Top Engineers – Robert Fine

Respighi – The Birds / Brazilian Impressions / Dorati

More of the music of Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage TAS-approved Maroon Label Mercury pressing boasts superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • This copy is everything that a good Mercury should be: dynamic, open, immediate, exciting, and of course, with Dorati and the LSO, beautifully performed
  • Both “The Birds” and “Brazilian Impressions” are wonderful sounding – we guarantee you’ve never heard a better copy of both works
  • This is yet another amazingly good sounding Mercury recording engineered by Robert Fine and produced by Wilma Cozart

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Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite & Scythian Suite – Dorati

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound is found throughout this original (but not FR-1, those didn’t do as well!) Mercury LP
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • We have a preference for Dorati’s work with the London Symphony Orchestra, and a record like this will show you exactly why we do
  • If you’re a fan of 20th century orchestral showpieces such as these, Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart have here produced a very special record of two of the best
  • We hope you like your sound big and bold, because that is the sound they were obviously going for
  • I have to admit I was never a fan of this album until only a few years ago, when I finally got my hands on a clean copy and heard the powerful sound of the London Symphony come blasting out of my speakers – what a thrill!
  • This record seems to have been dropped from the TAS Super Disc list, which is only fitting since the current crop of nitwits has been watering it down with one crappy title after another since HP passed in 2014
  • If you’re a fan of Prokofiev’s music, this superb All Tube Recording from 1957 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

In the heyday of the ’90s, when these records were all the rage, this copy would have sold for as much as $1000 and maybe even more. And the copy that sold for that would have been very unlikely to sound as good as this one, if only for the fact that cleaning technologies have advanced so much over the last twenty years or so (and no, I do not mean ultrasonic cleaning. I mean scrubbing the right fluids and using the right machines to vacuum them off).

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When It Comes to Prokofiev, Classic Records Got One Thing Right

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

Sonic Grade: F 

The Classic has dreadful sound. Their entire Mercury series is a complete disaster.

No audiophile with good equipment and two working ears should have been fooled by the hype swirling around their Heavy Vinyl pressings, although plenty of audiophiles were. 

Bad equipment? Ears not working? Your guess is as good as mine. 

Classic Records is right about the performance, however. See for yourself:

“Whether you prefer the fabulous bass dynamics and savage paganism of the Scythian Suite, the colorful and captivating sound-portrait of the fairy tale Love for Three Oranges Suite, Dorati’s super-charged readings of these scores are unsurpassed. Acclaimed by critics and audiophiles alike as among the very best of the best Mercury’s, this dramatic and riveting combination of Prokofiev, Dorati and Mercury Living Presence is a sure winner.” – Classic Records  

What they are not telling you is that their mastering of the album was dreadful.

If you know the sound of Mercury’s records well, you know that the last thing you would want would be a pressing of SR 90006 that could be described by any of the following five words:

  1. Hard,
  2. Sour,
  3. Colored,
  4. Crude or 
  5. Airless.

But that is exactly what you get with the Classic Records pressing.

If you own the Classic, we can show you just how awful it is, right in your own home. Just buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings and you will hear all the things that your Classic is doing wrong. It does take two working ears and good equipment though, so if you have a top quality system, we have a top quality pressing for you to play on it.


FURTHER READING

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad. He cut some amazingly good records in the ’70s and ’80s but the by the ’90s we are not aware of any record he cut that would be worth owning.

Classic Records – Classical

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries 

Heavy Vinyl Disasters 

Where Cheap Turntables Fall Flat – The Music of Franz Liszt

More Classical and Orchestral Music

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge set-up. The Liszt recording you see pictured is a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as Liszt’s two piano concertos. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has paid for.

It has been my experience that cheap tables more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this.
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Liszt / Smetana / Mussorgsky – Les Préludes / The Moldau / Night On Bald Mountain / Dorati

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

More Recordings on Mercury

  • With seriously good sound on both sides, this copy will show you just how good the Mercury engineers were back in those days
  • Liszt’s Les Preludes on side two has the better sound here, and it is one of the best on record
  • Dorati breathes life into these concert hall favorites as only he can, and the Mercury engineers (Fine and Eberenz) capture the excitement on tape as only they can
  • We have a preference for Dorati’s recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra, and a record like this will show you exactly why we do
  • The exciting sound of Mercury lives on through the vintage disc they made all those years ago
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this LP from 1960 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Winds In Hi-Fi / Fennell – Another Top Mercury from the TAS List

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

More Recordings Conducted by Frederick Fennel

  • This famous TAS list LP finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • This pressing boasts superb sound on both sides – Mercury knows how to capture the bite of the brass
  • Fennell is a master of this sort of sweet and lyrical Wind Music
  • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the Mercury sound we love, and that is so hard to find

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs.

The credit must go to Fennel along with the brilliant engineering team at Mercury. I’ve been told that he was a stickler for making sure everyone was perfectly in tune and playing correctly within the ensemble. That’s exactly what you hear when you play a record like this — it’s practically sonic perfection.

Fennell made a number of band music recordings for Mercury. My favorite is British Band Classics Vol. 2, which was the first Mercury recording I ever heard. I went out and bought a copy of it immediately from my local Tower Records on Golden Import.

Years later when I heard the real thing, and original pressing, I realized the Golden Import was a pretty second rate reissue, fine for the $4.99 I might have paid but a big step down from the early pressings.

Also, if you ever see a clean copy of Vol. 1, only available in Mono, pick it up. If it’s cut right it too is out of this world. (more…)

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

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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Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker Ballet / Dorati / LSO

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

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Nutcracker Available Now

  • The Hot Stamper return of this stunning rendition of The Nutcracker, with a Triple Plus (A+++) side three and nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on sides one and four – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • If you love the excitement Dorati brings to warhorses such as this, coupled with the equally exciting sound that Mercury achieved under Robert Fine, you will have a hard time finding a better combination of the two than this very record
  • The sound is glorious – full, rich, spacious, big and transparent, with virtually no smear
  • With this early pressing the power of the orchestra will come to life right in your very own listening room
  • “The last of Tchaikovsky’s three great ballets, and was premiered in 1892, the year before his enigmatic death.

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Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 3 / Janis / Dorati

The music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Reviews and Commentaries for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos

  • Stunning sound for this classic Byron Janis Mercury album with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The piano is huge and weighty, the strings rich and highly resolving, and the overall presentation is powerful, balanced, dynamic and exciting like few other piano concerto recordings we have ever had the pleasure to audition
  • Not only is this the consistently best sounding copy we have had to offer in years, but we are happy to report that the vinyl is especially quiet for a vintage Plum Label Mercury stereo pressing

Not only is the sound amazing — yes, it’s on the TAS Super Disc list, and for good reason: a copy as good as this one really is a Super Disc — but this copy has another vitally important characteristic that most copies of the record do not: no Inner Groove Distortion.

We can’t begin to count the times we have had to return (or toss) a copy of these famous Byron Janis records because the piano breakup for the last inch or so of the record was just unbearable. That’s a sound no serious listener could possibly tolerate, yet I would venture to guess that a great many Mercury Piano Concerto recordings suffer from this kind of groove damage.

Enough about those typically bad copies, let’s talk about how good this one is!

This is an exceptionally quiet early Mercury Plum label stereo pressing of one of Byron Janis’s most famous performances (along with the Rachmaninoff 1st. It’s a longtime member of the TAS Super Disc list.

The sound is rich and natural, with lovely transparency and virtually no smear to the strings, horns or piano. What an amazing recording! What an amazing piece of music.

The recording is explosively dynamic and on this copy, the sound was positively jumping out of the speakers. In addition, the brass and strings are full-bodied, with practically no stridency, an unusual feat the Mercury engineers seem to have accomplished while in Russia.

Big, rich sound can sometimes present problems for piano recordings. You want to hear the percussive qualities of the instrument, but few copies pull off that trick without sounding thin. This one showed us a piano that was both clear and full-bodied.

With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard. Once the needle has dropped you will quickly forget about the sound (and all the money you paid to get it!) and simply find yourself in the presence of some of the greatest musicians of their generation, captured on the greatest analog recordings of all time. (more…)

The Rapture of the Purely Musical Experience

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Lessons We Learned from Actually Playing Records by the Thousands 

More Classical and Orchestral Commentaries and Reviews

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, compromised in every imaginable way, are sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them. The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. Playing them you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in their performance. Whatever the limitations of the medium they seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the pure musical experience.

That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable.

We live for records like these. It’s the reason we all get up in the morning and come to work, to find and play good records. It’s what this site is all about — offering the audiophile music lover recordings that provide real musical satisfaction. It’s hard work — so hard nobody else seems to want to do it — but the payoff makes it all worthwhile. To us anyway. Hope you feel the same.

This work is difficult to find with anything but harsh sound. Such powerful and exciting orchestration must surely be problematic to capture on tape.

But Mercury managed to do it, a feat few others labels can claim.

This side one is truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY, thanks to its superb low-distortion mastering. It’s yet another exciting Mercury recording. The quiet passages have unusually sweet sound.

This kind of sound is not easy to cut. This copy gets rid of the cutter head distortion and coloration and allows you to hear what the Mercury engineers accomplished. (more…)