Orchestral / Classical Demo Discs

Debussy / Clair de Lune / Agoult

  • This rich, sweet and full-bodied UK pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from top to bottom – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Side one gives you not only a wonderful Clair De Lune, but a number of shorter works by Faure, Massenet and Elgar as well, with side two highlighted by meditative pieces by Bach, Tchaikovsky and others
  • We can’t imagine a more beautiful record, both in terms of the program and the sound – this record is a wonderful example of what the Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on tape
  • It’s the same recording as the famous Living Stereo Clair De Lune, LSC-2326, but with a couple of extra tracks included
  • The other main difference between the Living Stereo pressing on our Decca here is that the Decca has better sound

Transparent and spacious, wide and naturally staged, clean yet rich, with zero coloration, there is nothing here to fault. So relaxed and natural you will soon find yourself lost in the music.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording. We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way.

The 1959 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, 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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Hovhaness / Giannini – Sym. No. 4 / Sym. No. 3 / EWO

More Mercury Label Classical Recordings

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • An original Maroon Label Mercury pressing of these enchanting symphonies for winds boasting incredible Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Both of these sides are big, clear and lively, with no trace of smear, and clearly reproduced harmonics on every instrument – a Demo Disc to be sure
  • The woodwinds are so rich and natural, with none of the “nasally” quality one hears on so many Mercury records
  • The brass at the end of the record are full-bodied and smooth in the best tradition of vintage analog

These symphonies for winds are an audiophile delight. Mercury is famous for their wind band recordings and this is clearly one of their best.

The idea of a symphony performed only by wind instruments (with added harp and percussion) is novel, to me anyway, and I found the music nothing short of enchanting. One of the first wind recordings I fell in love with decades and decades ago was British Band Classics on Mercury with the EWO under Fennell. Whenever a copy comes in I play it and fall in love with it all over again. You may feel the same about this very record.

I’ve been a fan of the Hovhaness piece here for many years. Finding enough clean copies with which to do a shootout took a very long time, but eventually we had enough and this copy was doing more of what we wanted than practically all others we played.

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Bartok / Concerto for Orchestra / Solti

More of the music of Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

More Must Own Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • Huge hall, massive weight and powerful energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • The sound here is glorious, full of all of the qualities that make listening to classical music in analog so involving
  • There are many great recordings of the work, and we had plenty to choose from, but for sonics and performance combined, Solti’s Decca recording from 1965 could not be beat
  • “Solti’s Concerto for Orchestra with the LSO was one of the finest of its day and remains so. Highly recommended.”
  • If you’re a fan of Bartok’s orchestral masterpiece, this London from 1965 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1965 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • Watch out for Solti’s later recordings for Decca – they usually have an obvious shortcoming which we cannot abide in the classical records we play

Solti breathes life into these works as only he can and the Decca engineering team led by Kenneth Wilkinson do him proud.

“Solti was regarded as, above all, a superb Wagnerian. His performances and countless recordings of other nineteenth century German and Austrian music were also well-regarded, as were his Verdi and his frequent forays into such twentieth century repertory as Bartók, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky.”

There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

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Mendelssohn and Bruch / Violin Concertos / Ricci

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

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

  • With two outstanding sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto sound as good as it does here, and the Bruch Concerto on the second side is every bit as good
  • The glorious sound of these truly great 1958 All Tube “Decca Tree” recordings from Kingsway Hall is faithfully captured in all its beauty on this disc, and once the needle hits the groove it won’t take you long to hear it
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • With sonic grades like these, you can be sure this pressing will be competitive with nearly all comers, including the performances by Heifetz, Rybar, and others that have impressed in the past
  • The violin is so sweet and present, so rich, natural and real, you will forget you’re listening to a record at all

This is one of the ALL TIME GREAT violin concerto records. In Ruggiero Ricci’s hands both works are nothing short of magical. If you want to know why people drool over Golden Age recordings, listen to the violin. Take care, when you hear it you may find yourself drooling too.

The staging of the orchestra and violin is exactly the way we want to hear it in our heads. Whether it would really sound this way in a concert hall is impossible to say — concert halls all sound different — but the skill and the emotion of the playing is communicated beautifully on this LP. This is a sweetheart of a record, full of the Tubey Magic for which London recordings are justly famous.

As we noted above, engineering took place in the legendary Kingsway Hall. There is a richness to the sound of the strings that is exceptional, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

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Sibelius / Finlandia / Mackerras – Reviewed in 2015

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

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

A shocking Stereo Treasury sleeper with a superb Shaded-Dog-beating side one. Side one is nearly White Hot – it’s exceptionally transparent and dynamic. Real Demo Disc sound and music on side one – spectacular works played with feeling.

This 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 1960 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, 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.

Side One

More spacious than practically any other copy we heard thanks to an extended, correct top end.

This side was also very dynamic, and it gets loud in the right way, never harsh or screechy.

Correct from top to bottom, and there are not many records we can say that about. So natural in every way.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL on this side. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The brass is big and clear and weighty, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.

Side Two

Good clarity and top extension, with full-bodied, textured strings. Gets a little hot at its loudest but manages to stay under control and enjoyable throughout.

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

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Mussorgsky & Ravel – Pictures at an Exhibition

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

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

  • This British EMI import pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Our favorite performance by far, with big, bold and powerful sonics like no other recording we know
  • The brass clarity, the dynamics, the deep bass and the sheer power of the orchestra are almost hard to believe
  • No vintage recording of these works compares with Muti’s – and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is an extra special added bonus on side two
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

This EMI import pressing gives you the complete Pictures at an Exhibition with a TOP PERFORMANCE and SUPERB SONICS from first note to last.

As this is my All Time Favorite performance of Pictures, this record naturally comes very highly recommended. Pictures is a piece of music that has been recorded countless times, and I’ve played scores of different recordings, but the only one that truly satisfies is this one, Muti’s 1979 recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Much like Previn and the LSO’s performance of The Planets, he finds the music in the work that no one else seems to.

For his 1979 review of the Mussorgsky, Robert Layton in the GRAMOPHONE writes of Muti and The Philadelphia Orchestra :

…what orchestral playing they offer us. The lower strings in ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’ have an extraordinary richness, body and presence, and “Baba Yaga”, which opens the second side, has an unsurpassed virtuosity and attack as well as being of demonstration standard as a recording. The glorious body of tone, the richly glowing colours, the sheer homogeneity of the strings and perfection of the ensemble is a constant source of pleasure.

Of the performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird, Layton writes:

…Muti’s reading is second to none and the orchestral playing is altogether breathtaking. The recording is amazingly lifelike and truthful.

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Saint-Saens / Piano Concerto No. 2 / Rubinstein – Living Stereo Magic

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This superb TAS List Piano Concerto recording finally arrives on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound and vinyl that’s about as quiet and scratch-free as we can find it
  • With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • If you love this famous piano concerto as much as we do, this is surely a classic from 1958 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Harry Pearson put this recording on his TAS List of Super Disc LPs, and with good reason — the sound is wonderfully relaxed and natural. This Shaded Dog pressing is exceptionally lively and dynamic. The sound is BIG and BOLD, enough to fill up your listening room and then some. The piano is clean and clear, and the strings are rich and textured.

The great Artur Rubinstein’s performance of these wonderful works is superb.

Our Shaded Dog pressing here offers plenty of Living Stereo Magic. This wonderful record boasts a natural orchestral perspective and superb string tone. It also presents the listener with a correctly-sized piano, which is fairly unusual for Rubinstein’s recordings. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto No. 1 – Our Favorite Performance and Sound By Far

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

More Classical Music

  • A stunning copy of this classical masterpiece with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • By far our favorite performance for the work, and fortunately for us audiophiles, it is also the best sounding recording of the work that we know of
  • With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • When the brass is the way it is here – rich and clear, not thin and shrill – you have yourself a top quality DG pressing
  • Virtually no smear to the strings, horns or piano – this is Golden Age Recording done right!
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings that offer the discriminating audiophile vinyl pressings with the Best Performances and Top Quality SoundThis record has earned a place on that list.
  • More entries in our Well Recorded Classical Albums –The Core Collection

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Herrmann – The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann

More Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann Records We’ve Reviewed

  • This early British London pressing offers superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, giving you plenty of blockbuster sound for those who can play a record like this good and loud
  • On the best copies, you will hear the power of the orchestra come to life right in your very own listening room
  • The soundfield is big, open and transparent, with the kind of wall to wall and floor to ceiling spaciousness that may just leave you in awe
  • A superb Phase 4 recording by Arthur Lilley, taking advantage of the legendary acoustics of Kingsway Hall
  • If like us you’re a fan of Blockbuster Orchestral Recordings, this is a killer album from 1974 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The soundfield is big, open and transparent, with the kind of three-dimensionality most orchestral recordings simply fail to reproduce. The brass here is weighty and powerful, and you can really hear the pluck of the strings on the harp.

Harry Pearson put the Decca pressing of this title on his TAS List of Super Discs. (We take issue with that choice below.) (more…)

Various Composers – Fiesta in Hi-Fi / Hanson

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

More TAS List Super Discs

  • An INSANELY GOOD original (FR 1) Mercury stereo pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from the first note to the last
  • We owe a debt of gratitude to Harry Pearson for championing records such as this one — who is fit to carry his mantle today (besides us of course!)
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, with no marks that play or issues with the inner grooves
  • The notes read:
    • So rich and big
    • Great space and detail
    • Everything sweet and clear
    • 3D too
    • Great dynamics
    • Deep bass
  • If that sounds like the kind of Mercury you would like to hear — it sure does to us, how many Mercurys can be called sweet? — then this is the record for you
  • “…this musical merriment is brought bubbling forth by gregarious conductor Howard Hanson and his merry band, the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra, which sounds like it had fun making this music.”

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