Classical – Best Performances with Top Quality Sound

Can You Imagine Getting a Record This Good in the Mail?

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

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The MHS pressing above can have superb sound.

MHS remastered the original 1967 Melodiya tape in 1979, dramatically improving upon the sound of the version that I knew on Angel, which shouldn’t have been too hard as the Angel is not very good.

Wait a minute. Scratch that. MHS didn’t cut the record, an engineer at a mastering house did. Fortunately for us audiophiles, the job fell to none other than Bill Kipper at Masterdisk.

Think what a different audio world it would be if we still had Bill Kipper with us today, along with the amazingly accurate and resolving cutting system he used at Masterdisk. There are no records being produced today that sound remotely as good as this budget subscription disc. Furthermore, to my knowledge no record this good has been cut for more than thirty years. The world is awash in mediocre records.

The likes of Bill Kipper are no longer with us, but we can all be thankful that we still have the records he and so many other talented engineers mastered all those years ago, to enjoy now and far into the future. (more…)

Finlandia – Striving for Orchestral Clarity with Decca and Failing with RCA

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

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The original RCA Living Stereo pressings we played in our 2014 shootout were not competitive with the best Deccas and London reissues.

Is the original the best way to go?

In our experience with Finlandia, not so much.

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The record you see above is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1961 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.
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Tchaikovsky / Swan Lake / Fistoulari – Our Favorite Recording of the Highlights

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

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Kenneth Wilkinson engineered this album for Decca in 1961.

It’s as wide, deep, and three-dimensional as any, which is, of course, all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

Highlights of the recording include huge amounts of bass; a clear snare at the back of the hall (a good test of transparency of the record and of your system and room); full-bodied horns and strings which never become blary or shrill; and of course huge amounts of space.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. They cannot begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in your decision to rid yourself of their mediocrity.)

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

In my notes I remarked that when the music is quiet the sound is so spacious, clear, and sweet it will have you thinking you are sitting in the concert hall. One thing live classical music does much better than any recording in my experience is that it gets very, very quiet, yet stays clear and spacious. None of the thousands of classical recordings I have heard to date reproduce that quality completely, but this one gets awfully darn close.

Note that the big finale at the end of side two is loud and HUGE on this album. There is a touch of compressor overload, but no actual inner groove distortion. At first we thought the former may have indeed been the latter because we had a copy or two with chewed-up inner grooves.

This one plays clean to the end, and boy does it get loud and powerful at the climax of the work.

All the qualities we look for in a classical recording are found here:

  • lovely string tone and texture,
  • rich bass,
  • a big hall,
  • no smear,
  • lovely transparency

How many classical records have all these qualities? One out of a hundred?


FURTHER READING

Advice – What to Listen For on Classical Records

Classical – Best Performances with Top Quality Sound

Classical – Demo Disc Quality Recordings

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Handel – Water Music / Leppard

More of the music of George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)

More Hot Stamper Pressings of the Best in Classical Music

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  • An outstanding copy of Handel’s masterpiece with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A bigger hall, more transparency, and more clearly layered depth and more space than many others
  • Shockingly AIRY and WARM, this is the kind of sound that makes it easy to fall in love with an oft-heard piece such as The Water Music
  • Note how far back the trumpets are in the hall, yet they are still clear, tonally correct and not smeared – that’s the sound one hears in a live performance (and too rarely on a record)

This recording should be part of any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that Must Own category can be found here.

The performance 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.

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). (more…)

Beethoven – Violin Concerto / Heifetz / Munch

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

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

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  • Presenting the best sounding recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto we know of
  • Our vintage pressing of this brilliant Living Stereo recording — from 1956! — boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Heifetz’s violin is immediate, real and lively here – you are in the presence of greatness with this copy
  • The orchestra is wide, tall, spacious, rich and tubey, yet the dynamics and transparency are first rate
  • Hard to find them without marks or groove damage, but here is one without either, and the sound is magnificent (which is the hardest thing of all to find)

The reproduction of the violin here is superb — harmonically rich, natural, clean, clear, resolving. What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound, as well as the fact that they become less congested in the louder passages and don’t get shrill or blary.

The best copies display a Tubey Magical richness — especially evident in the basses and celli — that is to die for.

Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Little smear, exceptional resolution, transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — the best copies take the sound of the recording right to the limits of what we thought possible.

Heifetz is a fiery player. On a good pressing such as this one, you will hear all the detail of his bowing without being overpowered by it. As we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity he brings to such a difficult and demanding work. (more…)

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

More of the Music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

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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…)

Grieg – Peer Gynt / Gruner-hegge / Oslo Philharmonic

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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  • You’ll find two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides on this vintage pressing, offering Orchestral sound that is gloriously Big and Bold like no other recording of this music you have ever heard (or your money back)
  • Rich and tubey, yet open and clear, with lovely string textures, especially in the lower strings, as would be expected of any Living Stereo record from 1959
  • The Living Stereo Tubey Magical sound from 1959 is hard to fault here – they don’t make ’em like this anymore!
  • Our favorite performance – Gruner-Hegge and the Oslo Philharmonic understand this music at the most profound levels, making it an absolute Must Own for those of who appreciate the sublime experience of playing classical music in the home

As much as I like Fjeldstad’s Peer Gynt on Decca/London with the LSO, I have to say that Odd Gruner-Hegge (love that first name!) and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra turn in the better of the two performances. To these ears, theirs is more lyrical; it flows more naturally both within and between the individual movements.

This vintage Living Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Saint-Saens – The Best Danse Macabre on Record

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

More of the music of Paul Dukas (1865-1935)

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894)

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This White Hot EMI pressing has some of the loveliest orchestral music reproduction we’ve ever heard. Man, this copy sure has it going on: it’s super clean and clear, tonally correct from top to bottom, with all of the weight of the orchestra down low on both sides.

If you want a classical record to TEST your system, if you want a classical record to DEMO your system, you will have a hard time finding a better pressing than this very copy.

Debussy – Prelude A L’apres-midi D’un Faune is excellent here as well – it’s a piece we rarely have on the site. (more…)

Beethoven / Septet In E Minor / Members of the Vienna Octet

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

More Records on Decca and London 

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, the sound here is realistic and natural, if not DEMO DISC quality
  • Both sides are full, rich, spacious, big and present, with no smear and a healthy dose of Tubey Magic
  • At the right level, the level at which these instruments are heard in performance, the sound is perfection
  • We’ve been raving about this album forever, on Blueback and on UK Stereo Treasury – both can be superb

We normally do not put as much effort into finding top quality pressings of chamber music as we do for the large orchestral works favored by audiophiles (or at least the audiophiles who are willing to spend the money to buy our records), works such as Scheherazade and The Planets. However, if more of them sounded as good as this one we would be more than happy to do just that. (more…)

Liszt / The Music of Franz Liszt / Fiedler

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1880)

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  • This Shaded Dog pressing returns to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Classic superb Living Stereo Sound on both sides – big and open with an especially clean and extended top end (great fun on those huge cymbal crashes Liszt favors)
  • Powerful, rich, dynamic and life-like orchestral reproduction, set in a huge hall
  • “The Hungarian-born composer and pianist Franz Liszt was strongly influenced by the music heard in his youth, particularly Hungarian folk music, with its unique gypsy scale, rhythmic spontaneity and direct, seductive expression.”

This is, in our opinion, one of the most underrated Living Stereo treasures in the Golden Age canon — but not by this critic (here reviewing the CD):

In the early days of stereo, RCA released an all-Liszt LP by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops that has remained in my memory as one of the finest things the popular maestro ever committed to disc…

Two works, the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and the high energy Rákoczy March, have been out for some time, coupled with “Hi-Fi Fiedler”. Now RCA has added to this current disc the two main pieces, Mazeppa and Les Preludes, from the original collection. They are as wonderful as ever – among the best, if not the best, performances of this music. Fiedler doesn’t dawdle or toy around with the melodies; he lets Liszt’s Romantic vision speak for itself, helping it along with brisk tempos and incisive phrasing. Seldom have the fanfares in Les Préludes had such bite and majesty.

ClassicsToday

The rich, textured, rosin-on-the-bow lower strings on this record are to die for. Find me a modern record with that sound and I will eat it. And by “modern record” we hasten to include both modern recordings and modern remasterings of older recordings. NO ONE alive today can make a record that sound like this. To call it a lost art is to understand something that few vinyl-loving audiophiles appear to have fully grasped since the advent of the Modern Reissue, which is simply this: compared head to head they are simply not competitive.

After twenty years of trying and literally hundreds of failed examples, both the boutique and major labels of today have yet to make a record that sounds as powerful or as life-like as this RCA from the old days. (This is actually a later pressing; in some ways it sounded more tubey and rich than many of the Shaded Dogs we played against it.)

Fortunately for us record lovers and collectors, we at Better Records are not trying to make a record sound the way these sides do, we’re just trying to find ones that do, and folks, we found some very, very good sides here. (more…)