Personal Favorites – Classical and Orchestral

Tchaikovsky – Capriccio Italien / Ormandy

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

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

  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief will require practically no effort at all
  • “Tchaikovsky possessed a remarkable talent for instrumentation, instinctively scoring his works to obtain a maximum variety of color and the widest possible range of tonal effects. His “Capriccio Italien”, vibrant with the raw colors of its Italian song and dance rhythms, is one of his most popular works and shows the composer’s complete mastery of orchestration.”
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this is a Columbia from 1966 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1966 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

We’ve had copies of the album in the past, but they sure never sounded like this! From both an audiophile and music lover’s perspective, you would have a hard time finding a record that holds this much appeal to both groups.

The orchestra is big and rich, and there is lovely sheen to the strings. The piano is surrounded by plenty of space, with great depth to the hall. The weight and bite of the brass are near perfection. The top is extended and open. And the loud passages are big and stay smooth, with very little congestion even at the climax of the work. So LIFELIKE this way. (more…)

Philippe Entremont – Ritual Fire Dance

More Columbia Classical Recordings

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

  • Philippe Entremont’s delightful 1967 release returns with superb sound on both sides
  • It’s solid and weighty like no other, with less smear, situated in the biggest space, with the most energetic performances
  • These sides are big, full-bodied, clean and clear, with a wonderfully present piano and plenty of 3-D space around it
  • 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
  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief requires practically no effort at all

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Finlandia – The Music of Sibelius and Grieg / Mackerras

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

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

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Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • Both sides are big, rich, transparent, spacious and dynamic – no Heavy Vinyl pressing can do what this record is doing
  • Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago
  • These spectacular works are played with feeling – we know of no better performance or better sound

Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1959 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original won’t sound as good, having been cut on cruder equipment.

And two, no modern recutting of the tapes (by the likes of Speakers Corner for example, but you can substitute any company you fancy) could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic orchestral sound. (more…)

Liszt / Enesco – Hungarian Rhapsodies / Roumanian Rhapsodies / Dorati

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

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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More of Our Favorite Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

  • This wonderful collection of rhapsodies finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides
  • One of the best of the Mercury Living Presence Titles – the orchestra is big, rich and tubey, yet the dynamics and transparency are first rate
  • Beautifully performed by the London Symphony Orchestra (our favorite performances of these works in fact), under the direction of Antal Dorati
  • Other versions — the Oscar Danon we like on RDG, for example — may be faster, but Dorati and the LSO bring an energy and spirit to these pieces that we feel is unequaled on vintage vinyl
  • “The playing is flawless… if you like and/or appreciate the music of these composers, your life would be remiss not having heard these performances.”

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Bizet – Saint-Saens – Carmen Fantaisie / Introduction And Rondo Capriccioso / Ricci / Gamba

NEWSFLASH:

We sold this copy last night (10/10), immediately after one had sold in an auction on ebay for $787, a price almost two hundred dollars more than what we were asking. Note that our copy was cleaned and auditioned and found to be both phenomenally good sounding and reasonably quiet. None of these things could be said of the record on ebay of course, but apparently the word is out that this is an amazing recording and the bidding reflected that fact. I have never seen one go for anything like this kind of dough. Now that they do — there were four bidders about $550 — you should not expect to see a Hot Stamper pressing of the album show up on our site again unless we get very lucky locally, and that is highly unlikely. Here is the link to the auction, which will only be up for about 2 weeks.

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

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  • Unbelievable Shootout Winning Demo Disc quality sound throughout — Triple Plus (A+++) on both sides and vinyl that is as quiet as any that can be found from this era
  • This is a spectacular recording, and one of the Greatest Violin Showpiece Albums of All Time
  • It is certainly a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection. If you’re on our site and taking the time to read this, that probably means you.
  • Ruggiero Ricci is superb throughout – we know of no better performances of this works than those found on this very record
  • 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

Ricci’s playing of the Bizet-Sarasate Carmen Fantasie is OUT OF THIS WORLD. There is no greater performance on record in my opinion, and few works that have as much Audiophile Appeal. (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Scheherazade / Ansermet / Suisse Romande

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the music of Rimsky-Korsakov

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  • This outstanding pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides
  • These copies will go head to head with the hottest Reiner pressing and are guaranteed to blow the doors off of it
  • The top end is natural and sweet – THIS is the way the solo violin in the left channel is supposed to sound
  • Extraordinary Demo Disc sound – the brass has weight and power on that powerful first movement like nothing you’ve ever heard in your life outside of live performance
  • Finding the best sounding pressings of this exceptional recording was a turning point for us – here was sound we had never experienced for the work, and what a THRILL it was

We did a monster shootout for this music in 2014, one we had been planning for more than two years. On hand were quite a few copies of the Reiner on RCA; the Ansermet on London (CS 6212, his second stereo recording, from 1961, not the earlier and noticeably poorer sounding recording from in 1959); the Ormandy on Columbia, and a few others we felt had potential.

The only recordings that held up all the way through — the fourth movement being THE Ball Breaker of all time, for both the engineers and musicians — were those by Reiner and Ansermet. This was disappointing considering how much time and money we spent finding, cleaning and playing those ten or so other pressings.

Here it is seven years later and we’re capitalizing on what we learned from the first big go around, which is simply this: the Ansermet recording on Decca/London can not only hold its own with the Reiner on RCA, but beat it in virtually every area. The presentation and the sound itself are both more relaxed and natural, even when compared to the best RCA pressings.

The emotional content of the first three movements (all of side one) under Ansermet’s direction are clearly superior. The roller-coaster excitement Reiner and the CSO bring to the fourth movement cannot be faulted, or equaled. In every other way, Ansermet’s performance is the one for me. We did a monster shootout for this music in 2014, one we had been planning for more than two years. On hand were quite a few copies of the Reiner on RCA; the Ansermet on London (CS 6212, his second stereo recording, from 1961, not the earlier and noticeably poorer sounding recording from in 1959); the Ormandy on Columbia, and a few others we felt had potential. (more…)

Does Anybody (Other than Us) Ever Talk About the Dry String Tone of Some London Pressings?

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Not that we know of. If audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them are listening critically to these famous recordings on high quality equipment, why do they never talk about this problem?

Here is what we noticed when we played a big batch of Nutcracker recordings on London and Decca:

On some copies of this album the strings are dry, lacking in that wonderful quality we like to call Tubey Magic. Dry is decidedly not our sound, although it can often be heard on the hundreds of London pressings we’ve played over the years.

And we imagined that this might be the culprit:

If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange, the one that so many moving coils have these days, you may not notice this tonality issue nearly as often as we do.

Our Dynavector 17Dx Karat is ruler flat and quite tonally unforgiving in this regard. It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.

We discussed the issue in a commentary entitled Hi-Fi Beats My-Fi If You Are At All Serious about Audio.

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.

Can we really be hearing all these things that nobody else seems to be hearing? Things like:

Not to mention the fact that we have played a lot of these kinds of records:

If audiophiles and audiophile reviewers are hearing these things on the records they review, in magazines and audiophile forums, why aren’t they discussing them?

Case in Point

We occasionally take the time to create a little “test” to see if audiophiles — customers or just visitors to the blog, makes no difference to us — can hear a specific quality we’d noticed when auditioning a record. Normally this would be a quality that jumped out at us when playing the record, and we were just curious as to whether it jumped out at anybody else.

On this version of Sweet Baby James we heard something that took us by surprise, an artifact we subsequently dubbed an “EQ Anomaly.” We put the question of what this anomaly might be to our readers and waited for someone to spot it. And here is what we got in return. (more…)

Ravel / Honnegger / Dukas – Works by Ravel, Honegger and Dukas / Ansermet

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

More Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

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  • An outstanding copy of this superb release with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – here you will find some of the best orchestral Hot Stamper sound we offer
  • With so many quiet passages, records that play better than Mint Minus Minus are tough to come by in this world – this one is exceptional indeed
  • The sound of the orchestra is dramatically richer and sweeter than you will hear on most pressings — what else would you expect from Decca’s engineers and the Suisse Romande?

The sound is clear, with wonderful depth to the stage. As a rule, the classic ’50s and ’60s recordings of Ansermet and the Suisse Romande in Victoria Hall are as big and rich as any you may have ever heard. These recordings may just be the ideal blend of clarity and richness, with depth and spaciousness that will put to shame 98% of the classical recordings ever made. (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird – Dorati

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Firebird

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  • One listen to either side of this pressing and you’ll see why this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time
  • The Heavy Vinyl reissues – at 45 or 33, on one disc or four, makes no difference – barely begin to capture the energy and drive Dorati brings to the work
  • “The magic lies in the elaborate orchestration and the excitingly uneven rhythmic writing. Stravinsky changes the orchestration of his themes at each repetition, breaks them down into their constituent parts, pushes their accents across the bar-line, and moves them out of sync with their own accompaniments.”

Neither side has peak distortion or Inner Groove Distortion of any kind, which is rare for this exceptionally dynamic title in our experience.

Both sides are so clear, ALIVE, and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

This pressing boasts rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. 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. (more…)

Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture / Marche Slave and More / Alwyn

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

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – this Decca recording of the 1812 from 1958 is the only one we know of that can show you the power of Live Music for this important work
  • This UK pressing is BIG, lively, clear, open and resolving of musical information like no copy of the 1812 you’ve heard
  • The two coupling pieces, Marche Slave and the Capriccio Italien, also have rich, powerful, weighty brass and lower strings
  • The most exciting and beautifully played 1812 we know of – we encourage you to compare this to the best orchestral recording in your collection and let the chips fall where they may

There is some noticeable low frequency rumble under the quietest passages of the music for those of you with the big woofers to hear it!

The lower strings are rich and surrounded by lovely hall space. This is not a sound one hears on record often enough and it is glorious when a pressing as good as this one can help make that sound clear to you.

The string sections from top to bottom are shockingly rich and sweet — this pressing is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago.

The 1958 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer. (more…)