected performances. We went through an elimination round for the work a few weeks back, winnowing the recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance — perhaps some of the discarded records had even better performances than Leppard’s. At this late stage who can say?

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We are happy to report that that does not appear to be the case with The Water Music (keeping in mind the caveat above).

We managed to find three (!) recordings that had both superb sound and top quality performances. This then is my favorite of the three, though not by much; on the best pressings all were Demo Disc quality, and most were pressed on very quiet vinyl. (more…)

Mendelssohn/ Symphony No. 4 & Music from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – Colin Davis

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Here’s a great Philips LP! Davis really does Mendelssohn right.

A lively performance and this copy sounds MUCH BETTER than others we played.  It had much less of the smear and opacity that characterizes most Philips records. At most one out of ten is any good in our experience. 

See more Philips records we’ve reviewed.

Bach / Three Organ Concerti After Vivaldi / Noehren

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  • This rare Urania recording has superb sound on both sides
  • Both sides are rich and Tubey Magical, yet clear and transparent
  • This is the right sound for these well known works for the organ
  • The performance is lively; Noehren plays these pieces with gusto

A wonderful recording of Bach concerti for the organ. Very natural sound from this vintage recording.

Side One

A+++, hard to fault really.

Side Two

A+++, with a big and very solid bottom end. (more…)

Mendelssohn/ A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Mono with Maag – Reviewed in 2004

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London mono original Radio Promotion Copy with DEMO QUALITY SOUND!

Another winner on the early London FFRR Red Label. Maag’s performance here is famous, if not definitive. Audiophiles have known of this record”s qualities for decades. As our stereos get better, so do amazingly natural recordings such as this one.

Speakers corner did a reissue of this record on heavy vinyl which was quite good — too fat in the mid bass but otherwise acceptable. It sure doesn’t sound like this though! This is the real thing! You won’t find too many 180 gram records that sound like this one. (If you can find any.)

Here is the commentary I wrote for the Coppelia mono pressing. The same insights hold true.

This is the kind of record that the mono cartridge owners of the world worship. And for good reason. But you don’t need to have a mono cartridge to hear how good — in fact, how much better — this copy sounds than the stereo pressing.

I found out about mono classical records one day when I got a mono copy of the power of the orchestra, vcs 2659. It sounded better than any stereo recording of that work I had ever heard. All the instruments were so much more solid sounding, so palpable, so free from distortion, that it made me recognize for the first time what the mono record lovers of the world were talking about. That was ten [twenty five by now] years ago. Since then many high end mono cartridges have come on the market, specifically to bring out that sound.

But I don’t have a mono cartridge, and I sure don’t need one to hear how good this record sounds. Everything is right on the money. And of course with Ansermet, ballet conductor extraordinaire, you can be sure the performance is of the highest calibre. A top recommendation from better records.

By the way, there’s a good reason why London makes such good mono records. They ran a separate microphone feed into a monophonic tape recorder for their mono recordings, well into the stereo era in fact. Mercury did also, which is why many Mercury monos have excellent sound. RCA, on the other hand, frequently took the three-track master tape and simply mixed it to mono for their mono releases, which explains why a minority of RCA monos have good sound.

London knew how to do it right and the results speak for themselves.

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…)

Mussorgsky et al. / Danse Infernale / Fiedler – Our Favorite Night On Bald Mountain

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  • Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides make this the consistently best sounding batch of Orchestral Showpieces we have ever played
  • After a two year hiatus, our favorite performance of Night on Bald Mountain is back, and it’s guaranteed to blow your mind (and maybe a woofer or two)
  • Side one also boasts an excellent Danse Macabre, with a powerful finish that may remind you of the thrill of live orchestral music
  • Side two contains a wonderfully exciting Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Both sides are clear and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling
  • Watch your levels – this pressing is dramatically more DYNAMIC than most Golden Age recordings

If you like Orchestral Spectaculars, have we got the record for you!

This pressing clearly has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND — not in every way, but in some important ways. The ENERGY of both the sound and the performances of these barnburning showpieces is truly awesome. Fiedler brings this music to LIFE like no other conductor we have heard.

This pressing boasts relatively rich, sweet strings, especially for a Deutsche Grammophon LP. Both sides really get quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy (and the reason it is so hard to find a copy that plays better than Mint Minus Minus. We do have a quieter copy with lower grades if you are interested though.) (more…)