Well Recorded Orchestral Albums – The Core Collection

Prokofiev – Peter and the Wolf / Lieutenant Kije

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

More of Our Favorite Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides of this reissue pressing – this copy was doing pretty much everything we wanted it to
  • We would have loved to have a clean Vanguard Black Label pressing to offer you, but we haven’t seen a clean one in at least five years, maybe more
  • Our favorite performance of Peter and the Wolf, with wonderful narration by no less than the incomparable film legend, Boris Karloff himself
  • The Lt. Kije on side two is also excellent, close to our favorite, the Abbado on DG from 1978, which was recorded more than twenty years later
  • Tubey Magically rich, yet realistic, which is of course an impossibility, but the Vanguard engineers manage to pull it off

This performance of Peter and the Wolf from 1957 is our single favorite recording of the work. This copy is a DEMO DISC, suitable for permanently destroying the rationale for every audiophile record ever made, simply on the grounds that none of them sound remotely as good as this one does.

The immediacy and unerringly realistic presentation of the solo instruments — bassoon, oboe, flute, etc. (each of which serves to represent a character in the story) — are so lifelike that I defy anyone to name a recording to challenge our assertion that this is positively As Good As It Gets.

And did I mention that it was made in 1957? You couldn’t even buy it on stereo disc back then!

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Copland / Billy The Kid / Rodeo – Johanos

More Classical Masterpieces

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the sound we love
  • “To the ultimate delight of audiences Copland managed to weave musical complexity with popular style.”
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this is a recording from 1967 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This vintage Turnabout 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 – Capriccio Italien / Ormandy

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

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief will require practically no effort at all
  • “Tchaikovsky possessed a remarkable talent for instrumentation, instinctively scoring his works to obtain a maximum variety of color and the widest possible range of tonal effects. His “Capriccio Italien”, vibrant with the raw colors of its Italian song and dance rhythms, is one of his most popular works and shows the composer’s complete mastery of orchestration.”
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this is a Columbia from 1966 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1966 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

We’ve had copies of the album in the past, but they sure never sounded like this! From both an audiophile and music lover’s perspective, you would have a hard time finding a record that holds this much appeal to both groups.

The orchestra is big and rich, and there is lovely sheen to the strings. The piano is surrounded by plenty of space, with great depth to the hall. The weight and bite of the brass are near perfection. The top is extended and open. And the loud passages are big and stay smooth, with very little congestion even at the climax of the work. So LIFELIKE this way. (more…)

Smetana and Dvorak – Bohemian Rhapsody

More of the Music of Smetana

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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  • We can honestly say we have never heard these wonderfully melodic works played with more verve and skill
  • Nor have we heard any performances with better sound – this may be a budget Decca reissue, but as some of you Hot Stamper fans have discovered, it is not unusual for these later Deccas to beat the originals
  • And note that this pressing is no spring chicken — it’s almost 50 years old
  • This copy has many condition issues — if it didn’t sound as amazing as it does we wouldn’t bother listing it, but it does!
  • The original Decca and London pressings are rare and expensive, but if you one, you really owe it to yourself to hear just how good this pressing sounds
  • “The performances of The Bartered Bride extracts have all of the necessary sparkle and verve, while Kertesz’s credentials as a Dvorák conductor are second to none.”
  • Another Must Own Title from 1962. Other recommended titles from 1962 can be found here.

Sometimes the copy with the best sound is not the copy with the quietest vinyl. The best-sounding copy is always going to win the shootout, the condition of its vinyl notwithstanding. If you can tolerate the problems on this pressing you are in for some amazing Grateful Dead music and sound. If for any reason you are not happy with the sound or condition of the album we are of course happy to take it back for a full refund, including the domestic return postage.


This record shows off vintage Decca sound at its best. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy.

If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are so consistently unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD ever sounded like this.

The richness of the strings, a signature sound for Decca in the Fifties and Sixties, is on display here for fans of the classical Golden Age. It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes practically everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl).

It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play it’s an art that is not lost on us. I don’t think the Decca engineers could have cut this record much better — it has all the orchestral magic one could ask for, as well as the clarity and presence that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records. (more…)

Philippe Entremont – Ritual Fire Dance

More Columbia Classical Recordings

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

  • Philippe Entremont’s delightful 1967 release returns with superb sound on both sides
  • It’s solid and weighty like no other, with less smear, situated in the biggest space, with the most energetic performances
  • These sides are big, full-bodied, clean and clear, with a wonderfully present piano and plenty of 3-D space around it
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief requires practically no effort at all

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Finlandia – The Music of Sibelius and Grieg / Mackerras

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

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

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Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • Both sides are big, rich, transparent, spacious and dynamic – no Heavy Vinyl pressing can do what this record is doing
  • Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago
  • These spectacular works are played with feeling – we know of no better performance or better sound

Yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1959 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, 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.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL. 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 Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original won’t sound as good, having been cut on cruder equipment.

And two, no modern recutting of the tapes (by the likes of Speakers Corner for example, but you can substitute any company you fancy) could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic orchestral sound. (more…)

Khachaturian and Kabalevsky – Suites from Gayne and The Comedians

More Classical records 

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard either of these works sound remotely as good as they do here
  • Yes, these are not the performances audiophiles have long known about from their inclusion on the TAS Super Disc List – these are actually BETTER performances, with better sound in almost every possible way
  • The Comedians in Living Stereo may have more hall, but the performance is lackluster and stilted compared to the energy and precision Golschmann brings to the work
  • The TAS List Khachaturian on London/Decca is a good record, but frankly it has never impressed us as much as it impressed HP, and now with this Vanguard you can hear just how good this exciting, glorious music can sound, with a performance that is every bit as good or better than the composer’s own

There is an interesting story behind this album.

I collected this title for a decade or more after hearing a really good sounding copy a long time ago, probably fifteen or twenty years ago now that I think about it.

I then proceeded to pick them up whenever I saw them in my local shops. I might have found one every two to three years in audiophile playing condition.

After having them cleaned, one day a few years back I sat down and played them all.

To my chagrin only one copy had the White Hot Stamper sound I knew was on the record, the copy I had played so long ago. The others were good, probably Super Hot, but the real thing takes the recording to another level.

Only one had the right stampers, and all the rest of the also-rans had different stampers.

And when I went looking online I could find no copies with the stampers I knew to be the best.

This is that copy. There is nothing else like it. Not sure when we will ever see its like again. (more…)

Mendelssohn / Scotch Symphony / Maag

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

More music conducted by Peter Maag

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish, the equal of the last Blueback pressing we listed (shown in the second picture)
  • A truly superb recording with huge, spacious, dynamic, lively sound – Tubey Magical richness is a big plus too
  • There is a rosiny texture to the strings that no record made in the last 30 years can capture, and if you don’t believe me, we offer this pressing as proof

Audiophiles have known of this record’s sublime sonic qualities for decades. As our stereos get better, so do amazingly powerful recordings such as this one.

Both sides of this record have that classic Decca rich, sweet sound. It’s not for everybody, it’s probably not the sound one would hear in a concert hall, but we love it and so do many audiophiles.

The performance here by Peter Maag and London Symphony Orchestra is legendary and definitive. The sound is perfectly suited for this music, with massed strings to die for. This is classic Tubey Magical Decca orchestral sound.

If you want immediacy, buy a Mercury. If you want luscious, rich string tone, this Decca should be right up your alley. This is a sweetheart of a record, full of the Tubey Magic for which Decca recordings are justly famous. (more…)

Debussy & Ravel / String Quartets – Quartetto Italiano

More of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

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  • This wonderful classical release has long been a favorite of ours here at Better Records, and this pressing is outstanding, offering Double Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • The stereo sound here is Tubey Magical, lively and clear, with the kind of three-dimensionality that will fill your listening room from wall to wall that only the best vintage vinyl can offer
  • A rare title and a very difficult one to find with audiophile quality playing surfaces – this is about as quiet as we can find them, folks
  • “From the opening bars, Quartetto Italiano distinguish themselves as eminent interpreters of Debussy… The Ravel quartet also receives an outstanding treatment: atmospheric, rhythmically secure and supple.”

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Albeniz / Suite Espanola / De Burgos – Such a Dynamic Recording

More of the music of Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Suite Espanola sound remotely as good as it does on this amazing London pressing
  • The orchestral power on display is positively breathtaking – few recordings we know of are this DYNAMIC and EXCITING
  • Wilkie’s Decca Tree recording is overflowing with the kind of clear, spacious, realistic sound that can only be found on the best vintage vinyl LPs
  • Performances and sound like no other – De Burgos’s Suite Espanola is practically in a league of its own

Wow, is this record ever DYNAMIC! I would put it right up there with the most dynamic recordings we have played over the course of the last twenty five years. It also has tons of DEPTH. The brass is at the far back of the stage, just exactly where they would be placed in the concert hall, which greatly adds to the realism of the recording.

Note that careful VTA adjustment for a record with this kind of dynamic energy is a must. Having your front end carefully calibrated to this record is the only way to guarantee there is no distortion or shrillness in even the loudest passages.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Clear castanets.

Big bass drum thwacks.

Crescendos that build to intense climaxes.

We Was Wrong (Already?)

The last time we did this shootout we noted:

The strings may not be quite as sweet as the best earlier Londons, but the trade off is well worth it when you hear a record with this kind of LIFE and so little distortion. Rich strings (or as rich as they can be in 1969, a good ten years after the amazingly Tubey Magical recordings of the ’50s).

This time around we heard plenty of Tubey Magic on our Shootout Winning pressing. Did we find a hotter one than last time? Are we doing a better job of bringing out that quality during playback?  Would this pressing hold its own against another recording made in Kingsway Hall a decade earlier?

Yes. No. Maybe? Who really knows?

We will leave it to the lucky customer who ends up with this killer copy to tell us. (more…)