Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

The Tale of Tsar Saltan and Our Rare Four Plus Grade

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  • This AMAZING side one with the complete Tsar Saltan was so good we gave it our rare 4+ grade
  • We freaked out when we heard this side – it took the sound beyond anything we had ever experienced for the work
  • It’s so rich and real, with huge WHOMP factor down low, as well as clear, uncolored brass and robust lower strings – wow!
  • We figure about one out of a hundred sides earn our Four Plus grade – you can’t get much more rare than that

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from April of 1959 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound beyond all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

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Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto #1 / Richter/ Karajan

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides and reasonably quiet DG vinyl make this one powerful Demo Disc set
  • Without a doubt some of THE BEST SOUND we have ever heard for this recording!
  • The huge space of a real concert hall seemingly transported right into your listening room
  • Richter is magnificent – our favorite performance of the Tchaikovsky First bar none

This reasonably quiet White Hot Stamper DG pressing has without a doubt some of THE BEST SOUND we have ever heard for this recording! Dynamically, Powerfully Hot, with the huge space of a real concert hall seemingly transported right into your listening room. With this copy, all you need do is close your eyes and your speakers will disappear, replaced by Karajan and the VSO at the height of their glorious powers.

On both sides the piano is weighty, solid and powerful. Once the needle has dropped you will quickly forget about the sound and simply find yourself in the presence of some of the greatest musicians of their generation.

Audio Myths Exploded

Yes, both the originals and the reissues can be good on this record. Don’t buy into that audiophile canard that “original equals better.”

Two Stunning Sides

Really, really BIG and really, really CLEAR like no other copy we played. It’s nothing less than phenomenal! Lively, present and real, with sweet strings and a big bottom end.

The piano is clearly present and solid. The heavy compression of most copies is much less of a problem here; the levels stay correct right through to the big finish (which is really really big).

If you have the transparency in your system to be able to hear it (we didn’t even three years ago), listen for how clearly both the left and right hand can be heard at the piano. It’s shocking how big and clear these sides are, yet still as rich and as solid as any we played. That’s what we call White Hot Stamper sound.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The pizzicato playing of the strings early in the piece are a great test. Transients, transparency and spaciousness will vary dramatically in these three areas on every pressing you play. This one excelled in every one of these areas. A true Demo Disc.

THE Tchaicovsky First Piano Concerto Recording

Since this is our favorite performance of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto of all time. Even the copies with minor shortcomings in the sound are so good that we quickly find ourselves ignoring them and being lost instead in the performance. (more…)

Holst and Previn – A Planets for the Ages

More on The Planets

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

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  • After a lengthy shootout hiatus we proudly present the best side two of this album to hit the site since 2013
  • Out Of This World sound on side two, where it earned a Four Plus sonic grade for its MINDBLOWING orchestral power
  • Side one earned a seriously good grade of Double Plus (A++) – it’s rich, clear and dynamic, with weighty brass
  • A TAS List Super Disc, with a performance by Previn and the LSO that’s as spectacular as the sound
  • This copy has some condition issues – those of you looking for a quiet copy will have to wait for the next shootout in 2018 or thereabouts

This copy has a side two that is so off the charts we ended up giving it Four Pluses. A Four Plus copy has to meet a standard higher than our regular top grade, and we define that standard as “better than we ever imagined any copy could ever sound.” (more…)

Beethoven – Symphony No. 5 / Ansermet / L’Orchestre De La Suisse

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  • This superb performance of the 5th makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • The texture on the strings is captured perfectly – this is an area in which modern pressings fail almost completely
  • Clear and transparent and natural – your ability to suspend disbelief requires practically no effort at all
  • This is a wonderful recording in every respect – it’s guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of orchestral music you own

Everything sounds so right on this record, so much like live music, there is practically nothing to say about the sound other than You Are There.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. Practically none of them will ever begin to sound the way this record sounds.

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

Paganini – Violin Concertos 1 & 2 / Menuhin / Erede

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  • A superb UK pressing with a Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one, mated to a very good sounding side two – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Two of the truly great virtuoso/romantic violin concertos, boasting superb 1961 EMI Golden Age Analog Sound
  • The complete first Violin Concerto on this vintage LP has killer sound, right up there with our Shootout Winner from the last go around
  • It’s simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than most others
  • The best balance of orchestra and soloist we know of for both works, with sound to rival the greatest concerto recordings we’ve played

Another remarkable Demo Disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, in this case 1961, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s. (We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 40 years ago, not the bad modern mastering of today.)

This combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on this wonderful copy.

The sound of the best copies is transparent, undistorted, three-dimensional and REAL, without any sacrifice in solidity, richness or Tubey Magic. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way. (more…)

Mussorgsky & Ravel – Pictures at an Exhibition

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  • An outstanding pressing, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • 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

This EMI 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. (more…)

Grieg – Piano Concerto and Favorite Encores / Wallenstein

More of the music of Edvard Grieg

 

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  • 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…)

Paganini – Concerto No.1 & Wieniawski / Concerto No. 2 – Rabin

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  • These sublime concertos are correct and live sounding throughout with both sides earning outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades
  • This copy showed that it had the balance of clarity and sweetness we were looking for in the tone of the violin, and the orchestra sounds amazing – so rich and full-bodied
  • Both works are performed with skill and passion by the incomparable Michael Rabin
  • This record puts most of the TAS Super Discs to shame, and it’s on a budget reissue label. Hey Harry, how about them apples!?

The AMAZING Michael Rabin is the principal violinist. His playing of these exceptionally difficult pieces is legendary. Recorded by Capitol in the late ’50s, his fiery performance is breathtaking, with the kind of energy, excitement and technical proficiency that is second to none in our experience.

There’s a very good chance that you have NEVER heard a better sounding violin concerto record than this one. It’s clearly superior to most of the pressings that audiophiles would hold dear; we’ve played them by the score. The fact that it’s on a budget label reissue label, to my mind, is the icing on the cake. (There’s a valuable lesson here to be learned if only more audiophiles will make the effort to learn it.)

There are two recordings of the Paganini Concerto No.1 we like currently; this one, and the Menuhin on EMI. We prefer Rabin’s sound and performance, but the EMI engineers managed to record their orchestra with slightly more natural fidelity. Both are of course superb. (We love the mono recording Ricci did for London in the mid-’50s but the sound and surface quality are not competitive with the two recordings above.)

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

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Chopin / Concerto No. 1 / Rubinstein / Skrowaczewski

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  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, this Shaded Dog pressing is the best sounding Chopin First Piano Concerto we have ever heard
  • So big and transparent, with weight and heft to the brass like no other, we guarantee you have never heard a better piano concerto recording (unless you already one of our White Hot Stamper LPs)
  • The secret to the superior sound of this particular Rubinstein recording over so many others is the engineering by Kenneth Wilkinson – the glorious hall the London Symphony plays in doesn’t hurt either
  • Chopin, according to Arthur Hedley, “had the rare gift of a very personal melody, expressive of heart-felt emotion, and his music is penetrated by a poetic feeling that has an almost universal appeal…”

“Present-day evaluation places him among the immortals of music by reason of his insight into the secret places of the heart and because of his awareness of the magical new sonorities to be drawn from the piano.”

We heard dramatically more layered depth and more hall than we were accustomed to from the dozen or so RCA Rubinstein recordings that we’ve auditioned over the years. This is a closer approximation of live music than we were expecting, and in that sense it came as an exceedingly pleasant surprise. The shootout has been years in the making, with some copies waiting for their day in the spotlight over ten years.

The strings have lovely Living Stereo (Decca-engineered) texture as well. As befits a Wilkinson recording from 1961, there is no shortage of clarity to balance out the Tubey Magical warmth and richness.

(We have lately been surveying some of his recordings from the late-’60s and ’70s to our great disappointment. The All Tube Recording Chain was gone. Opacity and lack of warmth prevented us from proceeding with any shootouts we might have attempted.)

And for those who prefer original pressings to reissues, here is the record that makes your case. None of the White Dogs or Red Seal reissues could hold a candle to the real Shaded Dog label LPs. They are in a league of their own.

We love the huge, Tubey Magical sound of this recording. The piano is solid and powerful — like a real piano.

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

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol & Enesco, Smetana, et al.

 

A SUPERB White Hot side one coupled with a better than Super Hot (A++ to A+++) side two, back to back on one disc, is a surprise indeed.This is only the second time a disc from a Reader’s Digest box set has made it to the site, and we’re continuing with more exciting orchestral music — Capriccio Espagnol (side two) and the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 (side one) are the two longest pieces on record 8 of the set, and both of them are knockouts on this pressing.

This is truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND! Records do not get much more spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. Kenneth Wilkinson was the man behind the board for many of these RDG recordings, this very one in fact, and as you will hear, he was pretty much in a league of his own as a recording engineer in the early days of stereo. This record should provide you with all the proof you need.

Play it up against the best of the RCAs, Londons and Mercs from the period and you will see what I mean. And of course it will completely DESTROY any pressing you may have on Heavy Vinyl, from any label, at any playback speed, of any music.

Living Stereo Sound

You may remember that recordings from these sets were reissued by Chesky back in the ’90s, with mediocre sound of course, as all their reissues are at best mediocre. We never carried any of them even when we were carrying audiophile reissues.

I remember the first time I heard some of the records from this Scheherazade set and was knocked out — here was Tubey Magical RCA Living Stereo sound at a fraction of the price the real RCAs were commanding (a price I confess I could not begin to afford).

The problem — and it’s still a problem, though not much of one if you have a high quality, properly set up front end — is the vinyl. These sets were produced cheaply in order to be priced affordably (under $20 for 10 LPs in a box!), and that means the best vinyl was simply not part of the budget. To find pressings that play even Mint Minus Minus is not easy, even today. Back then, before the advent of modern enzyme-based cleaning fluids and expensive record cleaning vacuum machinery, there was no way to get the vinyl to play even that well.

This copy plays a bit quieter than most at Mint Minus Minus to Mint Minus, about as quiet as a well cared for vintage Shaded Dog or Merc.

As you can imagine we did not have dozens of these sets with which to do our shootout. We had three, and this copy is clearly the overall winner of the group by a substantial margin. (more…)