Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Tchaikovsky / Swan Lake / Fistoulari – Our Favorite Recording of the Highlights

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

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

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Kenneth Wilkinson engineered this album for Decca in 1961.

It’s as wide, deep, and three-dimensional as any, which is, of course, all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

Highlights of the recording include huge amounts of bass; a clear snare at the back of the hall (a good test of transparency of the record and of your system and room); full-bodied horns and strings which never become blary or shrill; and of course huge amounts of space.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. They cannot begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in your decision to rid yourself of their mediocrity.)

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

In my notes I remarked that when the music is quiet the sound is so spacious, clear, and sweet it will have you thinking you are sitting in the concert hall. One thing live classical music does much better than any recording in my experience is that it gets very, very quiet, yet stays clear and spacious. None of the thousands of classical recordings I have heard to date reproduce that quality completely, but this one gets awfully darn close.

Note that the big finale at the end of side two is loud and HUGE on this album. There is a touch of compressor overload, but no actual inner groove distortion. At first we thought the former may have indeed been the latter because we had a copy or two with chewed-up inner grooves.

This one plays clean to the end, and boy does it get loud and powerful at the climax of the work.

All the qualities we look for in a classical recording are found here:

  • lovely string tone and texture,
  • rich bass,
  • a big hall,
  • no smear,
  • lovely transparency

How many classical records have all these qualities? One out of a hundred?


FURTHER READING

Advice – What to Listen For on Classical Records

Classical – Best Performances with Top Quality Sound

Classical – Demo Disc Quality Recordings

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Handel – Water Music / Leppard

More of the music of George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)

More Hot Stamper Pressings of the Best in Classical Music

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  • An outstanding copy of Handel’s masterpiece with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A bigger hall, more transparency, and more clearly layered depth and more space than many others
  • Shockingly AIRY and WARM, this is the kind of sound that makes it easy to fall in love with an oft-heard piece such as The Water Music
  • Note how far back the trumpets are in the hall, yet they are still clear, tonally correct and not smeared – that’s the sound one hears in a live performance (and too rarely on a record)

This recording should be part of any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that Must Own category can be found here.

The performance by the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Raymond Leppard is currently my favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable.

In a way this may not be quite fair to other equally well-known, well-respected performances. We went through an elimination round for the work a few weeks back, winnowing the recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance — perhaps some of the discarded records had even better performances than Leppard’s. At this late stage who can say?

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We are happy to report that that does not appear to be the case with The Water Music (keeping in mind the caveat above). (more…)

Beethoven – Violin Concerto / Heifetz / Munch

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

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  • Presenting the best sounding recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto we know of
  • Our vintage pressing of this brilliant Living Stereo recording — from 1956! — boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Heifetz’s violin is immediate, real and lively here – you are in the presence of greatness with this copy
  • The orchestra is wide, tall, spacious, rich and tubey, yet the dynamics and transparency are first rate
  • Hard to find them without marks or groove damage, but here is one without either, and the sound is magnificent (which is the hardest thing of all to find)

The reproduction of the violin here is superb — harmonically rich, natural, clean, clear, resolving. What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound, as well as the fact that they become less congested in the louder passages and don’t get shrill or blary.

The best copies display a Tubey Magical richness — especially evident in the basses and celli — that is to die for.

Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Little smear, exceptional resolution, transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — the best copies take the sound of the recording right to the limits of what we thought possible.

Heifetz is a fiery player. On a good pressing such as this one, you will hear all the detail of his bowing without being overpowered by it. As we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity he brings to such a difficult and demanding work. (more…)

Mussorgsky et al. / Danse Infernale / Fiedler – Our Favorite Night On Bald Mountain

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

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

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

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  • Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides make this the consistently best sounding batch of Orchestral Showpieces we have ever played
  • After a two year hiatus, our favorite performance of Night on Bald Mountain is back, and it’s guaranteed to blow your mind (and maybe a woofer or two)
  • Side one also boasts an excellent Danse Macabre, with a powerful finish that may remind you of the thrill of live orchestral music
  • Side two contains a wonderfully exciting Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Both sides are clear and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling
  • Watch your levels – this pressing is dramatically more DYNAMIC than most Golden Age recordings

If you like Orchestral Spectaculars, have we got the record for you!

This pressing clearly has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND — not in every way, but in some important ways. The ENERGY of both the sound and the performances of these barnburning showpieces is truly awesome. Fiedler brings this music to LIFE like no other conductor we have heard.

This pressing boasts relatively rich, sweet strings, especially for a Deutsche Grammophon LP. 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 (and the reason it is so hard to find a copy that plays better than Mint Minus Minus. We do have a quieter copy with lower grades if you are interested though.) (more…)

Grieg – Piano Concerto and Favorite Encores / Wallenstein

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

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More entries in our Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection available on our site

  • This superb album of Grieg’s piano music returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish on this fairly quiet Shaded Dog pressing
  • These sides are big, full-bodied, clean and clear, with a wonderfully preset piano and plenty of 3-D space around all of the players
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s the proof
  • “But Grieg’s Concerto is much more than a vehicle for pianistic virtuosity. It has been described as a “tone poem for piano and orchestra” in which an array of colors and moods unfolds. From the beginning of the first movement’s first theme, the piano and the instruments of the orchestra enter into an almost constant dialogue.”

This Shaded Dog pressing is exceptionally lively and dynamic. The sound is BIG and BOLD enough to fill up your listening room and then some. The piano is clean and clear, and the strings are rich and textured. Artur Rubinstein’s performance of this wonderful work is superb, as is his performance of the shorter coupling works on side two.

Living Stereo MAGIC. This is wonderfully recorded music. It has a very natural orchestral perspective and superb string tone. It also boasts a correctly-sized piano, which is quite unusual for Rubinstein’s recordings. (more…)

Grieg – Peer Gynt / Gruner-hegge / Oslo Philharmonic

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

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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  • You’ll find two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides on this vintage pressing, offering Orchestral sound that is gloriously Big and Bold like no other recording of this music you have ever heard (or your money back)
  • Rich and tubey, yet open and clear, with lovely string textures, especially in the lower strings, as would be expected of any Living Stereo record from 1959
  • The Living Stereo Tubey Magical sound from 1959 is hard to fault here – they don’t make ’em like this anymore!
  • Our favorite performance – Gruner-Hegge and the Oslo Philharmonic understand this music at the most profound levels, making it an absolute Must Own for those of who appreciate the sublime experience of playing classical music in the home

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.

This vintage Living Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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 studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto / Milstein / Steinberg

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

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

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  • Milstein’s superb 1960 performance of this Tchaikovsky masterpiece returns with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • A superb pressing, with lovely richness, warmth, and real immediacy throughout
  • This is a spectacular recording — it’s guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of orchestral music you own

This vintage Angel Records pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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 studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Saint-Saens – The Best Danse Macabre on Record

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

More of the music of Paul Dukas (1865-1935)

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

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This White Hot EMI pressing has some of the loveliest orchestral music reproduction we’ve ever heard. Man, this copy sure has it going on: it’s super clean and clear, tonally correct from top to bottom, with all of the weight of the orchestra down low on both sides.

If you want a classical record to TEST your system, if you want a classical record to DEMO your system, you will have a hard time finding a better pressing than this very copy.

Debussy – Prelude A L’apres-midi D’un Faune is excellent here as well – it’s a piece we rarely have on the site. (more…)

Liszt / The Music of Franz Liszt / Fiedler

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

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  • This Shaded Dog pressing returns to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Classic superb Living Stereo Sound on both sides – big and open with an especially clean and extended top end (great fun on those huge cymbal crashes Liszt favors)
  • Powerful, rich, dynamic and life-like orchestral reproduction, set in a huge hall
  • “The Hungarian-born composer and pianist Franz Liszt was strongly influenced by the music heard in his youth, particularly Hungarian folk music, with its unique gypsy scale, rhythmic spontaneity and direct, seductive expression.”

This is, in our opinion, one of the most underrated Living Stereo treasures in the Golden Age canon — but not by this critic (here reviewing the CD):

In the early days of stereo, RCA released an all-Liszt LP by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops that has remained in my memory as one of the finest things the popular maestro ever committed to disc…

Two works, the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and the high energy Rákoczy March, have been out for some time, coupled with “Hi-Fi Fiedler”. Now RCA has added to this current disc the two main pieces, Mazeppa and Les Preludes, from the original collection. They are as wonderful as ever – among the best, if not the best, performances of this music. Fiedler doesn’t dawdle or toy around with the melodies; he lets Liszt’s Romantic vision speak for itself, helping it along with brisk tempos and incisive phrasing. Seldom have the fanfares in Les Préludes had such bite and majesty.

ClassicsToday

The rich, textured, rosin-on-the-bow lower strings on this record are to die for. Find me a modern record with that sound and I will eat it. And by “modern record” we hasten to include both modern recordings and modern remasterings of older recordings. NO ONE alive today can make a record that sound like this. To call it a lost art is to understand something that few vinyl-loving audiophiles appear to have fully grasped since the advent of the Modern Reissue, which is simply this: compared head to head they are simply not competitive.

After twenty years of trying and literally hundreds of failed examples, both the boutique and major labels of today have yet to make a record that sounds as powerful or as life-like as this RCA from the old days. (This is actually a later pressing; in some ways it sounded more tubey and rich than many of the Shaded Dogs we played against it.)

Fortunately for us record lovers and collectors, we at Better Records are not trying to make a record sound the way these sides do, we’re just trying to find ones that do, and folks, we found some very, very good sides here. (more…)

Liszt / Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Kondrashin / Richter

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

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  • These superb works finally return to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish, and the vinyl is as quiet as we can find it
  • The finest Liszt 1st and 2nd Piano Concertos we know of for their performances, and unquestionably for sonics (when the sonics are this good!)
  • The best pressings of this title are more like LIVE MUSIC than any classical recording you own (outside of one of our Hot Stamper pressings of course, those can be every bit as good) or your money back
  • So big, rich and transparent we guarantee you have never heard a better piano concerto recording (unless you already one of our White Hot copies!)

*NOTE: Unlike Concerto No. 1, The Second Piano Concerto opens very quietly, so there will likely never be a vintage pressing of the album that will get that opening to play like a CD. Expect to hear some random ticks, a small price to pay to hear this wonderful performance on top quality analog.

Richter and Kondrashin deliver the finest Liszt 1st & 2nd Piano Concertos I know of, musically, sonically and in every other way. Richter’s performance here is alternately energetic and lyrical, precisely as the work demands. The recording itself is explosively dynamic. The brass is unbelievably full, rich and powerful. You won’t find a better recording of this music anywhere, and this pressing just cannot be beat.

Big and rich (always a problem with piano recordings: you want to hear the percussive qualities of the instrument, but few copies can pull it off without sounding thin). We love the BIG, FAT, Tubey Magical sound of this recording! The piano is solid and powerful — like a real piano.

Huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard. (more…)