Labels We Love – Decca/London

Modest Mussorgsky on Vinyl – Don’t Waste Your Money on These Three

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Very bad sound! So blary! Terrible performance too.


Never liked the performance. The sound can be quite good however.


Somewhat slow and ponderous – there are better performances with excellent sound.

These are just some of the recordings of the music of Mussorgsky that we’ve auditioned and found wanting. Without going into specifics we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place on our site, in your collection, and may even belong in a Hall of Shame.

Mahler / Das Lied Von Der Erde / Solti / CSO – Reviewed in 2006

More of the music of Gustav Mahler

Das Lied Von Der Erde / Solti / CSO

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

This Minty Decca pressing from 1972 sounds WONDERFUL — another Kenneth Wilkinson/ Gordon Parry triumph. 

This recording is part of the Solti Decca Silver Jubilee, celebrating the 25th year of Solti’s collaboration with Decca.

(He started in 1947!) The Beethoven 9th on the TAS List, one of the all time great Beethoven recordings, is also part of that series. Judging by those two records, it appears that Decca still had their act together in 1972, long after other labels were producing garbage.

The Moody Blues – A Question of Balance – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

This British Threshhold pressing is one of the best copies of this album we’ve heard. Both sides have tons of tubey magic (natch), BIG BASS, and better transparency than the copies we played it against. Most Moody Blues records are too murky to make much sense of, but this Hot Stamper copy breaks through that mud and gives fans of this band the sound they’ve been wishing for and likely never found.

It has the tubey magic missing from the reissues and the typical import pressings. (The domestic copies of course are a bad joke.) When you hear the acoustic guitars strumming on a song like Question, the strongest song on the album, you would think you had a pair of 1954 McIntosh MC-30 vintage tube amps hooked up to your speakers. (I know that sound well; I owned those amps and they are hard to beat for midrange magic.)

Of course the problem with these vintage Moody Blues records (and the problem with vintage McIntosh amps too!) is that transparency and clarity are not their strong suits. In other words, there’s a certain “murky” quality to the sound that some may find less than appealing.

However, this is the sound the Moody Blues wanted. (There’s a long story behind that but I won’t go into it now.) Trying to “fix it” can only result in one outcome — a disaster. This is what modern recording engineers don’t understand. Brightening up a record like this adds nothing to its sound. The richness and the sweetness are what’s good about these recordings, and making them brighter causes them to lose a great deal in those two areas. (A judicious bit of boost in the extreme highs, one or two DB at 10 or 12K might have some benefit. The problem is that anyone messing with the sound is going to want to add some below that, in that dangerous 3 to 5K range, and that’s the last thing in the world that should be done.)

You can EQ this all you want. It is what it is and nothing you are likely to do will make it any better. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Sleeping Beauty / Ansermet / 3 LP Box Set

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

Big Decca sound! Powerful deep bass. Beautiful string tone and sharply articulated brass sound. This is a wonderful record. Ansermet is of course a master of the ballet. The performance here is outstanding, perhaps even definitive.

Gounod / Borodin / World of Ballet / Gibson / Ansermet – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Side one contains one of the most famous and sought-after pieces of music in the entire Living Stereo catalog, the wonderful Faust Ballet Music that takes up side one of LSC 2449. (The Carmen that makes up side two of the original Shaded Dog has never impressed us sonically. There are so many better recordings of the piece, the Ansermet recording on London being one of the best.)  (more…)

Schumann & Grieg / Piano Concertos / Lupu / Previn / LSO – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

This is an EXCELLENT SOUNDING London pressing of the famous TAS list LP. I’ve never heard a quieter copy. Usually these are noisy as hell and this one plays dead quiet most of the time, and Mint Minus the rest.

HP was right: the Grieg here has the best sound. The piano is amazingly well recorded; the sound is rich and powerful. The orchestra sound better on the Grieg as well; it’s slightly more compressed and leaner on the Schumann side.  

Britten / Debussy / Schumann / Cello Sonatas / Rostropovich – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

Both sides of this promo London Blueback pressing of piano and cello music have SUPERB sound. If you’re a fan of the cello, the piano, or chamber works in general, you will have a hard time finding a better sounding recording than this.

Notice especially that there is practically no smear on the piano — the notes are clear, with their transients fully intact, something one rarely hears anywhere but in the live setting. The tonality of the piano is also correct from top to bottom.

But the real surprise here is how unusually natural the cello sounds — more like the real instrument and less like the typical recording of it.

Normally when recording the cello the microphones are placed fairly close to the instrument. This often results in what’s known as the “proximity effect”, which simply describes a boost in the lower frequencies relative to the more linear response of the microphone when placed at a distance.

The famous Starker cello recordings on Mercury — you know the ones, the orginals and even the reissues sell for hundreds and hundreds of dollars — suffer from this effect, which audiophiles seem to prefer. (The Mercury heavy vinyl reissues, at least the ones I played, were ridiculously fat and bloated in the bottom. Audiophiles did not seem to mind much, judging by the apparently strong sales and the rave reviews I read. Bass shy systems, and that means most of the systems owned by audiophiles, probably benefited from the bass boost. Systems with lots of large woofers — at least in our case — would of course make the sound of these pressings positively unbearable. That indeed was our experience.) (more…)

Mussorgsky et al. / Night On Bare Mountain CS 6785 / Solti – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky

Night On Bare Mountain CS 6785 / Solti

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

Released as Romantic Russia by Decca in 1967, this London can also be found with a different cover and a different catalog number, CS 6503.

DEMO QUALITY SOUND on side one — in some ways. Don’t go looking for the Tubey Magic of an earlier era. What you get instead is super-low distortion, full-bandwidth sound with deep powerful bass and more transparency than most later Londons.

Solti is clearly the man for this music! He’s on fire with this fiery material. THIS is the way you want to hear Russian Orchestral Showpieces — played with verve and dynamically ALIVE.  (more…)

Stravinsky / Petrushka and Circus Polka / Mehta – Not Recommended

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Sonic Grade: F 

A Hall of Shame Pressing and a London Classical Record we can’t recommend. We’re big fans of Decca/London Records in general, but in this case the sound and the performances are simply not acceptable.

We had three original UK pressed copies of CS 6554 and none of them sounded any good to us. What’s worse, Mehta and the Los Angeles Phil play the work quite poorly. How this album got released I have no idea. (more…)

Paganini – Kreisler / Concerto In One Movement / Campoli

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  • This exceptionally rare early London pressing features Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER and includes a wonderful performance of the Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 3
  • This is a spectacular recording – it’s big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic, and is guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of orchestral music you own
  • Campoli brings his warmth, feeling, and technical precision to these classical masterpieces
  • The Decca engineers captured the correct amount of detail in the bowing and fingering – it’s not overdone as it is in so many records that many audiophiles prefer, with the mics much too close to the strings

This is a WONDERFUL sounding violin concerto recording. It has TUBEY MAGIC as well as MUSIC to die for. What”s most interesting about the sound is how well the violin is integrated into the orchestra. On most RCAs, just to pick one golden age label to use as an example, the violin is typically hugely oversized and placed far in front of the orchestra. Not so here. The violin is of a whole with the orchestra, which makes for a much more natural and relaxed presentation.

The orchestra is a bit compressed, something engineers of the day were fond of doing. The violin tone however, as well as its dynamic contrasts, are PERFECTION. This is a Decca recording and the keyword here is NATURAL. So musical and involving too. All in all a lovely record. (more…)