Labels We Love – Deutsche Grammophon

Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto No. 1 – Now That’s the Way a Piano Should Sound!

I don’t know of another recording of the work that gets the sound of the piano better. On the better copies the percussive quality of the instrument really comes through. It’s amazing how many piano recordings have poorly miked pianos. The badly recorded pianos are either too distant, lack proper reproduction of the lower registers, or somehow smear the pounding of the keys into a blurry mess.

Or is it a mastering issue?

A pressing issue?

To be honest, it’s probably all three.

On the best copies the rich texture of the strings is out of this world — you will have a very hard time finding a DG with better string tone. This record does not have the shortcomings of the average DG: it’s not hard, shrill, or sour.

DG made plenty of good records in the ’50s and ’60s, then proceeded to fall apart, like most labels did. This is one of their finest. It proves conclusively that at one time — 1962 to be exact — they clearly knew what they were doing.

Richter Owns the Work

Richter is brutal at the piano. He pounds the hell out of it, which is precisely what the work demands. Karajan, in contrast to his partner in all of this, has the orchestra play especially sweetly, the opposite of what you would expect from the man. Thankfully he is able to summon the brute power of the orchestra when called for. I’ve never been a fan of Karajan; I know of few of his recordings that are compelling. What his reputation as a great conductor is based on is frankly a mystery to me. Having said that, on this record he is wonderful. I cannot begin to fault his work here in any way.

The RCA

What’s shocking is how lifeless the famous Van Cliburn (LSC 2252) recording is. Granted we did not have ten copies to play, but the ones we did play were the smallest and most compressed classical recording we listened to all day. They went into the trade pile and we will never buy another.

This DG recording has little competition in terms of sonics. Furthermore, we feel strongly that it has no competition in terms of performance. It’s simply the best.

Most Copies Do Not Sound Good…

So What Else Is New?

My good friend Robert Pincus turned me on to this recording close to twenty years ago. Since then I’ve had the chance to audition dozens of clean copies of it and have found rather shocking amounts of pressing variablity. I was, naively of course, expecting to be able to find good copies to shoot out and offer on the site on a regular basis.

Much to our chagrin we discovered that many of the clean copies we were lucky enough to find tended to sound compressed, harsh, lacking in ambience, and missing the full weight of the piano, one of the qualities that makes this recording such an exceptionally powerful listening experience. This explains why our shootouts are so infrequent. Who knows when the next one will be. The record gods appear to be more and more capricious with each passing day.

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Orff / Carmina Burana / Jochum – Amazing on DG Vinyl

More of the Music of Carl Orff (1895-1982)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • A STUNNING copy of this strikingly original work with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from the first note to the last – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • 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
  • This spectacular recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the analog sound we love
  • We’ve auditioned quite a number of recordings of the work, and as far as we are concerned, on the right pressing this is the best sounding version that exists on vinyl – the orchestral power on display is positively PHENOMENAL
  • “With the direction of Eugen Jochum and the bonus of the incomparable rich, powerful voice of baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, this 1968 performance is a classic, and very probably the best, recording of the opera.”

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Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha – Ragas Hameer & Gara

More Classical

  • This early Deutsche Grammophon import pressing boasts Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from the first note to the last, just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Both sides here are truly superb sounding – we’ve played a large number of Ravi Shankar’s recordings over the years and this one has always stood out from the pack
  • An excellent performance of enjoyable sitar music from the One True Master of the instrument, Mr. Ravi Shankar
  • If you’re a fan of Ravi’s, a killer copy of his album from 1979 belongs in your collection

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Chopin / 24 Etudes / Vasary – A Demo Disc for Solo Piano on DG

More of the music of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings with Demo Disc Sound

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  • This stunning album of some of Chopin’s greatest piano pieces has superb sound, boasting a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • This magnificent sounding (and surprisingly hard to find) pressing is yet another example of a classical “sleeper,” one that can hold its own with practically any solo piano recording you have ever heard
  • As expected, Vasary performs with consummate skill, bringing out nuances in the work that may have escaped others – the results are captivating
  • “… an extraordinarily impassioned work, belying its technical utility.”

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Mozart / Piano Concerto No. 17 and No. 21 – Anda

More of the Music of Wofgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

  • This STUNNING classical masterpiece finally returns to the site with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on the first side and nearly Super Hot Stamper sound on the second
  • Spacious, three-dimensional and real beyond practically any DG recording you’ve heard – you hear into the soundstage on this record like you will not believe
  • If you want to do your own sonic comparison of two of the very best concertos from this era, this is the perfect copy to do it with
  • “Mozart’s piano concertos are filled with assured transition passages, modulations, dissonances, Neapolitan relationships and suspensions. Today, at least three of these works (nos 20, 21 and 23) are among the most recorded and popular classical works in the repertoire…”

The string tone here is especially rich and sweet, yet full of texture and that lovely rosiny quality that vintage pressings capture so well. (Sometimes capture so well. We’ve played plenty of copies with a smeary quality that robs the strings of their lovely sheen.)

The piano is beautifully recorded as well. Geza Anda’s performance is hard to fault here. You will have a very hard time finding better recordings of these Mozart piano concertos, of that we have no doubt. (more…)

Mussorgsky et al. / Danse Infernale / Fiedler – Our Favorite Night On Bald Mountain

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

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

  • Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides make this the consistently best sounding batch of Orchestral Showpieces we have ever played
  • After a two year hiatus, our favorite performance of Night on Bald Mountain is back, and it’s guaranteed to blow your mind (and maybe a woofer or two)
  • Side one also boasts an excellent Danse Macabre, with a powerful finish that may remind you of the thrill of live orchestral music
  • Side two contains a wonderfully exciting Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Both sides are clear and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling
  • Watch your levels – this pressing is dramatically more DYNAMIC than most Golden Age recordings

If you like Orchestral Spectaculars, have we got the record for you!

This pressing clearly has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND — not in every way, but in some important ways. The ENERGY of both the sound and the performances of these barnburning showpieces is truly awesome. Fiedler brings this music to LIFE like no other conductor we have heard.

This pressing boasts relatively rich, sweet strings, especially for a Deutsche Grammophon LP. Both sides really get quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy (and the reason it is so hard to find a copy that plays better than Mint Minus Minus. We do have a quieter copy with lower grades if you are interested though.) (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto No. 1 / Richter – Our Favorite Performance and Sound By Far

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

More Classical Music

  • With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • When the brass is the way it is here – rich and clear, not thin and shrill – you have yourself a top quality DG pressing
  • Very little smear to the strings, horns or piano

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Respighi / Pines of Rome with Maazel on DG – Not the Pressing You Want

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

More Recordings We’ve Discovered Are Multi-Miked Messes

Every Label Made Bad Sounding Records. Deutsche Grammophon Made This One.

I’ve been playing a lot of different pressings of this music lately, trying to find the recordings that are most likely to win a shootout.

My notes for this one read:

Very multi-miked. No depth, but the stage is wide. Not warm but dynamic.

There are a lot of DG recordings that have this kind of sound. We’ve played them by the score. Most went directly into the trade bin.

We simply do not sell classical records with this kind of second-rate sound regardless of the how good the performances may be.

Our job is to find you good sounding pressings. That’s the reason we carry no Heavy Vinyl of any kind, exactly one Half-Speed mastered title (John Klemmer’s Touch), rarely any Japanese pressings, and almost nothing made in the 21st century.

If these kinds of records sounded good — in other words, if they did well in shootouts — we would be happy to offer them to our customers.

But they don’t.

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Prokofiev / Scythian Suite and Lt. Kije – Abbado and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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

More Spectacular Orchestral Recordings

  • This wonderful LP boasts our favorite performances for both of these popular 20th century works
  • Big, clear, present and transparent, with a HUGE bottom end, this is some Demo Disc sound all right
  • When the brass is the way it is here – rich and clear, not thin and shrill – you have yourself a top quality DG pressing

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Handel / Water Music Suite (Complete) / Kubelik / Berlin Phil

More of the music of George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)

  • A+++ on side one – dynamic, huge, rich and open. This is a DG? Yes! 
  • All three suites, and one of the best performances we know of
  • Side two is exceptionally transparent – you hear into it beautifully
  • One of the best DG recordings we have ever played, a true Demo Disc

The performance here by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Rafael Kubelik is currently a favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable. With White Hot and Super Hot stampers respectively, this copy is right up there with the best recordings of the Water Music we’ve heard.

This is of course a well-known, well-respected performance by one of the greatest orchestras in the world, the home to Von Karajan at the time. We went through an elimination round for the work a while back, winnowing a large number of recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance, and we are happy to say that this one acquitted itself beautifully on all counts.

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We managed to find three (!) recordings that had both superb sound and top quality performances. On the best pressings all were of Demo Disc quality, and most were pressed on very quiet vinyl. (more…)