Labels We Love – Decca/London/Argo

Brahms / Piano Concerto No. 1 – What to Listen For

More of the music of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Hot Stamper Classical Imports on Decca & London

Our general notes for the recording seen below explain why the typical copy in our shootout fell short.

This is an LP with lots of tube compression, and some added brightness.

Without both, the piano would probably probably be mud.

The added brightness and compression results in a piano that always sounds rich and natural in the quieter passages.

The average copy also has some veiling or smearing that make the solo piano parts sound like they are coming fom behind a curtain. On these copies, the big peaks can often get strident and very messy.

It’s difficult to find a copy that has all the top end extension and space required to reproduce both a realistic piano and the massive live sound the orchestra is capable of.

All of which adds up to a difficult shootout in which relatively few copies had the sound we were looking for.

Production and Enginneering

John Culshaw produced and Kenneth Wilkinson engineered this recording for Decca in 1962 in the wonderful Kingsway Hall that the LSO perform in. If you know much about Golden Age classical recordings, you recognize these names as giants who strode the earth many years ago.

Further Reading

Mussorgsky / Pictures at an Exhibition (Piano Version) / Ashkenazy

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Mussorgsky

  • A superb early London stereo pressing of our favorite solo piano performance of Mussorgsky’s masterful suite, with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • The weight and warmth of side one’s recording from Kingsway Hall is faithfully captured in all its beauty on this very disc
  • The orchestral performance of the work is squeezed onto the second side of the record, and that is just not going to work with a 30-minute-long piece of music — the sound is compressed and bass-shy


Prokofiev – Violin Concerti Nos. 1 and 2 / Ricci / Ansermet

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

More Classical Recordings Featuring the Violin

  • This early London Stereo pressing of Ricci and Ansermet’s performance of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerti Nos. 1 and 2 is doing just about everything right, with solid Double Plus (A++) grades from start to finish
  • Ricci is a fiery player – this pressing will allow you to hear the subtleties of his bowing in a coherent, natural and realistic way
  • The sound of the orchestra is dramatically richer and sweeter than you will hear on practically all other pressings – what else would you expect from Decca‘s engineers and the Suisse Romande?


Falla – El Amor Brujo / El Retablo De Maese Pedro / Ansermet / Argenta

More of the music of Manuel De Falla (1876-1946)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage London Stereo Treasury Import LP of Falla’s wonderful classical works boasts superb Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them from first note to last
  • Side two is big, rich, open, and natural sounding with wonderfully full vocals and a more three-dimensional sound than most other copies we played, and side one is not far behind in all those areas
  • The Argenta recording of El Retablo de Maese Pedro (Master Peter’s Puppet Show) is High Fidelity Audiophile Demo Disc Quality Gold, with bells, drums, voices, trumpets, strings, woodwinds and more, all sounding so real it will take your breath away.
  • Our favorite performance with top quality sound is found on a 1967 Decca with Fruhbeck De Burgos at the helm, but the Ansermet we are presenting here is still a very good record if you know what to look for

This Golden Age tape has been mastered brilliantly with “modern” mastering equipment from 1967, 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.

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original won’t sound as good, having been cut on much cruder equipment.

And two, no modern recutting of the tapes by the likes of Speakers Corner for example could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic sound. I have never heard a Heavy Vinyl pressing begin to do what this record is doing. This STS may be a London budget reissue pressing, but it was mastered by Decca, pressed in England on high quality vinyl, using fairly fresh tapes, and mastered about as well as a record can be mastered. The sound is REAL and BELIEVABLE.

When have you ever heard a modern remastering with this kind of depth and width to the soundstage? I have yet to have the pleasure and I’ve played scores of them, close to a hundred I would guess. We used to carry all that Heavy Vinyl back in the day and I played them and reviewed them as they came out, rejecting a good 80% right from the get go. None, not one, ever sounded like this.

This price for a reissue might seem to be a stretch, but we know an amazing record when we hear one, and we know that the next copy that comes along is very unlikely to sound as good as this one does. That’s simply “regression toward the mean,” a reality we have learned to respect. We don’t sell our records based on their reputations. We sell them based on the sound inscribed in their grooves, and these are some mighty fine grooves on both of these sides.


Tchaikovsky – Sleeping Beauty Highlights / Ansermet

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Demo Disc sound from first note to last, this Decca pressing from 1974 could not be beat
  • These sides are doing everything right – they’re rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have depth and transparency to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • Ansermet is of course a master of the ballet – the complete performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty by the Suisse Romande is outstanding, perhaps even definitive
  • 1959 was a great year for classical recordings – other Must Own Orchestral releases can be found here.
  • Here are more of the orchestral “sleeper” recordings we’ve discovered with demo disc sound

Big Decca sound! Powerful deep bass. Beautiful string tone and sharply articulated brass. This is a simply wonderful record.

Ansermet is surely the man for this music, and the famously huge hall he recorded in just as surely contributes much to the wonderful sound here.

Production and Engineering

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from 1958 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, perhaps of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound that goes beyond all the other recordings we have played, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

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 weight and power of the brass, combined with timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.


Borodin / Symphonies 2 & 3 / Ansermet

More of the music of Alexander Borodin (1833-1887)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

This shootout, conducted back in 2012, was our first for the album.

This White Hot Stamper pressing has DEMO QUALITY sound of the HIGHEST ORDER on fairly quiet vinyl no less. We’ve long considered the album one of the greatest of all the Decca / London recordings, but this pressing takes the sound beyond even our high expectations.

There is simply nothing in the sound to fault. Where is the slightly dry and midrangy quality in the upper strings that so many Londons from this era suffer from? It’s nowhere to be found on this side one. (If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange that so many moving coils have these days, you will not notice this tonality issue nearly as much as we do.)

And it’s not as though our stereo was hiding that quality, because some of it creeps into the sound on this very side two (which is why it earned a slightly lower grade of A++).

Big, rich and dynamic, this is the sound of LIVE MUSIC, and it can be yours, to enjoy for years to come — if you’ve got the stereo to play it and the time to listen to it.

The powerful lower strings and brass are gorgeous. Ansermet and the Suisse Romande get that sound better than any performers I know. You will see my raves on record after record of theirs produced during this era. No doubt the world renowned Victoria Hall they recorded in is key. One can assume Decca engineers use similar techniques for their recordings regardless of the artists involved. The only real variable should be the hall.

Ansermet’s recordings with the Suisse Romande exhibit a richness in the lower registers that is unique in my experience. His Pictures At Exhibition has phenomenally powerful brass, the best I’ve ever heard. The same is true for his Night On Bald Mountain. Neither performance does much for me — they’re both too slow — but the sound is out of this world. Like it is here.

Side One

A+++, big, rich and lively, yet clear, transparent and spacious. The brass is shockingly dynamic and powerful. I defy you to find better brass on a record than can be found on this side one. I can’t recall hearing it, and we play the best sounding Golden Age classical recordings by the score week after week.

Side Two

A++, a bit wider, with lovely sheen to the strings, but tonally a bit thinner and drier than it should be. Still, awfully good in comparison to the better classical records we put up every week, just not competitive with this amazing side one.

If you’re looking for Demonstration Quality Sound, look no further. This side one has it in spades.

Heavy Vinyl

Speakers Corner did a heavy vinyl reissue of this title, which is reasonably good, but like all reissues it lacks the weight found on this original. I remember it being a little flat and bright. I haven’t played it in years so I could easily be wrong. The glorious sound I hear on this pressing is not the kind of thing one hears on 180 gram records by Speakers Corner or anybody else. They do a good job some of the time, but none of their records can compete with the real thing when it’s mastered and pressed properly, as it has been here.

Further Reading

Varese / Arcana, Ionisation and more / Mehta

More of the music of Edgar Varese (1883-1965)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • This wonderful Orchestral Spectacular returns to the site after a 2+ year hiatus, here with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on this vintage London pressing
  • Both sides are open, high-rez, and spacious, with depth like you will not believe – this recording of the LA Phil is truly spectacular (and we say that about very few LA Phil recordings outside of this one)
  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief will require practically no effort at all

Superb sound for this crazy 20th Century music, featuring wild and wacky works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (not one, not two, but three bass drums!). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

The speed of the percussion is also critical to its accurate reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie.


Ravel / Daphnis & Chloe – Suite No. 2 and more / Ansermet

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) 

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

  • An incredible Decca pressing of these amazing orchestral works with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to a superb Double Plus (A++) side two
  • Both of these sides are clear, full-bodied and present, with plenty of space around the players, the unmistakable sonic hallmark of the properly mastered, properly pressed vintage analog LP
  • The presentation of the Suisse Romande is wide, tall, spacious, rich and tubey, exactly the way we want to hear them
  • When you hear how good this record sounds, you may have a hard time believing that it’s a budget reissue from the early-70s (1971 in this case), but that’s precisely what it is
  • Here is a link to more records like this one containing some of our Favorite Performances with Top Quality Sound


Tchaikovsky / The Nutcracker Ballet in Two Acts (Complete) / Ansermet

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

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • Tchaikovsky’s complete Classical Masterpiece returns to the site for the first time in nearly two-years with INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on all FOUR sides of these original London pressings
  • 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
  • If you have never experienced a vintage top quality pressing of a Wilkinson-engineered Decca Tree recording from Victoria Hall, this is your chance to hear sound that puts practically anything else to shame
  • A record like this lets you get lost in the world of its music, and what could be more important in a recording than that?
  • This is our favorite performance of The Nutcracker, perhaps the most famous ballet ever written, and one that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • Enchanting music and sound combine on this copy to make one seriously good Demo Disc, if what you are trying to demonstrate is how relaxed and involved vintage analog can make you feel
  • If you’re a fan of brilliant orchestral showpieces, this London Box Set from 1959 belongs in your collection.

There is certainly no shortage of Audio Spectaculars available on the site. A record such as this, so rich, natural and effortless, has distinctly different qualities that we feel are every bit as vital to the critical audiophile’s enjoyment of Tchaikovsky’s music.

Ansermet breathes life into this ballet as only he can and the Decca engineering team led by Kenneth Wilkinson do him proud. (more…)

Rodrigo / Guitar Concerto / Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre / Argenta / de Burgos

More of the music of Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)

More Classical and Orchestral Music

  • Both sides of this wonderful classical guitar masterpiece on lovely boxed Decca UK vinyl boast outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER
  • The sound of the orchestra is as rich and sweet as would be expected from the Decca engineers, yet the guitar is clear, present and appropriately placed relative to the ensemble around it
  • Glorious sound from the first note to the last, brimming with the wonderful qualities that make listening to classical music in analog on top quality audiophile equipment so involving and pleasurable
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you

If you were only to be allowed one Guitar Concerto recording, the Concierto De Aranjuez would probably be the one to own. You will recognize the main theme instantly; it’s the one Miles Davis appropriated for the astonishingly innovative Sketches of Spain album he did with Gil Evans.

The second picture in this listing is the original London, CS 6046, from which the piece is taken. It is a longtime member of the TAS List, and deservedly so.

This vintage Decca 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.