Well Recorded Orchestral Albums – The Core Collection

Suppe et al / Overture Overture / Agoult

More Classical and Orchestral Music

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Decca engineered Living Stereo album – both sides of LSC 2134 earned our top grade of A+++
  • This 1957 Decca recording is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl
  • Cyril Windebank was the engineer — you may remember him from SXL 2012, the legendary recording of Peer Gynt with Fjelstad
  • The most energetic performances we heard, with sound like nothing else we played – Agoult’s overtures are in a league of their own
  • Classic Records did this title back in the ’90s, and was as mediocre and unsatisfying as most of their sorry releases
  • “Suppé certainly has a knack for a good tune, well suited to even the most unpolished of brass band arrangements – the characterful orchestral playing, however, brings these neglected works to life with aplomb.”

When this 1957 recording was first released, you could only buy it in mono, under the title Overtures… In Spades! It would be two years before the stereo pressing was available through RCA. There are two covers and I believe we have Shaded Dog pressings with both. This copy, our Shootout Winner, has the first cover you see in the listing.

Everyone needs a good album of Overtures – the music is exciting and fun, not to mention Demonstration Quality on a pressing such as this. The combination of sound and performance on the best of the RCA Shaded Dog pressings could not be equaled.  (more…)

Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

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

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

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What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness.

We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI the way they did back in the ’70s. Harry Pearson loved many of their recordings, but I sure didn’t.  To this day, some of the records on the TAS List seem to me better suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the ’70s than the modern systems of today.

I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own judgments included — to the four basics:

  • the limitations of the equipment,
  • bad setups,
  • bad rooms, and
  • poor record cleaning

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s such as McIntosh, Marantz, etc. — I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, 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 that exist today.

Today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked 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. 

The more revealing, more accurate systems of today are in fact what make it possible for us to do our job.

We used to not do it as well, and we talk about it in our Live and Learn section.

You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like. They should sound amazing on your system and in your room, and we stand behind that claim with a 100% Money Back Guarantee. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record is correct. All you need to do is play it back properly.

With each improvement you make in your system, the kinds of high quality pressings we sell — we call them Hot Stampers — will continue to reveal better and better sound in their grooves.

This is not true for the Modern Heavy Vinyl reissue. The better a system gets, the more the faults of those pressings come to light.  This typically sad story is one that is all too common with our customers. (more…)

Rossini / Overtures with Maag – The Best on Record

More of the music of Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)

More of Our Favorite Performances with Top Quality Sound

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  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one and a side two that’s not far behind, the orchestral power of display here is positively PHENOMENAL
  • This Decca Tree recording is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl
  • Performances and sound like no other – Maag’s William Tell is in a league of its own
  • “You’d think Maag would approach the scores the way most conductors do: gung-ho and hell bent for leather. He doesn’t. In fact, Maag displays a good deal of reserve, calculating his interpretations for the biggest payoff. For instance, in William Tell he keeps the opening sections in check, and then he builds the final segment into a most-exciting whirlwind, the conclusion carrying you away.”

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Liszt in Living Stereo – Rich, Rosiny Lower Strings Like These Are to Die For

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

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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 lifelike 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…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 – A Must Own Performance by Alwyn on Decca

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

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Years ago we found a very special copy of this album in a shootout and gave it a grade of A++++. We don’t give out that grade anymore, but we gave it out to this side one back in the day. We describe what let this copy earn that grade below.

A BEYOND White Hot Quadruple Plus side one – hear Tchaikovsky’s 1812 in Demo Disc sound. This is the most exciting and beautifully played 1812 we know of, with the best sound ever to boot on this copy. This is an exceptional Decca remastering of a superb Golden Age recording on very good vinyl.

The WHOMP FACTOR on this side one has to be heard to be believed. If you’ve got the woofers for it this record is going to rock your world!

Side One (1812 Overture)

Off the charts, the best we have ever heard this work sound. Big, rich, clean and clear barely begins to do this side justice. The strings are wonderfully textured and not screechy in the slightest.

The brass is big and clear and weighty, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.

Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Alwyn is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

Here’s what you get on this side one:

The most dynamic sound we have ever heard for any side of this album.

The most weight and power we have ever heard for the 1812, and as you can imagine, for this work to have the kind of power this pressing has was nothing less than a THRILL to hear. Who knew? Until we played this copy, not us!

The most depth and space we have ever heard on this album.

To earn our coveted Three Plus (OR BETTER) rating here at Better Records all you have to do is be the best copy we’ve ever played. Just be right in every way (or almost every way; no record can be perfect, but some, such as this one, seem to us to get pretty darn close). (more…)

Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique / Argenta

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

More Music Conducted by Aaulfo Argenta

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  • A KILLER pressing of this classical masterpiece, performed by The Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this original London pressing
  • The sound is clear and open and wonderfully smooth and the bottom is BIG — the tympani and lower strings are powerful and dynamic
  • You will have a hard time finding better sound in the lower registers for this work — most of the pressings we’ve played were simply too anemic to take seriously

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Mozart / Piano Concerto No. 17 and No. 21 – Anda

More of the Music of Wofgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

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  • This STUNNING classical masterpiece finally returns to the site with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on the first side and nearly Super Hot Stamper sound on the second
  • Spacious, three-dimensional and real beyond practically any DG recording you’ve heard – you hear into the soundstage on this record like you will not believe
  • If you want to do your own sonic comparison of two of the very best concertos from this era, this is the perfect copy to do it with
  • “Mozart’s piano concertos are filled with assured transition passages, modulations, dissonances, Neapolitan relationships and suspensions. Today, at least three of these works (nos 20, 21 and 23) are among the most recorded and popular classical works in the repertoire…”

The string tone here is especially rich and sweet, yet full of texture and that lovely rosiny quality that vintage pressings capture so well. (Sometimes capture so well. We’ve played plenty of copies with a smeary quality that robs the strings of their lovely sheen.)

The piano is beautifully recorded as well. Geza Anda’s performance is hard to fault here. You will have a very hard time finding better recordings of these Mozart piano concertos, of that we have no doubt. (more…)

Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture / Marche Slave and More / Alwyn

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

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – this Decca recording of the 1812 from 1958 is the only one we know of that can show you the power of Live Music for this important work
  • This UK pressing is BIG, lively, clear, open and resolving of musical information like no copy of the 1812 you’ve heard
  • The two coupling pieces, Marche Slave and the Capriccio Italien, also have rich, powerful, weighty brass and lower strings
  • The most exciting and beautifully played 1812 we know of – we encourage you to compare this to the best orchestral recording in your collection and let the chips fall where they may

There is some noticeable low frequency rumble under the quietest passages of the music for those of you with the big woofers to hear it!

The lower strings are rich and surrounded by lovely hall space. This is not a sound one hears on record often enough and it is glorious when a pressing as good as this one can help make that sound clear to you.

The string sections from top to bottom are shockingly rich and sweet — this pressing is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago.

The 1958 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer. (more…)

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? (more…)

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…)