Top Producers – Christopher Bishop

Mussorgsky & Ravel – Pictures at an Exhibition

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

  • This British EMI import pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Our favorite performance by far, with big, bold and powerful sonics like no other recording we know
  • The brass clarity, the dynamics, the deep bass and the sheer power of the orchestra are almost hard to believe
  • No vintage recording of these works compares with Muti’s – and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is an extra special added bonus on side two
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

This EMI import pressing gives you the complete Pictures at an Exhibition with a TOP PERFORMANCE and SUPERB SONICS from first note to last.

As this is my All Time Favorite performance of Pictures, this record naturally comes very highly recommended. Pictures is a piece of music that has been recorded countless times, and I’ve played scores of different recordings, but the only one that truly satisfies is this one, Muti’s 1979 recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Much like Previn and the LSO’s performance of The Planets, he finds the music in the work that no one else seems to.

For his 1979 review of the Mussorgsky, Robert Layton in the GRAMOPHONE writes of Muti and The Philadelphia Orchestra :

…what orchestral playing they offer us. The lower strings in ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’ have an extraordinary richness, body and presence, and “Baba Yaga”, which opens the second side, has an unsurpassed virtuosity and attack as well as being of demonstration standard as a recording. The glorious body of tone, the richly glowing colours, the sheer homogeneity of the strings and perfection of the ensemble is a constant source of pleasure.

Of the performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird, Layton writes:

…Muti’s reading is second to none and the orchestral playing is altogether breathtaking. The recording is amazingly lifelike and truthful.

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Holst – The Planets / Previn

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

  • With outstanding sonic grades on both sides, this early EMI pressing is guaranteed to be the best copy of Holst’s Magnum Opus, The Planets, you have ever played
  • Orchestral power like practically no other music on vinyl you may have heard, and Previn’s and the LSO’s performances are without peer in our estimation
  • These sides are rich, clear and dynamic, with weighty brass, and the kind of dynamic power that lefts the energy level right into space
  • A TAS List Super Disc, with a performance that’s as spectacular as the recording by the two Christophers
  • More of our Favorite Orchestral Performances with Top Quality sound

These sides have some of the best sound we have ever heard for the work, and that’s saying something considering the scores of recordings we have played of this famous and famously well-loved piece.

Fortunately for audiophiles who love The Planets but are disappointed by most performances, a group that includes us to be sure, the amazing sound found on this copy is coupled with a superb performance.

As you might imagine, on a big system this would make for a powerful listening experience, which is exactly the experience we ourselves had during our recent shootout. This copy actually deserves its place on the TAS List.

Both sides earned strong grades for their powerful energy and orchestral excitement, especially from the brass section, a subject we discuss at length below. (more…)

Mozart / Haydn – The Best Toy Symphony on Vinyl

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • An early EMI UK import pressing with STUNNING Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from first note to last – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • The amazingly well recorded Toy Symphony on side two (which is fairly quiet by the way) is the real reason to own this record – you will be shocked at how realistic the toys sound, and how spaciously they are arrayed in the soundfield
  • These sides are clear, full-bodied and present, with plenty of live venue space around the players, the unmistakable sonic hallmark of the properly mastered, properly pressed vintage analog LP
  • The first pressing of the album I ever played, back in about 1995, was on the Japanese Soundphile Series, and it blew my mind at the time
  • Fast forward 25 plus years and now we know that, as good as the Japanese pressing can be, the real EMI can be even better.  That’s what shootouts are for, right?

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Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 3 / Previn

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

  • An outstanding His Master’s Voice pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Both sides are big, rich, transparent, spacious and dynamic – no Heavy Vinyl pressing can do what this record is doing
  • You will have a very hard time finding a quieter copy — we did, and we had half a dozen to play — and of course the sound with grades like these simply cannot be beat
  • A wonderful 1977 recording by the two Christophers
  • This powerful work is played with feeling – we know of no better performance or any with Rachmaninoff symphony with better sound

This is the first Rachmaninoff Symphony we have ever offered in Hot Stamper form, mostly because the second symphony with Previn that is so highly regarded by audiophiles has never sounded very good to us, and the first and fourth are not that easy to find.

We’ve never cared for The Bells, a TAS List record with music that does nothing for us.

We love the piano concertos of course, and have done shootouts for them all.

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Haydn / Toy Symphony – We Was Wrong about a Japanese Soundphile Pressing

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Reviews and Commentaries for the music of Joseph Haydn

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

Many years ago we got hold of a Japanese pressing of Marriner conducting The Toy Symphony and were blown away by the audiophile quality sound. When listing the record for sale, I raved:

“DEMO QUALITY SOUND! This is the best sounding Toy symphony you will ever hear!”

Now we know definitely that this is clearly not true!  We did the shootout in 2022 and found out that the best of the original EMI pressings are even better, a classic case of Live and Learn.

I believe I had at least one or two UK EMI pressings to play against the Japanese ones, but all the details of how I came to this conclusion — a proto-shootout, carried out long before I knew how to do a real one — are lost to the mists of time.

My stereo was dramatically less revealing back then, I had not learned how to clean records properly, and those two facts, combined with the underdeveloped listening skills that go with them, helped me to arrive at the wrong conclusion.

No, the Japanese pressing, specifically targeted to audiophiles, or “soundphiles” if you prefer, is not superior to a properly mastered and pressed UK LP.

If you have more than a handful of Japanese pressings in your collection, you can be sure that there is still plenty of room for improvement in your audio system. An advanced system — the kind we are using today in our shootouts, and didn’t exist back then — will quickly reveal the shortcomings of these formerly desirable pressings.

The Japanese pressings of this album are still good sounding, just not as good sounding as the real thing. For that reason we would not consider them Stone Age Audio records. Perhaps Bronze Age Audio records is a better way to think about them.

OUR REVIEW FROM MANY (10? 15?) YEARS AGO

I discovered how good this Japanese EMI Soundphile Series recording is almost 20 years ago [that would have been in the early 90s]. In that time I can say that I think I may have run across at most two other copies. This is a tough one to find!

But it’s worth the effort, because all the little toys that play along with the music just JUMP out of the speakers. The recording is so transparent and the toys are so well miked it’s like hearing this work for the first time, or live.

This album can easily become a favorite Demo Disc — it has that kind of “you-are-there” sound. This recording was made at Abbey Road in 1976 under the direction of the two Christophers. Perhaps that accounts for the quality of the recording.

The Eine Kleine on side two is also very nice, although I wouldn’t say it’s world class the way The Toy Symphony is.

FURTHER READING

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Tchaikovsky / Capriccio Italien – Boult – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

ASD 3093. EMI Postage Stamp Label LP with DEMO QUALITY SOUND and a performance to match! I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed these pieces more.

[This was written long ago, and in the meantime we have heard many amazing recordings of excellent performances of these works. Please visit the site to see them.]

The energy of the playing complements the dynamic, powerful and rich sound. A great EMI.

Recorded by the Two Christophers, this record features selections from Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. 

Holst – Testing with Mars and Saturn

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

Mars on the first side and Saturn on the second present serious challenges for any vinyl pressings you may own. Generally speaking, the White Hot copies tend to have a bit more top end extension, and/or more lower end weight. Let’s get to the specifics of the two movements we feel are the best test for The Planets as a whole.

The War Test — Side One

War, the first movement, has the string players “bouncing” their bows upside down to create the effect you hear. It’s not fingers plucking the strings; it’s the wood of the bows bouncing on the strings. The quality of that technique is so obvious and correct sounding on the good copies and so blurry and indistinct on the bad ones that you could almost judge the whole first side by that sound alone. When it’s right it’s really right. 

And of course the players are spread out wider and the soundfield is so much more transparent when these types of sonic qualities are brought out. This bouncing bow test makes it easy to separate the better copies from the also-rans when it comes to smear, resolution, transparency and the like. (more…)

Beethoven / Symphonies 8 & 9 – Giulini – Reviewed in 2005

SLS 841. Two fairly quiet (for EMI anyway) LPs with BIG SOUND — the kind of sound this work demands.

This is obviously a huge orchestra and chorus. It sure sounds like it anyway. The production is first class all the way.

The soloists sound particularly real, surrounded by dozens of other musicians in a big hall.

I like the way Giulini plays this as well.