Labels We Love – Philips

Liszt / Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Kondrashin / Richter – Awful Mercury Mastering

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1880)

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Sonic Grade: F

This recording was released through Mercury after Philips bought the label. It was recorded by Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart, mastered by George Piros, the legendary Mercury team of renown. It is instructive to note that the Philips mastering is dramatically superior to the mediocre Mercury mastering, which may strike you as counterintuitive, but is nonetheless a fact. It’s precisely the reason we play records all day here at Better Records. You can’t judge a record by its credentials. The only way to know how it sounds is to play it, and to really know how it sounds you must play it against a sizeable number of other copies.

Then, and only then, can you talk knowledgeably about the sound. (Note to forum posters: this means you.)

The potentially right pressing comes in a cover very much like this one:

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Handel – Water Music / Leppard

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

More Hot Stamper Pressings of the Best in Classical Music

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  • An outstanding copy of Handel’s masterpiece with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A bigger hall, more transparency, and more clearly layered depth and more space than many others
  • Shockingly AIRY and WARM, this is the kind of sound that makes it easy to fall in love with an oft-heard piece such as The Water Music
  • Note how far back the trumpets are in the hall, yet they are still clear, tonally correct and not smeared – that’s the sound one hears in a live performance (and too rarely on a record)

This recording should be part of any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that Must Own category can be found here.

The performance by the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Raymond Leppard is currently my favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable.

In a way this may not be quite fair to other equally well-known, well-respected performances. We went through an elimination round for the work a few weeks back, winnowing the recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance — perhaps some of the discarded records had even better performances than Leppard’s. At this late stage who can say?

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 are happy to report that that does not appear to be the case with The Water Music (keeping in mind the caveat above). (more…)

Gerry Mulligan Quartet – Spring Is Sprung

More Gerry Mulligan

More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

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  • With shootout-winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides, it just doesn’t get any better than this copy of Mulligan’s superb sounding and Hard To Find 1963 release on Philips
  • Quincy Jones directed, and Phil Ramone made sure the album would be exceptionally well-recorded, which it is!
  • Big, rich, and Tubey Magical, this pressing let us hear Mulligan’s quartet with the energy and clarity these classic jazz performances deserve
  • 4 Stars: “Mulligan and Brookmeyer always seem to stimulate one another’s playing to a high level, and this album is no exception. The group gets into a swinging groove right away with its updated treatment of a Count Basie favorite, “Jive at Five,” followed by Mulligan’s brisk yet intricate jazz waltz “Four for Three.””

Clean and Clear Yet Rich and Sweet

This copy managed to find the ideal balance of these attributes. You want to find that rare copy that keeps what is good about a Tubey Magical analog recording from The Golden Age of ’60s Jazz while managing to avoid the pitfalls so common to them: compression, opacity, and blubber. (more…)

Liszt / Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Kondrashin / Richter

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

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  • These superb works finally return to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish, and the vinyl is as quiet as we can find it
  • The finest Liszt 1st and 2nd Piano Concertos we know of for their performances, and unquestionably for sonics (when the sonics are this good!)
  • The best pressings of this title are more like LIVE MUSIC than any classical recording you own (outside of one of our Hot Stamper pressings of course, those can be every bit as good) or your money back
  • So big, rich and transparent we guarantee you have never heard a better piano concerto recording (unless you already one of our White Hot copies!)

*NOTE: Unlike Concerto No. 1, The Second Piano Concerto opens very quietly, so there will likely never be a vintage pressing of the album that will get that opening to play like a CD. Expect to hear some random ticks, a small price to pay to hear this wonderful performance on top quality analog.

Richter and Kondrashin deliver the finest Liszt 1st & 2nd Piano Concertos I know of, musically, sonically and in every other way. Richter’s performance here is alternately energetic and lyrical, precisely as the work demands. The recording itself is explosively dynamic. The brass is unbelievably full, rich and powerful. You won’t find a better recording of this music anywhere, and this pressing just cannot be beat.

Big and rich (always a problem with piano recordings: you want to hear the percussive qualities of the instrument, but few copies can pull it off without sounding thin). We love the BIG, FAT, Tubey Magical sound of this recording! The piano is solid and powerful — like a real piano.

Huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Violin Concerto / Grumiaux

The Music of Tchaikovsky Available Now

Album Reviews of the Music of Tchaikovsky

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This Super Hot side one (coupled with an A+ side two) gives you a TOP performance with very good to excellent sound from first note to last. All of which makes this a Must Own copy of the work, surely the most well-known and beloved violin concerto in the classical repertoire.

Grumiaux displays wonderful energy to his playing throughout the recording. What a performance! And the vinyl is lovely, especially on side one.

Side One

A++, big, rich, sweet and smooth — above all the sound on this side is natural and energetic. Slightly dark with a touch of smear, this is very close to the best we heard.

Side Two

A+, Big and lively, but there is some smear to the sound and the violin can get a little screechy in parts. (more…)

Handel / Water Music / Marriner

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  • Super Hot sound on side , 8 of the 9 movements of Suite No. 1
  • White Hot Demo Disc sound on side two for the last movement and Suites 2&3
  • One of our two favorite performances – Marriner gets it like few others do
  • An exceptionally dynamic recording that gets QUIET like live music

This White Hot Stamper has a number of exceptionally attractive qualities, the most notable of which is how quiet the music can be during some of the quieter passages. This is a sound that we did not hear on any of the more than a dozen Water Music recordings we played, which of course is what accounts for it being so striking to the ear. Records rarely are quiet the way live orchestral music can be in performance, compression being the order of the day when the tape is rolling.

Running neck and neck with the Leppard performance we liked so much, the choice between the Marriner and that one is probably a matter of taste. Each is superb. Each sets a standard that will be hard for any other pressing to achieve. And the ’70s Philips vinyl is going to be impossible to beat, certainly with any Golden Age pressing we know of.

An Overview

The modern version of The Water Music contains three separate suites, referred to as Suite No. I, Suite No. 2 and Suite No. 3, each of which is in a different key, and each of which makes use of different instrumentation. Suite No. 1 is the one that will be most familiar to you, 2 and 3 quite a bit less so. Click on the Water Music tab above to read more about the work.

On this record, 8 of the 9 movements in Suite No. 1 are on side one.

Side Two

White Hot, and Hard To Fault (HTF). It’s clear, with lovely texture to the strings. The low bass strings are shockingly well-recorded; we did not hear that sound on any other pressing we played. The sound is dynamic but never harsh. (more…)

Respighi / The Birds on Golden Import Reissue

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ADDENDUM 2020

These days, most Golden Import reissues we play sound much too much like Philips pressings tend to sound: too 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. 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 not played later in life on better equipment.

Mostly what we were doing below was bashing the Just Plain Awful Speakers Corner Mercury series that everyone else seemed to like. What a disaster.

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 badly remastered records? (more…)

Nina Simone – Wild is the Wind

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Nina Simone album – both sides earned our top grade of A+++
  • There are a lot of bad sounding Nina Simone albums out there in the bins, but fortunately this is not one of them – it’s rich, smooth and tubey, just the way we like our Female Vocal records to sound
  • This is a very rare title, and unfortunately most of the copies we played had condition issues, so quiet vinyl just does not seem to be in the cards this time around
  • A Billboard magazine “special merit pick” on release, with the reviewer commenting: “Simone… sets up an exceptional romantic mood that offers top listening delight.” It was included in Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, and rated the 5th best album of the 1960s by Pitchfork (!).

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Handel / Water Music / Leppard – Our Favorite Performance with Top Quality Sound

Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

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The performance here by the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Raymond Leppard is currently my favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable. This pressing boasts the biggest hall, the most transparency, and it has more clearly layered depth and more space than any other pressing we played. With White Hot stampers on side two and a Super Hot side one, this copy is right up there with the best Water Music we’ve heard. 

In a way this may not be quite fair to other equally well-known, well-respected performances. We went through an elimination round for the work a few weeks back, winnowing the recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance — perhaps some of the discarded records had even better performances than Leppard’s. At this late stage who can say?

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 are happy to report that that does not appear to be the case with The Water Music (keeping in mind the caveat above).

We managed to find three (!) recordings that had both superb sound and top quality performances. This then is my favorite of the three, though not by much; on the best pressings all were Demo Disc quality, and most were pressed on very quiet vinyl. (more…)

Mendelssohn/ Symphony No. 4 & Music from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – Colin Davis

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Here’s a great Philips LP! Davis really does Mendelssohn right.

A lively performance and this copy sounds MUCH BETTER than others we played.  It had much less of the smear and opacity that characterizes most Philips records. At most one out of ten is any good in our experience. 

See more Philips records we’ve reviewed.