Labels We Love – Decca/London

Wagner – Ansermet Conducts Wagner / Ansermet

More of the music of Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)

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  • Another stunning classical release makes its Hot Stamper debut, here with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Our first Hot Stamper for a recording of Wagner’s music – it took us a very long time to find a recording of his music that had the audiophile goods that this one does
  • Clear and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling, this is a sound that the Modern Reissue fails to reproduce utterly
  • If you don’t have an amazing sounding Wagner record — the low brass is to die for here — this record needs to find a home in your collection
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – if you need proof, here it is

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Bartok – Music For Strings Percussion And Celeste / Marriner

The Music of Bela Bartok Available Now

Album Reviews of the Music of Bela Bartok

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  • This wonderful Decca Argo release makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • We surveyed a large group of pressings containing this work, and in the end Marriner’s reading from 1970 had the best sound and the best performance of any we played
  • Wonderfully textured string tone and huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling – everything you want in a top quality orchestral recording is here, and more
  • To keep beating a horse that has been dead for years, this is precisely the sound that the modern reissue fails to reproduce well
  • “… one of the best-known compositions by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.”

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Schumann and Grieg – Piano Concertos / Lupu / Previn

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  • This wonderful classical masterpiece makes its Hot Stamper debut with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Both sides boast full brass and especially clear, solid, present piano, one with practically no trace of vintage analog tube smear
  • It’s an extraordinary recording, and so amazing on this pressing that after playing it, you may agree with us that few other classical Demo Discs are in its league
  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief will require practically no effort at all

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Handel / Water Music / Academy of Ancient Music

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This original looking Purple Label L’Oiseau-Lyre (Decca) English pressing has some of the best sound we have yet heard for a period instrument recording. There are many good qualities that will recommend this pressing to audiophiles and music lovers alike. The group is smaller and more sprightly than most we heard, the hall they record in has wonderful sound that fits the music perfectly (not too reverberant, and not too dead), and, most importantly, the character of each of the instruments seems to come through in the recording more clearly; their “colors”, so to speak, appear to our ears to be more intense.

This is a lovely quality in a record. Years ago, fifteen I would guess, I remember playing a Telarc recording and noticing that every instrument had a “grayish” color to its sound. Since that day I have never been able to take a Telarc recording seriously. (CDs suffer from this sound even more.) (more…)

Ansermet’s Scheherazade – Yes, Sometimes There Is Only One Set of Magic Stampers

More Scheherazade

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In 2015 we wrote:

There are certain stampers that seem to have a consistently brighter-than-it-should-be top end. They are tolerable most of the time, but the real magic can only be found on the copies that have a correct or even slightly duller top. Live classical music is never “bright” the way recordings of it so often are.

It’s rarely “rich” and “romantic” the way many vintage recordings are — even those we rave about — but that’s another story for another day.

We recently did the shootout again, and now with a much more clear, accurate upper midrange and an even more extended top end, the stampers that we used to find “brighter than they should be” are now just too damn bright, period.

We was wrong and we don’t mind admitting it.

Which leaves one and only one stamper that can win a shootout. Another stamper we like well enough to offer to our discriminating customers, but after that it is all downhill, and steeply.

Of course the right stampers are the hardest ones to find too. All of which explains why you rarely see a copy of the album for sale on our site.

Reviews and Commentaries for the music of Rimsky-Korsakov

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Witches’ Brew / Gibson – Living Stereo Pressing Reviewed in 2007

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DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND, of a sort. As I’ve said elsewhere on the site, this is not my idea of natural tonality.

As for the music, I have long held that the Danse Macabre on this album is the best ever. I probably still agree with that [not anymore, here’s a better one], but so much of the material on this record is amazingly good that that’s actually kind of a left-handed compliment. The entire side 2 is outstanding from start to finish.

The excerpt on side 1 from Pictures at an Exhibition and the complete A Night on Bare Mountain are both played with a kind of energy and requisite orchestral technical quality that makes these pieces come alive right in your living room.

Only the Arnold piece on this record is not particularly inspiring, although it does have excellent sound. All in all, an amazing group of warhorses given a fresh reading by Alexander Gibson and the New Symphony Orchestra of London.

Now let’s talk about the Classic Records 200 gram version, painful as that may be. I’ve long held that the remastering of that album is nothing less than a crime against music lovers and audiophiles of every stripe. Boosting the bass and highs and adding transistory harshness is the last thing in the world that Witches’ Brew needed.

At the risk of insulting some of you out there, if you think the Classic Records version of this album sounds good, your system must be very dull and bass shy, or you must like really hi-fi-ish sound. There is no way that that record should ever sound good on a system that’s remotely accurate. I’ve heard this record played by people attempting to demonstrate the sound of their system, which nearly caused blood to run from my ears. All the while they had a big grin on their face, so pleased with the sound. I don’t understand how anyone can put up with that kind of sound, but obviously people do, so what can I say? People like lots of things I don’t like, and the Classic record is just one more to add to that list. If you want to know why I hate the Classic, buy this pressing and see for yourself where Bernie went wrong.

Rossini – Overtures / Maag

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  • With a BETTER than Triple Plus (A+++ to A++++) side two and a side one that earned a very respectable grade of Double Plus (A++), the orchestral power of display here is positively PHENOMENAL
  • Wilkie’s Decca Tree recording is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl
  • Performances and sound like no other – Maag’s Rossini is in a league of its own
  • “You’d think Maag would approach the scores the way most conductors do: gung-ho and hell bent for leather. He doesn’t. In fact, Maag displays a good deal of reserve, calculating his interpretations for the biggest payoff. For instance, in William Tell he keeps the opening sections in check, and then he builds the final segment into a most-exciting whirlwind, the conclusion carrying you away.”

*NOTE: On side two, a light crackle is audible on the first minute and during the early quiet intro to Track 1, Semiramide Overture. Afterwards, the record plays about as quiet as they ever do, Mint Minus Minus.

Please note: we award the More Than Three Plus (A++++) grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we called it A+++ to A++++!

We award this copy’s side two our better than Three Plus grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a recording to a level never experienced by us before, a level we had no idea even existed. We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that.

The reason we called side two More Than Three Pluses is that of the eight or so copies we had in our shootout, no other copy on either side sounded as good as side two of this copy. We play a lot of classical records around here and this one really stood out from the pack as a true One Percenter.

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

Everyone needs a good Rossini Overtures – the music is exciting and fun, not to mention Demonstration Quality on a pressing such as this. The combination of sound and performance on the best of the Maag-led Londons could not be equaled. Gamba on London was much too sleepy for our tastes, and the famous Reiner on RCA left a lot to be desired. It’s mid-hall perspective and dynamic compression took all the fun out of this music. After hearing the killer Maag pressings, nothing else would do!

Note that the orchestra is none other than the Paris Conservatoire, whose playing of the famously demanding Stravinsky Rite of Spring, under Monteux (LSC 2085), is absolutely stunning as well. (more…)

Handel / The Water Music Suite / Van Beinum

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This exceptionally rare original London mono pressing not only has Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides, but boasts a performance that is practically unmatched since its recording back in 1958!

This is Handel played with excitement and passion, worlds away from the draggy and listless performances with which you may be more familiar. (We like both Szell on London and Dorati on Mercury but try finding them with good sound and in good condition. It ain’t easy.)

Side One – The Water Music

A++ Rich textured strings are the first of many sonic qualities to catch your ear, followed soon enough by big, rich, solid brass, the kind of brass that mono recordings seem to capture so well.

And no smear to the transients. That alone makes it an exceptional vintage golden age recording.

As one would expect, the frequency extremes are not what they can be on a modern recordings. The midrange, however, is glorious. Also dynamics are better.

The life of the music comes through here brilliantly! A top top performance.

Side Two – The Royal Fireworks

A++ again, but different. The sound here is richer and tubier, with a more extended top end, but a bit smeary on the strings compared to side one. The sound is transparent, and the strings never get steely or edgy, with no shrillness or hardness whatsoever, which means you can really turn this one up and enjoy the hell out of it from the front row center seat you’ve purchased.

So musical and lively, this is music that belongs in any music lover’s collection. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request

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  • This elusive Rolling Stones classic boasts KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Before the raging bluesy rock of Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed, with loads of psychedelic madness, this is some crazy Stones music, and a lot of fun on a pressing that sounds as good as this one
  • Exceptionally quiet for a vintage Decca Stones album, this one plays Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus, as quiet as any copy we have ever played
  • 4 stars: “Never before or since did the Stones take so many chances in the studio… a fascinating anomaly in the group’s discography”.

This is the Stones at their most experimental, so there are plenty of strange effects and trippy arrangements. Only the best copies manage to make sense of it, but when you find one this music is a lot of fun.

If you’re looking for the raging bluesy rock of Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed, you’ll find some of that here but also a lot of psychedelia too. You do get some great rockers though — Citadel, 2000 Man, and 2000 Light Years From Home to name a few. She’s A Rainbow is the poppiest song here, and on this copy it sounds WONDERFUL. (more…)