Labels We Love – Readers Digest

Respighi / Strauss – Pines of Rome / Don Juan / Kempe

More Orchestral Spectaculars

More Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

  • With two top quality sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard The Pines of Rome sound remotely as good as it does here (unless you own one of killer Living Stereo LPs of the work)
  • This Readers Digest pressing of Kempe’s superb 1964 recording for Decca has glorious sound on both sides and plays reasonably quietly for any LP produced by this notoriously difficult label for audiophiles
  • There were only three performances with top quality audiophile sound, and our Wilkinson-engineered pressing here was right up there with the best we heard in our massive shootout
  • If you know anything about these works, you know that they have tons of top and bottom end, and it is the rare pressing that captures both
  • The texture and harmonic overtones of the strings are superb – as we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity Kempe and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra brought to these difficult and demanding works 50 plus years ago

This shootout has been at least thirty years in the making — that’s how long I have been picking up these RDG sets, ever since my friend Robert Pincus turned me on to them all those years ago.

Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand, close to a dozen different performances I  think, and found them all wanting, save three: the Reiner (which is still on the TAS List), this Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite, and a close second at that), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On The Pines both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton and Kenneth Wilkinson sure did.

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud — and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it — the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing.

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Mozart / Haydn – Symphony No. 35 / Symphony No. 104 / Krips

More of the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard these symphonic masterpieces sound as good as they do here
  • It’s also reasonably quiet at Mint Minus Minus considering that RDG vinyl is often a problem -It’s one of the main things that keeps some pressings from sounding their best, obviously not a problem here
  • This Readers Digest pressing of Krips’s superb 1964 recording for Decca has glorious sound for any LP produced by this notoriously difficult label (difficult for audiophiles, everybody else loved the fact that a whole set of amazing sounding records was less than twenty bucks!)
  • The texture and harmonic overtones of the strings are superb – as we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity Josef Krips and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra brought to these difficult and demanding works nearly 60 years ago

This vintage 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.

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Rachmaninoff / The Complete Piano Concertos – Wild / Horenstein

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

More TAS Super Disc Recordings

  • The vinyl is as quiet as we can find it – like most Shaded Dogs and Mercs, Mint Minus Minus is about the best you can hope for (and no marks are audible, which is always nice)
  • We have been readying this shootout for probably twenty years – we had 8 box sets, all in excellent condition, and this set represents some of the best sound we uncovered for these famous TAS List recordings
  • Wild’s playing of the Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini here is one of our favorites on vinyl
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • “Rachmaninoff’s music . . . changes as the composer goes along, moving from Romantic to a tentative Modernism in such works as the fourth piano concerto and the Symphonic Dances. In this sense, he walks a path similar to Puccini’s, incorporating new approaches to extend that [which was] already essentially his. Certainly, the works here show these changes, as the composer picks up more experience, both in writing and in hearing music.”

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Letter of the Week – “the violin now is more natural as you described.”

More of the Music of Harry Belafonte

More of the Music of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

  Hey Tom, 

I bought the harry Belafonte Carnegie Hall recently, a White Hot. I went to the On The Record site and came across the Offenbach Readers Digest discussion of reversed polarity. I had bought this record on your site a long time ago.

I listened to the record with the polarity reversed.

This is the first time I have heard this record sounding better.

Open, spacious and heard lots of macro and micro details, especially on side one, and the violin now is more natural as you described.

Btw, Do you have records with reversed polarity ready to hit the site? Please let me know.

Very interesting!

Hi,

Thanks for your letter. Glad I was able to help you get that Offenbach record to sound the way it should. It is a knockout performance with audio quality to match.

Funny how you rarely see much discussion of records with reversed polarity.

Do most audiophiles have polarity switches on their preamps or phono stages?

Can they be bothered to go back and forth enough times to make sure they have the correct polarity setting for the records they play?

Do they listen critically enough to hear any of the changes we describe when the polarity is right or wrong?

All good questions,. none of which we are able to answer. Sometimes our own customers don’t get around to switching the polarity of records that are reversed until many months later. Some of them may not ever switch polarity at all.

We discuss a number of records with well known (well known to us anyway) polarity issues here.

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A Simple Test for Polarity – Listen to the Solo Violin

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

More of the Music of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

Both sides are reversed.

On side two, the Chopin side, notice how vague the solo violin is with the polarity wrong.

As soon as it is switched, a solid, real, natural, palpable violin pops into view.

That’s how you know when your polarity is correct, folks!

This Heavy Vinyl pressing is also quite vague, but you can reverse your polarity until the cows come home, it ain’t gettin’ any better.

Here are some other Records that Are Good for Testing Vague Imaging


The top end of this record is clear, clean and correct. No other copy sounded like this one on the first side. When you hear all the percussion instruments — the tambourines, triangles, wood blocks and what-have-you — you know instantly that they sound RIGHT.

The overall sound is very different from many of the other recordings of the work that we have offered in the past. Rather than smooth, rich and sweet, the sound here is big and bold and clear like nothing we have ever played.

This is Front Row Center sound for those whose systems can reproduce it.

And this is truly a top performance by Fistoulari and the Royal Philharmonic. I know of none better. For music and sound this is the one!

Sibelius – Symphony No. 2 / Barbarolli

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

  • An outstanding copy of the best Sibelius Second Symphony on vinyl we know of – solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • One listen to this famous Wilkinson recording and you’ll see why it’s one of the most lauded RDG titles in all of their illustrious canon
  • “The Second Symphony has retained an extraordinary popularity for its individualistic tonal language, dark wind coloring, muted string writing, simple folk-like themes, and distinctly “national” flavor that are all Sibelian to the core.”

A truly extraordinary recording mastered beautifully but pressed on vinyl that has never been known for its quiescence (if I can get by with that ten-cent word).

The strings are clear and textured, yet rich and full-bodied. The bottom is big and weighty. The horns are tubey and full-bodied and never screech through even the most difficult passages. (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol & Enesco, Smetana, et al.

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings with Demo Disc Sound

Credit must go to my good audiophile friend Robert Pincus for turning me on to the Readers Digest sets in general and this set in particular. Most of it is no better than decent, but the best records in the set are superb, as you can read in our older review below.


A SUPERB White Hot side one coupled with a better than Super Hot (A++ to A+++) side two, back to back on one disc, is a surprise indeed.This is only the second time a disc from a Reader’s Digest box set has made it to the site, and we’re continuing with more exciting orchestral music — Capriccio Espagnol (side two) and the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 (side one) are the two longest pieces on record 8 of the set, and both of them are knockouts on this pressing.

This is truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND! Records do not get much more spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. Kenneth Wilkinson was the man behind the board for many of these RDG recordings, this very one in fact, and as you will hear, he was pretty much in a league of his own as a recording engineer in the early days of stereo. This record should provide you with all the proof you need.

Play it up against the best of the RCAs, Londons and Mercs from the period and you will see what I mean. And of course it will completely DESTROY any pressing you may have on Heavy Vinyl, from any label, at any playback speed, of any music. (more…)

Beethoven / Symphony Nos. 4 & 5 / Leibowitz

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

This single disc, taken from the 7 LP Readers Digest Box Set, contains THE BEST sounding recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony we have ever played at Better Records. And that makes it something very special indeed, with nothing short of White Hot sonics and a top performance by Rene Leibowitz conducting the Royal Philharmonic.

Produced by Charles Gerhardt and engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson, to my mind this has always been one of the finest groups of recordings of the complete symphonies of Beethoven , held back only by the usual pressing variations (and the RDG ’60s vinyl). Until we amassed a pile of these sets and got them sparkling clean we had no idea that the recordings could sound this good, good enough in fact to beat all comers — from every major label and then some — in our shootout!

You may have noticed that Beethoven’s symphonies rarely make it to the site. There’s a reason for this: most of the recordings of them don’t sound very good. We are happy to report that, at least when it comes to the Fourth and Fifth, that problem has been solved.

Side Two – Symphony No. 5

A+++. The hall here is HUGE; your speakers will simply disappear. The sound is rich, Tubey Magical and clear, all at the same time. (It’s not quite as clear as the Solti on CS 6092 we will be listing but in every other way it’s better than that record.)

The string texture reminds me of the finest Living Stereos I have heard. The overall sound is as dynamic and exciting as one could hope for, yet Leibowitz manages to make it more lyrical and flowing as well. I know of none better.

One other copy, competitive in most ways with this one, was somewhat more lush and tubey. We felt in the end that the sound on this pressing was actually more correct and lifelike. We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use. It’s precisely this kind of big, clear sound that makes audiophiles prize Decca-London (and RDG!) recordings above those of virtually any other label, and here, unlike in so many areas of audio, we are fully in agreement with our fellow record lovers. (more…)

Stravinsky / Petrushka – Superb on Readers Digest Vinyl

  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two, this is a Petrushka that is guaranteed to blow your mind (just as it blew ours)
  • As good as the famous Dorati recording for Mercury may be – assuming you have one that sounds as good as the best copies can – we still this Readers Digest pressing to be superior in all the most important ways, as well as being the Mercury equal in performance
  • One listen to this famous Kenneth Wilkinson Decca tree recording with the Royal Philharmonic and you’ll see why we could find no competition for it
  • The biggest problem with these wonderful recordings is the vinyl – no copy played better than Mint Minus Minus to EX++

What a recording! So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression. Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard, especially on side one.

A truly extraordinary recording mastered beautifully but pressed on vinyl that has never been known for its quality.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a work of Stravinsky’s. They’re clear and textured, yet rich and full-bodied. The bottom is big and weighty. The horns are tubey and full and never screechy, even in the most difficult passages.

About as close to live music as I think this piece can sound in my listening room.

Most recordings we played were profoundly unnatural, lacking transparency and the relaxed sense of involvement that tricks you into thinking “you are there.” (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol & Le Coq D’Or / Danon

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Reviews and Commentaries for the music of Rimsky-Korsakov

 

  • White Hot Stamper sound for Capriccio Espagnol, with a tremendously exciting performance
  • Big stage, great ENERGY, lots of hall ambience and solid orchestral weight – hard to fault!
  • Orchestral music doesn’t get much more EXCITING or COLORFUL than Capriccio Espagnol
  • If you like Reiner’s Scheherazade – and who doesn’t? – you are sure to be knocked out by this recording

For your listening pleasure, we proudly offer our music loving fans a SUPERB sounding White Hot Capriccio Espagnol, performed with passion and precision by the Royal Philharmonic under the direction of Oscar Danon. This is only the second disc from a Reader’s Digest box set to make it to the site, but what a disc it is — orchestral music doesn’t get much more EXCITING or COLORFUL than Capriccio Espagnol. It’s truly a knockout on this pressing: White Hot Stamper As Good As It Gets sound.

This is what we mean by DEMO DISC sound. Records do not get much more spacious, open, transparent, rich or sweet. Kenneth Wilkinson was the man behind the board for many of these RDG recordings, this very one in fact, and as you will hear, he was pretty much in a league of his own as a engineer in the early days of stereo. This record is proof positive of his uncanny recording skills. 

Play it against the best of the RCAs, Londons and Mercs from the period and you will see what I mean. And of course it will completely DESTROY any pressing you may have on Heavy Vinyl, from any label, at any playback speed, of any music. (more…)