Labels We Love – Mercury

Brahms / Violin Concerto / Szeryng / Dorati – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

More of the music of Johannes Brahms 

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

These later Mercury stampers are wonderful: gorgeous woodwinds, a large, full-bodied orchestra and of course a Tubey Magical violin to die for. Both sides earned SUPERB Super Hot Stamper grades (but for very different reasons). The exciting sound is matched by an equally exciting performance by Dorati. Dorati and the LSO pull out all the stops; they’re staking out a position as to just how powerfully and emotionally this work ought to be performed.

The opening is so dramatic — in the style of the First Brahms Symphony — that it’s hard to imagine there is any recording medium that can capture it without a fair amount of dynamic compression. This vintage pressing suffers from a relatively (in our experience) small amount of congestion and shrillness at the opening and elsewhere.

I find it hard to believe that any attempt to record the work would not encounter quite a lot of difficulty with the prodigious dynamic power of the piece.

Side One

A++, most of the high grade coming from the sound of the violin, which is tonally correct, rich, real and just AMAZINGLY good, surrounded by space, with extended harmonic structures intact — let’s just say it’s hard to fault! It’s a bit recessed compared to the other violin concertos we know well — those with Heifetz come to mind — but it is certainly no less natural for it.

The orchestra holds up pretty well, it’s fairly smooth, with just a slight amount of very-hard-to-avoid shrillness and congestion,

Side Two

A++. Bigger space, more clarity, more top end, zero distortion — this side was really delivering the sonic goods. Note that the sound is slightly less rich here, the orchestra lacking some weight in the lower strings, but the overall presentation is exceptional — clearly Super Hot Sound!

The massed strings here, such as those found at the opening, are close miked and immediate in the “Mercury recording style”. Your electricity better be good when you play this record, because it presents a test many of you will have trouble passing at anything above moderate levels.

I’ve mentioned to many of you over the years about unplugging things in your home and testing the effect of clean electricity on your playback system. The opening of this record is a perfect example of the kind of material with which you should be testing in order to hear these changes. I’d be very surprised if the strings on this record don’t sound noticeably better after you’ve unplugged a few things in your house. The effect should not be the least bit subtle. It’s certainly not in our system.

The same would be true for any of the tweaks we sell. The Talisman or Hallographs would be a godsend for playback of this record. Hard to imagine what it would sound like without them. (To tell you the truth we don’t really want to know.)

Overall Sonic Grade:

Side One – A++
Side Two – A++

Vinyl Grade:

1) Not play graded yet but should end up around Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus.
2) Not play graded yet but should end up around Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus.

Cover Grade: 8 out of 10

Commentary and Background

In addition to being Europe’s leading violinist of the second half of the 19th century, Joseph Joachim was also one of Brahms’s closest friends and musical colleagues. Brahms could conceive of no other soloist for his Violin Concerto. A formidable composer in his own right, Joachim had also championed Brahms’s music early on, not least as first violinist of the Joachim Quartet, which introduced a number of his chamber works. But he was best known as a brilliant violin soloist. Because Brahms was primarily a pianist, during the inception of the Violin Concerto he apparently relied upon Joachim’s suggestions as to the limitations and possibilities of the violin, and perhaps even as to the work’s structure.

In 1876 Brahms finally finished his First Symphony, which had occupied him for more than 20 years. This long-awaited work was something of a watershed in the 43-year-old composer’s creative life, and its completion unleashed in Brahms an unprecedented outpouring of masterpieces during the next three years. The most significant of these were the Second Symphony and the Violin Concerto, completed within a few months of one another.

The Violin Concerto was begun in the summer of 1878, at the composer’s favorite resort at Pörtschach am Wörthersee in the Carinthian Alps. Many commentators have imagined they heard something of this idyllic natural landscape in the gentle triple meter of both the Concerto and the Second Symphony.

In October Brahms wrote to Joachim that he had “stumbled” in the middle of composing the adagio and scherzo of what was initially conceived as a four-movement work. The next month he wrote that “the middle movements have fallen out; naturally they were the best! I have replaced them with a poor adagio.” Though the Violin Concerto’s incomparable slow movement is anything but “poor,” we can only be curious as to why this four-movement plan – taken up that same year, with considerable success, for the Second Piano Concerto in B-flat – was abandoned for this Concerto.

Though Joachim received the finalized solo part only on December 12, he prepared and played the Concerto’s premiere just weeks later – on January 1, 1879, at Leipzig’s Gewandhaus with the composer conducting. It was a moderate, if not overwhelming, success. The Viennese performance on January 14 was apparently more auspicious, though Brahms later noted in a letter to Joachim that the orchestral players “wanted rather to hear you than to play their own notes. At their desks they were always looking sideways – quite fatal, though understandable.” This Viennese performance was also notable for the fact that Joachim’s cadenza – which Brahms had left for the violinist to compose – received spontaneous applause, even before the movement had ended. “The cadenza went so magnificently at our concert here,” wrote Brahms to his friend Elisabet von Herzogenberg, “that the people clapped right on into my coda.” This celebrated cadenza, later published, has become the standard choice for most violinists, in the absence of one by the composer himself.

The Concerto’s first movement (Allegro non troppo) is especially rich in themes, beginning with the lilting opening subject in bassoons, horns, and lower strings, and continuing with the flowing subsequent theme for oboe. It is the explosive closing subject that remains uppermost in our memories, however, leading (in its first appearance) to the soloist’s dramatic entrance. At several points in the movement, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto of the same key seems to lurk just around the corner. (Joachim was considered the foremost interpreter of the Beethoven Concerto during his lifetime.) The slow movement is a brief, humble Adagio based on an almost folk-like tune; the simplicity is deceptive, for Brahms reworked the movement many times before it satisfied him. The finale (Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace), with its touches of the alla zingarese (“gypsy”) vein, is imbued with all the play and ferocity of the parallel movement of Beethoven’s Concerto.

Paul Horsley

 

Mendelssohn & Schubert / Symphony No. 4 & Symphony No. 5 – Reviewed in 2014

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

More of the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Symphony No. 4 & Symphony No. 5

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

The strings are rich, with lovely rosiny texture and virtually no tube smear. Played with zest and the recording is every bit as lively. 

The grade on side one could even be better than Two Pluses — we just don’t have enough clean copies to know. Big bass at the end, powerful dynamics too.

Side two was good but nothing like this amazing side one. Too much smear hurts it badly, and the mark is not helping either.

We’re pricing this one for just the one side. Fortunately it’s the complete symphony, one of Mendelssohn’s most famous works.


Artist Biography by Rovi Staff

Mendelssohn was the only musical prodigy of the nineteenth century whose stature could rival that of Mozart. Still, his parents resisted any entrepreneurial impulses and spared young Felix the strange, grueling lifestyle that was the lot of many child prodigies.

Mendelssohn was a true Renaissance man. A talented visual artist, he was a refined connoisseur of literature and philosophy. While Mendelssohn’s name rarely arises in discussions of the nineteenth century vanguard, the intrinsic importance of his music is undeniable. A distinct personality emerges at once in its exceptional formal sophistication, its singular melodic sense, and its colorful, masterful deployment of the instrumental forces at hand.

A true apotheosis of life, Mendelssohn’s music absolutely overflows with energy, ebullience, drama, and invention, as evidenced in his most enduring works: the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826-1842); the Hebrides Overture (1830); the Songs Without Words (1830-1845); the Symphonies No. 3 (1841-1842) and No. 4 (1833); and the Violin Concerto in E minor (1844).

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Symphony No. 4 (Mendelssohn)

Side Two

Symphony No. 5 (Schubert)

Prokofiev & Rachmaninoff / Piano Concertos / Janis – Kondrashin – Reviewed in 2010

More Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Piano Concertos / Janis – Kondrashin

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

This is a very good sounding and pretty darn quiet Mercury Plum label pressing of Janis’ superb performances, and a member of the TAS Super Disc list. Side one, the Prokofiev side, is super-transparent, with a percussive and wonderfully clear, correct sounding piano at the center of the stage. Additionally, the orchestra is not shrill as it is on so many Mercury pressings. 

If you’re in the market for quality classical recordings these days you know that finding a fairly quiet, not shrill, tonally correct Mercury is no easy task. So many are scratched or groove damaged, especially on this title — we went through three copies to find one that was even passable. The piano on the other two broke up like crazy whenever Janis started to pound away, which is something both works call for throughout. (more…)

JS Bach / Suites for Solo – Cello Two and Five / Starker (SR90370) – Reviewed in 2010

More of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach 

More Cello Two and Five / Starker (SR90370) 

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

EXCELLENT CELLO REPRODUCTION and MOSTLY QUIET VINYL on side one, where you get Bach’s entire Suite No. 2 for Unaccompanied Cello. Side two has excellent sound as well but the vinyl is noisy so take this one at a bargain price and hear how wonderful solo cello can sound when recorded and mastered for maximum effect, live in your listening room!

The sound of Starker’s cello here is HUMONGOUS — it’ll fill up your room, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling! It’s also tonally correct from top to bottom, a quality we heard on NONE of the new Mercury heavy vinyl reissues. The cutting is super low distortion on this later label copy as well. This copy will show you in short order why these Starker Mercury records are so highly prized.

These Starker records are legendary for their sound, not to mention Starker’s way with this music. If anybody can make Bach’s solo cello pieces capture your interest, Starker can. (more…)

The Best Sounding Record on the Site?

 The Original Soundtrack

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On any given day a White Hot side one of The Original Soundtrack could very well be the best sounding record on the site.

“On any given day” being a day when we don’t have a hot German copy of Dark Side of the Moon to offer, or a killer Eagles first album, or a top copy of the self-titled BS&T, or an RL Zep II, or a White Hot Teaser and the Firecat. Most days we don’t have such records on the site, and on those days this 10cc album is a recording Tour De Force that would be bigger, bolder, more dynamic, and more powerful than anything we could throw against it.
(more…)

Holst / British Band Classics Vol. 2 / Fennell

More the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

More British Band Classics Vol. 2 / Fennell

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

Side one big, full and dynamic, with horns and winds that are never screechy. (Side two of this first LP is very screechy and not at all to our liking.) 

Side two of the second record has the sound of live music. Huge space, clear yet rich, this is the sound we were looking for! (more…)

Liszt / Les Preludes / Dorati – Reviewed in 2008

More Franz Liszt’s music

Les Preludes / Dorati

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

This copy with Philips stampers has a fairly quiet and good sounding side one, which has the work by Smetana and A Night On Bald Mountain. Side two is thin and bright. Dorati is excellent on material like this and plays it with great verve. 

Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Antal Dorati. This performance also includes Smetana’s “The Moldau”, Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain”, and Sibelius’ “Valse Triste.”

10cc – How Dare You!

More 10cc

More How Dare You!

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  • You’ll find solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this outstanding early UK pressing of 10cc’s fourth album, How Dare You! – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This wonderful LP will show you that 10cc’s commitment to Audiophile Recording Quality was – at the time – beyond reproach 
  • Forget the dubby domestic stuff and the no-doubt-awful Heavy Vinyl, this early British pressing is huge, spacious and rich, with prodigious amounts of bass, like no other copy you’ve heard
  • 4 stars: “…a well-crafted album that shows off 10cc’s eccentric humor and pop smarts in equal measure… it remains a solid album of witty pop songs that will satisfy anyone with a yen for 10cc.”

With this superb British pressing some of you who might consider yourselves more devoted fans of the band will finally be able to hear what a good recording this is. The typical domestic copy is a disaster as are some of the British originals and reissues; we should know, we cleaned them, played them and heard them for ourselves. (more…)

Hindemith / Symphony in B Flat / Fennell – Reviewed in 2010

More of the music of Hindemith 

More Symphony in B Flat / Fennell 

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

This Mercury RFR pressing contains Hindemith’s Symphony In B Flat, Schoenberg’s Theme And Variations Opus 43a and Stravinsky’s Symphonies Of Wind Instruments. All three pieces sound quite good here, and we’ve rated both sides between A+ and A++ overall. The sound is very dynamic and spacious throughout in the best Mercury tradition. Mercury was also known for its top quality performances of landmark 20th century works such as these, and here, as expected, Fennell and his venerable Eastman Wind Ensemble do not disappoint.   (more…)

Haydn / Symphonies 59 & 81 – The Best on Record

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

More Symphonies 59 & 81

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

These are THE BEST HAYDN SYMPHONIES I have ever heard on disc. Folks, until I heard Dorati and the Festival Chamber Orchestra perform these pieces I never knew there could be this much FIRE in Haydn’s music. (Please excuse the pun; the 59th Symphony is entitled “Fire”.)

Mercury bring the kind of recording energy and presence to this music that I have frankly never heard before. Credit must go to both Dorati and his players.

His tempi are fast and sprightly throughout, and the smaller orchestra allows the players to zig and zag with the musical changes much more quickly than would be the case with a larger and more inertia-bound group.

The FCO are so technically proficient and so light on their feet that Dorati was able to push them to dizzying heights of performance. For the first time I can honestly say that Haydn’s music really works — it’s wonderful!

(If you’ve ever heard Previn conducting Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with the L.A. Phil from 1990 you will know what I mean. In his (their) hands the work is so lively it’s hard to hear it performed by anyone else. Bad digital sound but it’s worth it to hear the piece played with such gusto.) (more…)