Masterpieces of Orchestral Music

Living Stereo Tubey Magical Sound from 1958

This copy is WHITE HOT!

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As much as I like Fjeldstad’s Peer Gynt on Decca/London with the LSO, I have to say that Odd Gruner-Hegge (love that first name!) and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra turn in the better of the two performances. To these ears theirs is more lyrical; it flows more naturally both within and between the individual movements.

Joy

The Oslo Phil also gives me more of a sense that they are feeling the joy in the playing of these works; I do not get quite the same feeling from the LSO. As we worked our way through more and more Living Stereo copies, the Oslo Phil.’s enthusiasm and love for the music became recognizably stronger, and, as one would expect, more agreeable and involving.

Our preference for this performance is of course a matter of taste; we cannot be sure you will feel the same. No doubt you have a version of the Fjeldstad on hand for comparison purposes, perhaps the Speakers Corner pressing (which we used to like quite a bit), but any will do. I expect that playing a handful of select movements from the two performances back to back will show this one to be superior. (more…)

What to Listen for on EMI’s Wonderful Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 with Previn

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That’s an easy one: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label to the extent that they did back in the day. I chalk it up, as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles make about the sound of records, my own included (we do have a We Was Wrong section right on the site, the only one of its kind to my knowledge), to limited equipment, bad rooms and poor record cleaning.

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I had an Audio Research D-75a and later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems of today.

Working in impossibly complicated and unpredictable combination, today’s modern systems, painstakingly set-up through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like.

These are what make it possible for us to do our job. You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like on your system and in your room; the cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.
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VTA – A Few Moments of Experimentation Can Really Pay Off

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically adjust your VTA.

Experimenting with the VTA for this record we found a precise point where it all came together, far beyond whatever expectations we might have had at the time, which revealed a violin floating between the speakers, an effect that as audiophiles we appreciate for the magic trick that it is.

The sound of the wood of the instrument became so clear, the harmonic textures so natural, it was quite a shock to hear a good record somehow become an amazing one. All it took was a few moments of experimentation.

With the right VTA setting we immediately heard more harmonic detail, with no sacrifice in richness. That’s the clearest sign that your setup is right, or very close to it.
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Bernard Herrmann / Citizen Kane & Other Classic Film Scores – Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018

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  • Amazing Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side 0for the Citizen Kane Suite!) and Double Plus (A++) on the second; one of the best copies to hit the site in many years
  • The brass is huge on Citizen Kane, with accurate timbre – side two offers rich strings and a powerful, weighty piano for the Concerto Macabre
  • By far the single best Bernard Herrmann disc we know of – A Must Own for any serious audiophile
  • After playing records for 50+ years this is still some of the most emotionally moving music I’ve ever heard

See all of our Bernard Herrmann albums in stock

Presenting two insanely good sides back to back on this domestic RCA pressing. Both sides have tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity. This is the very definition of DEMO DISC sound.

The Citizen Kane Suite on this album is to die for — BIG, BOLD, DYNAMIC sound like few records you own. It’s real desert island disc for me. (The CD by the way is actually quite good. I have it in the car and play it often.)

The Concerto Macabre for Piano and Orchestra (from “Hangover Square”) is superbly well recorded and a brilliant piece of music as well.

Taxing the Limits

An orchestral dreadnought such as this requires mastering and pressing of the highest quality. The music by its very nature taxes the limits of LP playback itself, with deep bass notes; incredible dynamics from every area of the stage; masses of strings playing at the top of their registers with abandon; huge drums; powerful brass effects — every sound an orchestra can produce is found on this record, and then some.

You will hear plenty of sounds that defy description, that’s for sure. Some of the time I can hardly imagine what instrument or group of instruments could possibly be making some of these sounds. (more…)

The Said and the Unsaid – Stravinsky’s Firebird on Mercury

More of the music of

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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Another entry in our Thinking About Hot Stampers series.

For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that just too noisy to sell.)

We had one FR pressing and two of the later pressings with the lighter label, the ones that most often come with Philips M2 stampers.
This is how we described the winner:

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.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.

strong>What we didn’t say — and what we never say in the listings — is what the second tier copies didn’t do as well as the shootout winner. (more…)

A Planets for the Ages

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Beyond White Hot

  • After a lengthy shootout hiatus we proudly present the best side two of this album to hit the site since 2013
  • Out Of This World sound on side two, where it earned a Four Plus sonic grade for its MINDBLOWING orchestral power
  • Side one earned a seriously good grade of Double Plus (A++) – it’s rich, clear and dynamic, with weighty brass
  • A TAS List Super Disc, with a performance by Previn and the LSO that’s as spectacular as the sound
  • This copy has some condition issues – those of you looking for a quiet copy will have to wait for the next shootout in 2018 or thereabouts

This copy has a side two that is so off the charts we ended up giving it Four Pluses. A Four Plus copy has to meet a standard higher than our regular top grade, and we define that standard as “better than we ever imagined any copy could ever sound.” (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Scheherazade / Ansermet / Suisse Romande

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I attended this Dec. 2013 concert; it was a thrill like no other. (Well, maybe The Planets.)

“Guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos’s attention to detail delivers the razzle dazzle and also discovers renewed radiance in ‘Scheherazade.'”

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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 shown 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 a year 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 any 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.

Both Sides

Superb! Big brass, so full-bodied and dynamic, yet clear and not thick or overly tubey. Lots of space as is usually the case with Ansermet’s recordings from this era.

Both sides here are BIG, with the space and depth of the wonderful Victoria Hall that the L’Orchestre De La Suisse Romande perform in. As a rule, the classic ’50s and ’60s recordings of Ansermet and the Suisse Romande are as big and rich as any you’ve heard. On the finest pressings (known around these parts as Hot Stampers) they seem to be the ideal blend of clarity and richness, with depth and spaciousness that will put to shame 98% of the classical recordings ever made.

The solo violin is present and so real you will have a hard time believing it.

This copy is huge in every dimension, just as all the best ones always are, with maximum amounts of height, width, and depth. The transparency is also superb — you really hear into this one in the way that only the best Golden Age recordings allow.

Side Two Coupling Work

Borodin: Prince Igor – Polovtsian Dances

The Borodin is amazing on this pressing’s side two!

Huge scope — depth and width like you will not believe, perfect for this music. The voices in the chorus are clearly separated out and so big and rich! Open and sweet in the best Golden Age tradition, as well as smooth and natural, like live music should be.

Awful Shaded Dogs

The somewhat shocking news is just how awful most Shaded Dog copies of LSC 2446 are. Even the ones with the “right” stampers are often far from what they should be. It is my heretical opinion that only one or two out of ten copies of the RCA vinyl will beat the Living Stereo CD, and no reissue of any kind can touch it. The CD sounds right. Most vinyl pressings do not.

As is so often the case, hearing the phenomenally good pressings is what truly makes all the time and effort we put into the shootout worthwhile.

Ansermet’s performance with the Suisse Romande here may not have the uncanny precision of Reiner’s with the CSO, but he does manage to bring out most of the more lyrical elements that seem to hold less interest for Reiner.

The key element is the brass — it must have tremendous weight and power, otherwise the proceedings become thin and lose their energy. Consequently, the copies without good weight to the brass and richness in the lower strings fared poorly in our shootout.

Lessons Learned, 2015

There are certain stampers that seem to have a consistently brighter-than-it-should-be top end. They are tolerable most of the time, but the real magic can only be found on the copies that have a correct or even slightly duller top. Live classical music is never “bright” the way recordings of it so often are.

It’s rarely “rich” and “romantic” the way many vintage recordings are — even those we rave about — but that’s another story for another day.

See more of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov in stock

 

The Best Bolero on Vinyl

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More Recordings Made in Victoria Hall

Including this amazing Bolero, the best copy we’ve ever heard!

  • Both sides here earned our highest grade of Triple Plus, making this the best copy to ever hit the site
  • Full, rich, spacious, BIG and present, with energetic performances the likes of which you may have never heard
  • Side one has outstanding depth – the snare drum sounds like it’s located at least fifty feet behind the speakers
  • One of the best Ansermet recordings with the Suisse Romande from Victoria Hall – best performances too

Side two sounded so much better than any copy I have ever heard that I was sorely tempted to give it our coveted Four Plus grade, for the kind of sound that breaks all the rules. Cooler heads have since prevailed, but that doesn’t detract in the least from side two of this remarkable pressing, which has by far the best sound for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice I have yet to hear.

We are rarely able to find a quality recording or performance of Bolero or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, so this pressing comes as a welcome addition to the classical offerings on the site. (more…)

Comparing Witches’ Brew on RCA with Danse Macabre on Decca

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The Decca reissue above just happens to have the material found on one of the most famous and sought-after Shaded Dog pressings in the world, Witches’ Brew (shown below), along with another track added, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice conducted by Ansermet. (As a budget reissue they felt they needed to give you more music in order to get you to buy performances that were no longer current.)

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The Decca pressing is tonally much more natural from top to bottom. I used to think that it was the best way to hear the music on Witches’ Brew. Like so much of what happens in the world of records, it is and it isn’t.

Huh?, you say. Okay, here is what I mean. We played a handful of Witches’ Brews over the last year or two, and most of them left a lot to be desired. More than that — most of them were just plain awful. One, and only one, lived up to the hype that surrounds the record. It was so big and so powerful that I would have had no trouble ranking it with the five best sounding classical recordings I’ve ever heard. It was a real WOW moment when the needle hit the groove on that one.
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Behind the Scenes of One of My Favorite Recordings – Citizen Kane

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An orchestral dreadnought such as this requires mastering and pressing of the highest quality. The music by its very nature taxes the limits of LP playback itself, with deep bass notes; incredible dynamics from every area of the stage; masses of strings playing at the top of their registers with abandon; huge drums; powerful brass effects — every sound an orchestra can produce is found on this record, and then some.

You will hear plenty of sounds that defy description, that’s for sure. Some of the time I can’t even imagine what instrument could possibly make such a sound!

See more of the music of Bernard Herrmann in stock