Top Artists – Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein – Conducts Symphonic Dances…

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Conducts Symphonic Dances…

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides of this vintage Columbia pressing – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The best copies are out of this world, reproducing some of the most dynamic, exciting, richest, and most spacious sound we have ever heard from the man’s records
  • The music is wonderful of course, with the Suites giving you all the best parts of his marvelous compositions with none of the filler
  • Vibrant orchestrations, high quality sound and fairly quiet surfaces combine for an immersive and engrossing listening experience

One of the great Columbia recordings. I suspected it might have been done at the legendary 30th St studios in New York but I was wrong, Manhattan Center’s huge stage served as the venue. Either way the sound is no less glorious.

The big advantage this copy had over most is the fullness of the brass. The shrill sound of the brass on most Columbia albums is what gets them tossed in the trade pile. Fortunately the sound here is rich and clean, with solid deep bass. The stage is huge, with the multi-miking kept to a minimum so that you can really hear the space.

Vintage Analog

This vintage Columbia pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even 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 same room, this is the record for you. It’s what Vintage Records are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

The Genius of Leonard Bernstein (and the Columbia Engineers)

What both sides of this pressing have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the club

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we describe above, and for that you will need to take this copy of the record home and throw it on your table.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

What We’re Listening For on this wonderful 1961 release

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Hi-Fidelity

What do we love about these vintage pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The unique sound of every instrument is reproduced with remarkable fidelity. That’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange.

This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this record up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”

Side Two

Symphonic Suite from the Film “On The Waterfront”

Wikipedia

Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim. According to The New York Times, he was “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history.”

His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world’s leading orchestras, and from his music for West Side Story, as well as Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town and his own Mass.

Bernstein was also the first conductor to give numerous television lectures on classical music, starting in 1954 and continuing until his death. In addition, he was a skilled pianist, often conducting piano concertos from the keyboard.

As a composer he wrote in many styles encompassing symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and pieces for the piano. Many of his works are regularly performed around the world, although none has matched the tremendous popular and commercial success of West Side Story.

On the Waterfront

When he was asked to compose the score for On the Waterfront in 1954, Leonard Bernstein was 35 and already a major celebrity, but otherwise an unlikely candidate for the job. He had never written a movie score, and was not enthusiastic about doing it. In his 1959 book The Joy of Music [highly recommended by the way] (in a chapter whimsically titled “Interlude: Upper Dubbing, California”) Bernstein wrote:

When I was first shown a rough cut of the picture I thought it a masterpiece of direction; and Marlon Brando seemed to me to be giving the greatest performance I had ever seen him give, which is saying a good deal. I was swept by my enthusiasm into accepting the commission to write the score, although I had [until then] resisted all such offers on the grounds that it is a musically unsatisfactory experience for a composer to write a score whose chief merit ought to be its unobtrusiveness.”

Bernstein contributed compelling, distinctive music that gave the film much of its intensity, and received one of On the Waterfront’s12 Academy Award nominations (he didn’t win). Still, being a novice, he was shocked at the way his music was chopped up to serve the film: entire scenes were cut, music was turned abruptly on and off, and a piece “planned as a composition, with a beginning, middle and end, would be silenced seven bars before the end.” Kazan used music sparingly (typically when there wasn’t much dialogue), and only 35 minutes of Bernstein’s music made it into the 107-minute film. Wrote Bernstein:

And so the composer sits by, protesting as he can, but ultimately accepting, be it with heavy heart, the inevitable loss of a good part of his score. Everyone tries to comfort him. ‘You can always use it in a suite.’ Cold comfort. It is for the good of the picture, he repeats numbly to himself.

The Symphonic Suite in which he used it is in five connected sections. The slow first section is the prelude to the movie, accompanying the very stark-looking credits that begin the film. The succeeding Presto barbaro, ushered in by percussion (as it is at the start of the film’s action) contains music that accompanies the frequent violence in the film. A central Andante largamente is based on the love-interest music. The fourth and fifth sections are from the final scenes, in which the hero fights with the mobsters and then staggers, bloody and bruised, to lead the dock workers (physically) into the warehouse and (symbolically) out of the domination of the gangsters.

LA Phil

The Music of Leonard Bernstein – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2012

More of the music of Leonard Bernstein 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

This London Phase 4 British import has some of the most SPECTACULAR sound I have ever heard reproduced from disc. The sound is so BIG and BOLD that it handily puts to shame 95% or more of all the Golden Age Shaded Dogs, London Bluebacks, Mercury Living Presence’s, EMI’s and Decca’s we’ve ever played. If we had a Classical Top 100 list, this record would belong in a Top Ten taken from it, right near the top judging by what I heard when I played it.

Side two here is BEYOND White Hot, earning a sonic grade of A++++! I don’t know that any other copy has earned such a high grade for side two but this one sure did. It blew our minds. (more…)

Gershwin / An American In Paris & Rhapsody In Blue

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More An American In Paris & Rhapsody In Blue

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

I’ve always loved these performances, but the shrill Columbia sound has been hard to get past. So many copies suffer from upper-midrangy, glary, hard sound and blary brass. I’ve come to accept that this is nothing more nor less than the “Columbia Sound,” and as a consequence I rarely put much effort into surveying their prodigious catalog these days. (more…)

Leonard Bernstein – West Side Story (Broadway Cast Recording)

More of the music of Leonard Bernstein 

More West Side Story 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

SUPERB sound can be found on these two Columbia stereo pressings of the Broadway Cast recording. This is a huge, spacious, natural, exciting All-Tube Golden Age recording that impressed us no end here at Better Records.

We heard an amazing sounding copy many years ago, and the only reason we haven’t done the shootout since then is that we just couldn’t find enough clean copies with which to do it. To be clear, we’re not talking quiet vinyl, we’re talking about not beat-to-death, not all-scractched-up vinyl. People loved this music and they played the hell out of it.

Imagine our surprise when the good sound of these copies turned out to not only have superb sound, but exceptionally quiet Mint Minus vinyl too! Don’t expect to see another of this quality any time soon. If we can’t find them, who can? (more…)

Leonard Bernstein – West Side Story Soundtrack

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West Side Story Soundtrack

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

What separated the best pressings from the rest of the pack turned out to be more than just rich, sweet, full-bodied sound. The better pressings make the various singers sound dramatically more solid, three-dimensional and real. You can hear the nuances of their deliveries much more clearly on a copy that sounds as good as this!

Tubey Magic to Die For

This early ’60s LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (more…)

Chabrier / Espana & more / Bernstein – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894) 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

The Chabrier side of this 360 label record has SUPER HOT STAMPER sound, which is positively SHOCKING for a Columbia recording. Dry, shrill and lean, most Columbia pressings don’t last ten seconds on our turntable these days — but this one sure did! Played it all the way through as a matter of fact. (We love Espana. Who doesn’t?)

Is it as rich and tubey magical as the best Londons, RCAs and Vanguards from the Golden Age? No, not really — that would be a bit much to expect. It does have some of that sound, and that alone is remarkable considering how few Columbia pressings have any at all. (more…)

Grofe / Grand Canyon Suite / Bernstein

More of the music of Leonard Bernstein

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This Minty Columbia Grey label Stereo LP is one of the most amazing copies ever! You will be hard pressed to find a better sounding Grand Canyon suite. Bernstein’s Columbia recordings usually leave much to be desired. This is a notable exception. The normal Columbia shrillness is gone, replaced by sweet and liquid sound. I wish more of his records sounded like this one: I’d be picking them up left and right.

Berlioz / Symphonie Fantastique / Bernstein – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Hector Berlioz 

More of the music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

And this one comes complete with the bonus 7″ entitled “Berlioz Takes a Trip” in which Bernstein explores the work “with musical illustrations by the New York Philharmonic”.

This work is difficult to fit onto a single LP, clocking in at around 45 minutes, which means that the mastering engineer has three options when cutting the record: compress the dynamics, lower the level, or filter the deep bass. On this side two it seems that none of those approaches were taken by the engineer who cut this record in the early ’80s — there’s plenty of bass, as well as powerful dynamics, and the levels seem fine. How he do it? Beats me. Glad he did though!

Side one is bass shy, however. Did the engineer filter out the lower frequencies, or is it just a case of pressing variation being the culprit. Who can say? If we had many more copies with these same stampers for side one, all with less bass, we might be able to draw a conclusion about that, one that is highly probable but of course not provable. The very next copy we might find with those stampers could have plenty of bass. Then we would be forced to say that our highly probable theory had been falsified conclusively. So much for theories.

Which is one of the main reasons we avoid them. We play the records to find out how they sound, we don’t feel the need to theorize about them much. We think the audiophile community would be better served by more critical listening and less theorizing and opining. (more…)

Leonard Bernstein – West Side Story (Soundtrack)

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More West Side Story (Soundtrack)

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  • Outstanding sound throughout for this Columbia 2-pack* with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++)
  • The overall sound here is incredibly big, rich, smooth and tonally right on the money (for once!)
  • The biggest selling album of the ’60s – 54 weeks at Number One (!)
  • “The soundtrack of the West Side Story film is deservedly one of the most popular soundtrack recordings of all time, and one of the relatively few to have attained long-term popularity beyond a specialized soundtrack/theatrical musical audience.” – AMG, 5 Stars

Our 2-pack sets combine two copies of the same album, with at least a Super Hot Stamper sonic grade on the better of each “good” side, which simply means you have before you a pair of records that offers superb sound for the entire album.

NOTE: We have mated an original Six-Eye pressing with a ’70s reissue pressing to give you two amazing Triple Plus (A+++) sides that play with no marks, a tall order for this title! See below for more on our 2-packs. (more…)

Here Are the Hot Stampers for THE All Time Sleeper Recording of Bernstein’s Music

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Looking to pick up a Hot Stamper locally on your own? Easy — all the best Decca and London copies (UK pressed only of course) are 1L on both sides. I suppose it’s only fair to point out that all the worst copies are 1L on both sides, the reason being that all the copies are 1L on both sides, regardless of how they sound. And here you thought we were actually trying to be helpful.

But we are being helpful. We’re being honest with you. Stamper numbers are often misleading. They’re misleading in the same way that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The numbers only tell a part of the story, and more often than not they tell the wrong part of the story. No matter how much audiophiles and record collectors want them to, the numbers simply cannot tell you whether the record you have before you, the one with the “right” stampers, is actually a good pressing. Only cleaning it and putting it in a shootout with other copies can do that. (more…)