Classical – Best Performances with Top Quality Sound

Prokofiev / Symphonies No. 1 & 7 – Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

xxxxx

What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label the way they did back the day. I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own judgments included — to the limitations of the equipment, bad setups, bad rooms and poor record cleaning. 

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that are possible today.

Working in unfathomably complicated and unpredictable combination, today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

These are what make it possible for us to do our job. You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like on your system and in your room. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record will be yours to enjoy for as long as you live. (more…)

Gershwin / Con. In F & Rhapsody In Blue / Previn / Kostelanetz

xxxxx

  • This Columbia Six Eye has Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound for the Rhapsody in Blue on side two – reasonably quiet vinyl too, especially for an early stereo LP
  • As would be expected, both sides are exceptionally rich and Tubey Magical, but the clarity, deep bass and powerful, dynamic sound of side two surprised the hell out of us – we’ve never heard the work reproduced with this kind of authority or fidelity
  • The first two movements of the Concerto in F found on side one earned a solid grade of Double Plus (A++) for their full brass and especially clear, solid, present piano, one with practically no trace of vintage analog tube smear
  • Performed with consummate skill and attention to detail – the results are magnificent!

Finally, the sound we’ve been searching for – rich, tubey and real, with nicely textured strings. The piano is solid, rich, high-rez and percussive — there is hardly any Old School smear or hardness to be heard, always important to the proper reproduction of any piano recording, whether the music is jazz, classical or rock. (We talk about smeary, hard pianos on many of our listings for those of you who take the time to read them.) (more…)

Prokofiev / Symphonies No. 1 & 7 – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

xxxxx

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

This White Hot Stamper pressing (on BOTH sides!) contains one of my favorite performances of the Classical Symphony, and it also carries the distinction of having the best combination of sonics and performance that we have ever heard on vinyl. (There is a recording by Previn and the LA Phil from 1986 with a performance To Die For; unfortunately it comes with the kind of mid-’80s tear-your-head-off-digital shrillness that makes the CD medium the worn out joke we analog lovers know it to be.) 

The First Symphony happens to be one of my favorite classical works of all time, right up there with The Planets and Pictures at an Exhibition. I wouldn’t want to go to a desert island without all three.

This WHS pressing has exceptional transparency and dynamics, allowing the energy and precision of the performance to shine through. Truly a sublime recording that belongs in any music collection, whether you’re a fan of classical music or not.

If I had to choose one piece of classical music that I would never want to live without, it would have to be the Prokofiev’s First Symphony found on this very side one. It’s a work of such joy that I’ve never failed to be uplifted by it — except when the performance is too slow, which it often is.

This is a difficult piece to pull off. Most of the time either the orchestra is not up to the task or the conductor misunderstands the work. Previn has a spritely take on the piece, which is precisely what it needs and, every bit as important, the London Symphony has the chops to bring his vision to life.

What to Listen for

The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label to the extent that they did back the day. I chock it up, as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles make about the sound of records, to limited equipment, bad rooms and poor record cleaning (not to mention underdeveloped critical listening skills. Woops, I guess I just mentioned them.).

If you had Old School vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I had an Audio Research D-75a and later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record would not be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing the record on a much more revealing modern system.

Which is the only kind of system that can tell you what’s really on the record. That’s the kind of stereo we need to do our job; you, of course, have the option of hearing it any way you like on your system. Here is what we heard on this copy. (more…)

Mendelssohn and Bruch / Violin Concertos / Ricci / Gamba

xxxxx

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

  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Mendelssohn Violin Concerto sound remotely as good as it does here, and the Bruch Violin Concerto on the second side is every bit as good
  • With sonic grades like these, you can be sure this pressing will beat all comers for sound, including the performances by Heifetz, Rybar, and others we’ve been enamored with 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
  • 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 very disc

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. Careful, 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. (more…)

Schubert / Symphony No. 9 “The Great” / Krips / LSO – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

xxxxx
xxxxx
xxxxx

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

Krips’ 1958 recording for Decca (from Kingsway Hall, with the legendary Kenneth Wilkinson behind the board) is here brought to life on a quiet and wonderful World of the Great Classics reissue from 1976. This copy was one of the best we played, showing us depth and transparency that was only hinted at on most pressings, regardless of age.

The strings are so, so rich and sweet — this pressing is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers of the day were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The ’50s master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1976, 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.  (more…)

Prokofiev / Peter & The Wolf / Rossi

xxxxx

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

This performance of Peter and the Wolf from 1957 is our single favorite recording of the work. This copy is a DEMO DISC of the highest order, suitable for permanently destroying the rationale for every audiophile record ever made, simply on the grounds that none of them sound remotely as good as this one does.  

The immediacy and unerringly realistic presentation of the solo instruments — bassoon, oboe, flute, etc. (each of which serves to represent a character in the story) — are so lifelike that I defy anyone to name a recording to challenge our assertion that this is positively As Good As It Gets.

  • Our favorite performance, with wonderful narration by no less than film legend Boris Karloff
  • With WHITE HOT Stamper sound, this copy is a DEMO DISC of the highest order
  • Tubey Magically rich, yet realistic, which is of course an impossibility
  • And it plays Mint Minus – an exceptionally quiet Vanguard pressing

And did I mention that it was made in 1957? You couldn’t even buy it on stereo disc back then! (more…)

Lalo / Symphonie Espagnole / Szeryng / Hendl – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Lalo

More Symphonie Espagnole / Szeryng / Hendl

xxxxx

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

This is an AMAZING sounding early Plum Victrola pressing, one of the BEST SOUNDING Victrolas we have ever heard — when (and only when) you have a copy that sounds as good as this one does. This is by far the best side two we played, out of the three copies we had on hand, earning our top sonic grade of A+++. This pressing on side two ranks right up there with the best of the hundreds of Shaded Dogs we’ve played. I haven’t had a Shaded Dog of this title to audition in a long time, but I sure don’t remember it sounding like this. 

Musically and sonically this is an audiophile DREAM come true. The orchestration is rich with many colors, calling to mind such audiophile-friendly pieces as Capriccio Italien and Capriccio Espagnol. (more…)

Rossini Overtures with Maag and the PCO

xxxxx
xxxxx

The London and Decca original pressings are the best, right?

Not in our experience. We think that’s just another Record Myth.

Bad vinyl, bad mastering, who knows why so many copies sound so thick, dull and veiled? 

This Stereo Treasury pressing of Maag’s 1958 recording is shockingly good in many ways. It sure doesn’t sound like a budget reissue. If anything it sounds more original than the originals we played against it! (more…)

Schubert / Octet / Vienna Octet – Reviewed in 2012

More Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Octet / Vienna Octet

xxxxx

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

Very good sound and very quiet vinyl on both sides of this London Whiteback LP! Side one is rich and sweet with nice space and soundstaging, but it could use more texture and top end. Side two fares a bit better in those areas. Both sides play mostly Mint Minus. There may be better sounding copies out there, but I doubt there are many quieter! (more…)

Mussorgsky et al. – Danse Infernale – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky

Danse Infernale

xxxxx

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

It took two copies — one for side one, one for side two — to find two sides this good. We love this album but most copies are unbelievably dreadful. (Actually, if you’ve played a fair number of DG recordings over the years you might not have any trouble believing how bad the average one is, so I take that back.) 

This German Import has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND — of a kind. Being a DG recording, one of the things you won’t be demonstrating with this record is natural string tone — it’s just not part of the DG sound. But, this record is ALIVE.

Some of the most powerful deep bass I have ever heard on LP. Dynamics that are rarely heard outside of the concert hall. Wonderful spaciousness, openness and depth. String basses and cellos that growl like the real thing.

But you don’t really want to buy this record for the sound, as good as it is in its own way. What you want to buy this record for is the best performance of Night On Bald Mountain ever recorded. Fiedler plays it with a kind of abandonment that no other conductor has to my knowledge. It’s supposed to be a wild witches’ frenzy, and this is the only performance I know of that allows you to picture such diabolic revelry in your mind’s eye. (more…)