Labels We Love – Mercury (Classical)

Haydn / Symphonies 59 & 81 – The Best on Record

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

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

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.)

Dorati and Haydn

As you may know, Dorati recorded all the symphonies of Haydn for London/Decca. Having played some of them I can tell you they certainly do not sound like this! (Perhaps my copies were not the best, but how many copies of these records can be found nowadays? Not enough to do shootouts with, that’s for sure.)

This recording is not your typical dry, bright, nasaly, upper-midrangy Merc, on side one especially. Here the sound is rich and smooth like a good London, with a big stage and lovely transparency. We graded it A++ to A+++ — side two had more texture to the massed strings than this side one, so we downgraded it half a plus. In virtually every other way it was SUPERB!

Side Two

A touch of that Mercury brightness can be heard on this side, but it is well under control at normal listening levels. The strings are textured and lively, the orchestra just bursting with enthusiasm for this music and the recording captures it all! A++ to A+++, again, superb, and priced accordingly.

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The “Not-So-Golden-Age” of RCA, Mercury, London and Others

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Hot Stamper Pressings of Classical Albums from The Core Collection

We ran into a number of copies of this title that had what we like to call that “Old Record” sound, which is surprisingly common on even the most revered Golden Age labels, RCA included.

No top, no real bottom, congested climaxes and a general shrillness to the sound — we’ve played Living Stereos by the dozens that have these shortcomings and many more.

Some audiophiles may be impressed by the average Shaded Dog pressing, but I can assure you that we here at Better Records are decidedly not of that persuasion.

Something in the range of ten to fifteen per cent of the major label Golden Age recordings we play will eventually make it to the site. The vast majority just don’t sound all that good to us. (Many have second- and third-rate performances and those get tossed without ever making it to a shootout.)

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Rossini-Respighi / Ballet For Band / Fennell

More of the music of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1863)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This original Mercury Stereo LP of the Eastman Wind Ensemble’s performance of these wonderful orchestral compositions debuts on the site with INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • It’s simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than all of what we played
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – the very definition of DEMO DISC sound

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Wagner / Excerpts from Operas / Dorati

More of the Music of Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard this underrated Wagner album sound remotely as good as it does here
  • Mercury is one of the few labels that can bring to life the power of the orchestra that Wagner’s music demands, and the engineers (Robert Eberenz, et al) do not disappoint
  • One of the better Watford Town Hall recordings (The Firebird would be another one), this album was recorded in 1959 and it fully captures the magic of the venue as only an All Tube Recording / Mastering Chain from that era can
  • I’ve known how good the right pressings of this album can sound for more than twenty years — it’s about time we did the shootout!
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this Mercury recording from 1960 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Respighi / The Birds on Golden Import Reissue

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Classical Records on Mercury 

These days, most Golden Import reissues we play sound much too much like the bulk of the Philips pressings we’ve played over the years tend to sound: smooth, smeary, compressed, recessed and veiled. 

Can’t say what this one sounds like, it sold many years ago, but I would not expect any Golden Import to sound good to me now.

More than anything the changes we hear in the records we play now tie into the idea of Progress in audio, since without progress the records that sounded good to me in 2006 would still sound good to me now, and thank goodness they don’t.

Live and Learn is our motto, onward and upward, and we have made that approach to audio the very foundation of our business.

If you are stuck in a Heavy Vinyl rut, we can help you get out of it. We did precisely that for these folks, and we can do it for you.

(You may of course not be aware that you are stuck in a rut. Most audiophiles aren’t. The best way out of that predicament is to hear how mediocre these modern records sound compared to the vintage Hot Stampers we offer. Once you hear the difference, your days of buying newly remastered releases will most likely be over. Even if our pricey curated pressings are beyond your budget, you can avail yourself of the methods we describe to find killer records on your own.)

A TAS List Mistake?

The famous Bolero on the TAS List had seemed to me to be a Harry Pearson mistake from the old days, a record he clearly liked at one time and simply had not played later in life on better equipment.

In 2006, mostly what we were doing in the commentary you see below was bashing the Just Plain Awful Speakers Corner Mercury series that seemed to please everyone else. We thought those remastered pressings were disgraceful, the worst of the worst. Every title from that series that I played was so wrong as to defy understanding. I stopped after two. Two was all I could take.

And where, may I ask, are those awful Mercury’s now?

On the trash heap of Heavy Vinyl Rip-offs from the past I hope. (I hope — audiophiles seem to like so many bad sounding records that it would not surprise me if there were still some die-hard fans of the series.)

How bad does a stereo have to be to keep you from hearing what is wrong with the sound of these awful records? (more…)

Hearing Is All It Should Take, Right?

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Some person on some audiophile forum might feel obligated at some point to explain to you, benighted soul that you are, that the old classical records you and other audiophiles revere are so drastically compromised and limited that they just can’t sound any good.

It’s just a fact. It’s science. Technology marches on and has left those old records collecting dust on the ash heap of history.

That’s why the audio world was crying out for Bernie Grundman to recut those Living Stereo recordings from the ’50s and ’60s on his modern cutting equipment and have RTI press them on quiet, flat, high-resolution 180 gram vinyl, following the best practices of an industry that everybody knows has been constantly improving for decades.

But for those of us who actually play these records, there is little evidence to support any of these statements of “fact.”

However, the above sentence only makes sense if the following four conditions have been met for the person judging the new pressings against the old ones:

  1. He or she has a good stereo,
  2. A good record cleaning system, and
  3. Knows how to do shootouts using his or her
  4. Well developed critical listening skills

If you have spent much time on this blog, you have probably read by now that the first three on this list are what allow you to develop the fourth.

Compromises?

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, similar to the one you see pictured here, were compromised in every imaginable way.

Yet somehow they manage to stand sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them, now that we have high quality equipment on which to play them

The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. When playing them you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in the music and the quality of the performance.

Whatever the limitations of the medium, they seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the musical experience.

That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable.

We live for records like these. It’s the reason we all get up in the morning and come to work, to find and play good records. It’s what this site is all about — offering the audiophile music lover recordings that provide real musical satisfaction.

It’s hard work — so hard nobody else seems to want to do it — but the payoff makes it all worthwhile. To us anyway. Hope you feel the same.

The One Out of Ten Rule

If you have too many classical records taking up too much space and need to winnow them down to a more manageable size, pick a composer and play half a dozen of his works. Most classical records display an irredeemable mediocrity right from the start; it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it.

If you’re after the best sound, it’s the rare record that will have it, which makes clearing shelf space a lot easier than you might imagine. If you keep more than one out of ten you’re probably setting the bar too low if our experience is any guide.


FURTHER READING

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Delibes / Coppelia / Dorati – Reviewed in 2008

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

Sonic Grade: C

SRI 77004 – Not a bad Mercury Golden Import, but not a very good one either — there aren’t too many of those by the way — and certainly not in the same league with the better recordings of the work. 

Best to give this one a pass if you are looking for audiophile sound.

We have four categories of sound for the thousands of records we’ve auditioned over the years.

These categories are not quite as definitive as they sound, as there could be a Hot Stamper pressing — perhaps a reissue of some kind — of the album that would better fit in the Excellent Sound Quality category.

Pressings with Mind-Blowing Sound Quality

Pressings with Excellent Sound Quality 

Pressings with Middling Sound Quality 

Pressings with Weak Sound Quality or Music

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Bose Salutes the Sound Of Mercury Records (Along with Some Audio Lessons I Learned Long Ago)

This Bose / Mercury Demonstration LP is autographed by none other than Amar G. Bose. The autograph reads “To EMI, with regards and best wishes, Amar G. Bose.”

Bose may not have ever made very good speakers, but they sure knew good recordings when they heard them. This LP has excerpts from some of the top Mercury titles, including music by Copland (El Salon Mexico), Kodaly (Hary Janos Suite), Mussorgsky/ Ravel (Pictures At An Exhibition), and Rimsky-Korsakov (Russian Easter Overture).I played one of these Bose records years ago and was surprised at how good it sounded. The transfers of the Mercury tapes were excellent! I guess that makes sense — if you want to show off your speakers you better use a well-mastered record for the demonstration.

I was duped into buying my first real audiophile speaker, Infinity Monitors, when the clever salesman played Sheffield’s S9 through them. I bought them on the spot. It was only later when I got home that none of my other records sounded as good, or even good for that matter. That was my first exposure to a Direct to Disc recording. To this day I can still picture the room the Infinity’s were playing in; it really was a watershed moment in my audiophile life.

And of course I couldn’t wait to get rid of them once I heard them in my own system with my own records. I quickly traded them in for a pair of RTR 280DR’s. Now that was a great speaker! 15 panel RTR Electrostatic unit for the highs; lots of woofers and mids and even a piezo tweeter for the rest. More than 5 feet tall and well over 100 pounds each, that speaker ROCKED.

This was the mid-’70s, 40+ years ago, and I am proud to say I have never owned a “small” speaker since. I’ve heard a lot of them — some good, most of them not so good — but that’s a sound I personally could never live with. Especially if you are trying to play large orchestral works like those found on this LP. Small speakers just can’t move enough air to bring this music to life in any way that gives meaning to the term Hi-Fidelity.

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Liszt / Smetana / Mussorgsky – Les Préludes / The Moldau / Night On Bald Mountain / Dorati

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

More Recordings on Mercury

  • With seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides, this copy will show you just how good the Mercury engineers were back in those days
  • Les Preludes on side two has the better sound here, and it is one of the best on record
  • Dorati breathes life into these concert hall favorites as only he can, and the Mercury engineers (Fine and Eberenz) capture the excitement on tape as only they can
  • We have a preference for Dorati’s recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra, and a record like this will show you exactly why we do
  • The exciting sound of Mercury lives on through the vintage disc they made all those years ago
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this LP from 1960 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Haydn – Symphony No. 59 & No. 81 / Dorati

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage Mercury Living Presence LP brings outstanding recording energy and presence to Haydn’s music with superb Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • 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 recording is not your typical dry, bright, nasaly, upper-midrangy Merc – the sound is rich and smooth, much like a good London, with a big stage and lovely transparency
  • Dorati pushes the Festival Chamber Orchestra to dizzying heights of performance – if you find Haydn boring, try this record, it’s got the pacing and dynamic contrasts that bring the Master of the Symphony’s music back to life

These are some of 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 brings 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.)

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