SUPREME LP RECORDINGS
THE BASIC LIST
ANCIENT MUSIC & SMALL SCALE CLASSICAL
CLASSICAL MUSIC-SMALL SCALE
The Supreme Recordings List
The Divinity-Descriptions & Awards
The Demi-Gods-Descriptions & Awards
The Basic List-Large Scale Orchestra & Opera
The Basic List-Pop/Jazz/Folk/Ethnic Music & Soundtracks
The Basic List-Essays & Controversies
The Honorable Mentions List (and Some Descriptions)
A few of these records will end up in The Demi-Gods. It is even possible that a few might end up in The Honorable Mentions. In general, the LPs in this class have a slightly higher "sound-floor", and are not quite as "alive" sounding, as the records in the top two classes.
The descriptions haven't been altered since they were placed in this separate file, which means there will be references that no longer will make any sense. So...
CAVEAT: I may alter the descriptions of these entries. This can be based on a changed perspective, new and relevant information or if I feel I could just improve on the original description. So, if a reader thinks they have noticed a small change in text, it is not just their "imagination".
This is the original Carmina Burana from the Middle Ages, and must not be confused with the popular 20th Century orchestral/choral version composed by Carl Orff (see below).
All the 5 LPs in the series are interesting and have superb sound, but Vol. 5 is the most demanding and revealing of the set. It has a great variety of music; tremendously powerful bass drums and other well-recorded percussive instruments and voices. This will be unusual music for most people and it's also rare.
This LP has Medieval music concerning witches, goblins etc. There are 4 performers, with two of them (German) vocalists. There are assorted drums, strings and percussion. The sound is stunningly immediate and natural. The male voice is very dynamic and effortless. The soundstage is focused and very open. Amazingly, this is a digital recording! While it doesn't quite equal the finest recordings (within the top two classes) in capturing the most subtle low-level information, it is competitive in every other way.
Virtually every person who has heard this LP at my place has literally begged me for a copy. This LP is very rare.
FURTHER: This same musical ensemble, Baren Gasslin, had another LP on the same label, also digital. The title is long: DAS THUT DEM ALTEN DRACHEN ZORN. The music consists of various songs and dances from The Reformation. The sound quality is similar to the above title. (I recently discovered that this group is also admired by the "Gothic Community" sub-culture.)
This LP has a great variety of music with a large assortment of instruments and voices, both male and female, solo and choir. What makes it particularly special is that the huge hall is very well captured and the "decay" may be the longest I've ever heard. Some of the musicians move during the performance so it is also an excellent test of both image focus and the reproduction of a huge soundstage. The sound is very natural, clean and full-bodied.
FURTHER: There is more than one pressing of this recording, though both the cover and the LP number are exactly the same. The best pressing has a "KM" within the stamper area. It is a little purer and richer sounding than the others, but all the pressings are recommended.
Another outstanding LP from Gregorio Paniagua and Atrium Musicae. It also excels in every area just like previously recommended titles. However, it is not quite at the level of Villancicos or La Folia, which are both superior in purity and low-level detail. It is still a very desirable record with incredible percussion effects and a "waterfall" at the end of Side One that can even be unsettling if your electronics are in the center of your listening room, like mine.
One of the finest Harmonia Mundi releases. It is also on the TAS list. The music is ancient dance music from Hungary, all energetically performed. The sound is superb; transparent, fast, clean and natural. The dynamic qualities are also excellent. Almost, but not quite, equal to those at the very top. This LP was always one of the most popular from this label, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find.
This a large 6-record album. The music is very simple, mainly songs with instruments from the 15th Century composer, Guillaume Dufay. There are also some purely instrumental pieces.
The sound is variable, which is to be expected with more than 100 compositions. It ranges between excellent to about "as good as it gets", which means, on some of the cuts, the performers are almost in your room. I don't know if the LPs were available individually or if a "sampler disc" was ever made. This set is difficult to find. The pressings are all Dutch, since the recordings were made in 1981.
Meridian is a small English record company. Most of their recordings had music from the Renaissance and Medieval periods. Almost all of them have excellent sound. The masterings were done by Decca in many instances, including this LP. Their signature sound is similar to that of Pierre Verany; up front and immediate.
This LP is the finest sounding I've yet heard from this label. The music is all performed with strings. After a recent re-audition, I find the general quality to be quite worthy of this list, and it has at least one exceptional cut, Greensleeves, that should not be missed. In fact, it almost sounds like the solo instrument is in your room. I have often used this cut at the beginning of a demonstration of my own system. If the other pieces sounded as good, this record would be near the top.
Another fabulous LP from Harmonia Mundi (France). The music was composed by Jewish composers (Saladin, Grossi and Rossi) at the beginning of the Baroque period. The music has a variety of typical instruments plus voices. The sound is superb in every way, with excellent inner detail, transparency, purity and delicacy.
This LP is very similar in quality to their other ancient music record listed above. However, this record has no vocalists and the sound quality isn't quite as transparent and clean, but still very worthy of this list. The music is all secular dances from the Middle Ages. This LP is now very hard to find, but, like every other record from this label, it is not in great demand.
This is music for a "liturgical drama" that evolved until a completed manuscript was available in the 13th Century. It was one of the later analogue recordings made by Argo, dating from July 1978. The sonics are a little variable, but mostly superb.
There is an excellent soundstage and sense of space. The voices and instruments have both body and precision, and a good sense of immediacy. The only problems that keep this from being a contender are that the sound-floor could still be lower, and there is also a noticeable homogenization and distortion whenever the volume is louder than average. I've only heard Late English pressings, so it is possible that a Dutch pressing, if it exists, may offer further sonic improvements. This LP was very common 20 years ago and is not in demand.
This is the final LP of Medieval Music from Pierre Verany to make this list. The quality is superb as usual, but not quite equal to the three best from this label. The sound is sometimes a little too much up front and not quite as clean, nor does it capture as much of the space of the recording venue. The sonics are variable though, and the sound on Side Two is very similar to their finest efforts.
This is a record that I stumbled over, since I can't read any of the titles (they're all in German). It's a very obscure label, which I try to avoid in this list, but the sonics are just too good to ignore and not share. The music is from the late Renaissance, and there is a lot of variety, including vocals.
The sound is variable, with 21 cuts, but there are many outstanding short pieces, that can even stand up to comparison with almost the very best sonics from Harmonia Mundi. The usual positive adjectives apply here. In short, this LP just misses the two top categories and makes The Basic List. I read somewhere (the Canfield Catalog) that this is a Digital record. If it is, they did an incredible job.
Charpentier (1634-1704) specialized in the composition of music for the Nativity, using folk themes when possible. This LP is a collection of such music, with a wide assortment of vocalists, but less than 10 instrumentalists. It is a beautiful recording; very vivid and with a low sound-floor. The performers are up-front. The only problem is some strain on some voices. Other than that, it is near the top. There were other Charpentier records by Harmonia Mundi that may equal this, but I haven't heard them recently.
As most readers are sadly aware, the oppression and persecution of the Jews began much earlier than Hitler and the Holocaust. The music on this LP comes from the Jewish ghettos during the period of 1200-1600, when the Jews were forced to segregate. This record is a "live" performance of some of the interesting and "festive" music composed by the Jews during that period.
The sonics are wonderful, with a huge soundstage and an excellent sense of space and hall. The instruments and voices have a natural, full-bodied quality, which is normal for this label. The sound-floor is quite low and the dynamic qualities are also very good. Fortunately, the live audience is not heard too often. This LP may be hard to find, but it is not in demand.
OTHER ERATO'S- For those readers who enjoy the music of the above LP, there are two other Erato records from the Renaissance and Medieval periods that are also exceptional in sonics: La Primavera (STU 71545), and L'Homme Arme (NUM 75252), both with the Boston Camerata. The first LP is concerned with nature, while the latter is about "War and Peace", and is actually a digital recording.
A close friend of mine, who is an expert in "classical music", was also an executive for a budget classical music label. He has informed me that it would take around 20 CDs to make a complete recording of the entire Cantigas, which were all composed at the beginning of the previous Millennium. There never was a complete recording of them on LP, and there obviously won't be one now.
This 3-LP album was about as "encompassing" as it ever got on record. There is an excellent variety of voices and instruments. I found that only a few of the Cantigas were uninteresting. The sonics vary slightly, but they are usually at the label's higher levels; being transparent, natural, detailed, clean and with an excellent sense of space. It is satisfyingly dynamic, especially considering the simplicity of the music. It is not the equal of the top 6 or so records from this label, which are still a little more immediate and pure, and enjoy an even lower sound-floor. This album may be hard to find, but the 3 LPs also came out individually.
This has long been considered one of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance. The composer, Josquin (1445-1521), was very famous not only during in his lifetime, but even well after his death, which was very unusual in those days. He was so admired and popular, that unscrupulous publishers actually used his name to sell other composers' works. Consequently, today's scholars are still not able to make a definitive catalog of his actual compositions.
This is a beautiful recording, though the sonics are variable. At its best, at low to medium volumes, it is as good as any record I've heard in naturalness and immediacy. It's as real as it gets, with the voices and recording space simply replacing the listening room. Sadly, there are problems at higher volume levels, with the voices homogenizing and straining at times, particularly the sopranos. Otherwise, this record would be in the top two classes, maybe even at the very top. What a shame.
A superb recording of the most famous keyboard music of the Sixteenth Century, and this time there are no "qualifiers" as to the real identity of the composer and the integrity of the compositions. William Byrd actually edited the final collection himself.
These are all his mature works, with 42 separate pieces, performed on a variety of instruments; virginal, Flemish and Italian Harpsichords and a chamber organ. The inside booklet, included in this 4 record album, is written by Christopher Hogwood, and is very detailed and thorough. This unique collection even received a Rosette from the Penguin Record Guide, and should be considered indispensable to (pre-Bach) keyboard music enthusiasts.
The sonics are extremely smooth and natural, with body and excellent harmonic structure. It captures the recording space well and there is excellent decay. There is no edge or strain. It is also pure, transparent and immediate, but not to the unequaled degree of the Bach/Cerce above. The "chamber organ" is not quite as well recorded. This album has always been in demand because of both the music and the performance.
A beautiful recording which compliments the music, and which is also another triumph by the recording engineer, Peter McGrath. The LP is very transparent, immediate and clean. The voices are well separated, and each one is individually characterized. Most satisfying for me, the music doesn't homogenize when all the (12) voices sing together. In short, the musical complexities remain complex at all volume levels. Everything else about this record is superb; the harmonics, decays, sense of space etc.
This is a unusual record, and in more than one way. First there is the mixture of a Mass on the first side, with totally secular dances on Side Two. There is no "connection" between them, so why they put them together is a complete mystery. Then there are the sonics. I originally chose to audition this record as part of a choral survey, but it is the Danses that make the list, and not the Mass.
The Danses are Harmonia Mundi at its best; incredible immediacy, sense of space, detail, dynamic intensity etc. It would be in the top two classes, but there is an occasional, and slight, sense of strain. The Dufay, at its best, is just as good, but the voices regularly overload the microphones, and to a much more noticeable degree.
Another magnificent recording from Harmonia Mundi. It has the typical immediacy, detail and naturalness of their finest recordings, but there is not the usual, obvious sense of recording space and ambience, so the performers, in this instance, are placed in the actual listening room. The high frequency vocals also sound a little rough and strained at times, so this record isn't in the top two classes.
The music is a combination of the sacred and the secular. The Notre-Dame Mass may be The 1st Mass ever composed as a unified whole. This would make this record desirable for historical, as well as artistic, reasons.
This record consists of ancient choral music from the 12th Century. The music is one of the examples of the second-generation "enhancements" that evolved from the original Gregorian (plain) Chants. It is one of the finest sounding choral records from Harmonia Mundi. The performers are the familiar (to this list) Ensemble Organum, directed by Marcel Peres, but the sonics are somewhat different this time.
It does still have the usual stunning sense of immediacy and presence, along with the natural body and purity which is typical with this label. However, it is recorded in a rather small and very resonant hall, which almost sounds like a "giant shower". When only one person is singing, that person will stay focused, but when the entire ensemble comes in, the echoes become overwhelming. The result is that everything becomes very homogenized and not quite as clean; being everywhere, and nowhere, all at the same time, almost like a massive "wall of sound".
This might have been the effect that the producer and performers were looking for, but as a listening experience, it doesn't sound quite as natural and pure as their finest efforts, so it will not make the top two categories.
This LP consists of ancient French songs with the accompaniment of various instruments, though some songs are sung solo. There is only one performer, the multi-talented Esther Lamandier, who has a very distinctive voice. The recording was made in a large Church.
The sonics are outstanding in a variety of ways. It is very immediate, with a great sense of space, and it has the "alive" quality. The voices and instruments are pure and natural. There is no overload, and the echoes and decays are not intrusive. This small, independent label, Alienor, was distributed by French Harmonia Mundi. This record may be difficult to find.
Further- There is another Alienor LP by Lamandier that equals the above in sound quality, and the music is also very similar. It is called Domna, and the record number is AL 19. I placed it in The Honorable Mentions.
Reflexe was a division of German EMI, which specialized in European music from the early Middle Ages all the way to the Baroque era. There was a wide variety of music, as could be expected, much of this music never having been recorded before. The record covers were also unique, with some of them being hauntingly beautiful. The sound quality was uniformly good, and a few of their LPs have already made The Honorable Mentions. They almost all have a sound-floor that is too high to make the Basic List. This recording is the finest I've heard from them, and their one representative on this list.
The sound is very pure, immediate and transparent. The instruments and vocals both sound natural. The dynamic qualities and the sense of space are also excellent. Very important, it has the "alive quality", and the low-level information is well captured; decays, ambience, harmonics etc., though not the finest I've heard. This record will be difficult to find.
Further- There is one other LP by Reflexe that is almost good enough, at its best, to make this list. It is music by Michael Praetorius, 063-30117. The above, listed reissue of the Archive record of the music of Praetorius (and other composers) is still more desirable, however, lovers of Praetorius's music will want both records.
This LP is also similar to the others from this label, though the sound is even better on some cuts. It is a little more transparent, purer and delicate. The music has a lot of variety and it also has vocalists. (One cut sounds like the male vocalist is singing alone in a corn field surrounded by buzzing insects. I find it irritating.) Unfortunately, there are a few cuts that are somewhat dry and veiled, or else this LP would be in The Demi-Gods (where I put it originally). This record is also rare, but not in demand.Top
Another outstanding LP from Harmonia Mundi, but this time recorded in the United States by Peter McGrath, the same engineer who recorded the amazing Bach/Timegate LP. This LP is not quite that good, but it is still superb. It is a collection of operatic arias by Handel for countertenor.
It is very natural, transparent and has excellent low-level information. I use this record for setting both VTA and tracking weight (VTF). This is because both the voice and instruments require very precise settings or they start to sound unnatural, homogenized or even distorted. There are other excellent recordings by HM USA, all with Peter McGrath as the engineer. Some have lengthy sides which may compromise the sound, but others look interesting. Don't be surprised to see more of them here.
This is one of the finest DGG LPs I have ever heard. While other DGG records I've put on this list will be near the bottom, that will not be true of this LP, it is simply superb. It is very immediate, dynamic and natural sounding. The winds and horns are outstanding. The inner detail is incredible. The sound is upfront, but it still has good depth.
It is hard to believe when listening to this LP that DGG (creators of countless sonic mediocrities) actually recorded it. Maybe their recording techniques for chamber music were different than for orchestral music, because I have heard a few of their other chamber recordings that are also excellent. Don't pass on this one. Unfortunately, it is somewhat rare because of the unusual repertoire.
These 15 quartets were available either individually, or in a complete box set by Decca. The complete set was pressed in Holland, while the individual LP's were earlier English pressings. Both are outstanding, but they do sound different. The English pressings are a little more full bodied and have more harmonic content, while the Dutch are a touch cleaner and faster. Either way, this is one of, if not the finest chamber music set ever recorded.
The sonics are, of course, a little variable, but they are superb in almost every way. Highlight: The 9th Quartet has some stunning pizzicato notes that can drop your jaw. This is a perfect example of the "African Rabbits" effect discussed earlier with the Praetorius/Archive record in the Essays section.
The individual English LP pressings have already been in steady demand. The Decca box set is also rarer.
NOTE: While this set is the finest chamber music recording I know of, it still is not the sonic equal of the records within the top two classes. It has a slight "veil" and the sound-floor is not "ultra-low". I will continue to look for its worthy successor.
Comparisons: I have made sonic comparisons of this album with two other much acclaimed (and even rarer) Shostakovich Quartet sets, both performed by the Borodin Quartet, and both on EMI. The older set has only the first 13 quartets, while their more recent set is complete.
The Decca/Fitzwilliam set has some sonic advantages over both of the EMI/Borodins. The earlier Borodin album (SLS 879), is noticeably veiled, compressed and blunted in comparison with the Decca.
The main problem with the second Borodin set is its tonal variability. This Borodin also doesn't have quite the incredible dynamic swings of the Decca. The Borodin set includes "live" performances, with noises from the audiences and stagehands clearly audible at times.
As for the actual performances, both the early Borodin and Fitzwilliam set originally received a special "Rosette" from the Penguin Record Guide, but, more recently, those same Penguin critics wrote that these latest Borodin performances were "in a class of their own". The choice between these sets is obviously a tough judgement call.
BACK TO AWARDS
This is one of the finest recordings Decca ever made. It was part of a 5-LP box set, Decca SXL 6660/4, of Arnold Schoenberg's more important music. The music is a combination of female voice and chamber group and composed in 1912. It is similar to the Kurt Weill "cabaret" works by DGG above (coincidentally, all the LPs are performed by David Atherton and the London Sinfonietta), but it is more sophisticated and complex. The sound is also slightly superior, especially in the voice. Remember, this is a "modern" work.
Another LP along the lines of the Ebony Concerto LP by DGG listed above. Very similar sound and music. After listening to a large number of DGG records, I'm starting to come to the conclusion that their greatest strength was in recording small forces; either large chamber groups or small (chamber) orchestras. Their large orchestral recordings are just not as successful.
The really amazing cut on this record is "Ragtime for Eleven Instruments" (at the end of Side 1). It has everything, including excellent bass percussion. It's only 4 minutes in length, but by the time it's over, you will never think the same about DGG's recording skills. This LP is uncommon because of the unusual repertoire.
A superb LP from Reference Recordings. All the records from this label are excellent but, like EMI, they rarely reach the level of "outstanding", which is what it takes to make this list. Their main problem is a slight "veil" combined with higher than expected "sound-floor". The end result is a "dry" sound, that simplifies and homogenizes the music.
This LP, for whatever reason, has much less of this "dry" problem, and it still has all the other RR strengths; a very natural sound, an excellent soundstage and fantastic dynamics. The bass is both deep and tight. I will be listening to more RR recordings, both recent and some "oldies" to hopefully add others.
FURTHER RR: One chamber music LP from RR that won't make The Basic List is the Kronos Quartet RR-9, which is on the TAS list. Its relatively high sound-floor compromises its otherwise noteworthy efforts.
This LP is the "sonic clone" of the Mozart Horn Concertos record that I recommended above. It is very pure, natural and with extraordinary inner detail. Once again, there is an entire hour's worth of music on this record without the ordinary problems of congestion. It must be the music's lack of big dynamics and deep bass that makes the difference.
These are the same performers as the Mozart, and still using original instruments. This was one of the very last records ever made by Harmonia Mundi. In fact, when the Concerto's 7 to 12 were released soon after, it was on CD only, which still bothers me to this day.
Note- This LP is not part of the older, complete, 3 record Concerti Grossi album by Kuijken with the La Petite Bande, on the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label. It had excellent sonics, but not quite good enough for this list.
A beautiful LP that features female vocals with a small chamber group featuring a trumpet. The sonics are similar to other top recordings from this company, though not equal to their very best, except during soft and quiet passages (recitatives), when the sound is as good as it gets. The sound homogenizes a little during louder passages. This record is relatively rare.
This is the "sister" recording of the RCA Beethoven LP which previously joined the list. The only difference is that this record is at 33 RPM, instead of 45. The sonics are also very similar, with the Beethoven having an audible advantage as the groove gets closer to the center.
Jacques Offenbach, the famous creator of the "Operetta", began his musical career as a student of the cello. He mastered it well enough to join an orchestra before making the transition to a composer. He retained his interest in the instrument for the rest of his life. These are a pair of cello duos, with no other instrument.
The recording is very natural, transparent and immediate. The performers are a little laid back in the recording space. This is a "must have" LP for cello lovers. The record is not that common. I have only seen one copy.
The Baryton is a string instrument the size of a cello, but with 20 or so "sympathetic strings" below the 6 or 7 normal bowed strings. Its sound is unique. Haydn composed a large number of Baryton trios because it was the favorite instrument of his patron, Prince Esterhazy. The works are more charming than challenging.
These recordings received good reviews for their performances and the sonics are also outstanding. The sound is very immediate, detailed and clean. The instruments are well focused. The sound-floor is low, especially for an EMI, but not as low as the finest recordings. One of the above titles is actually a 2-LP album, while the other is a single disc "highlight" record. Neither of them is in demand.
These are 3 individual records that came out in the early 1980's. All have superb sonics, with excellent detail, dynamics and immediacy, though A66124 has superior body, harmonic structure and ambience. The records were all recorded by the same engineer, Antony Howell, but in different locations. A good system should be able to pick up those differences.
These 3 LPs are part of the same series as the Haydn set above. They came out a couple of years later. The sonics on the first two records are at least as good as the best of the Haydn's, but A66234 is a digital recording, and the sound is a little recessed, thin and closed down in comparison, but it's still excellent and especially recommended for those who want the complete set.
Leo (1694-1744), was a younger contemporary of Bach and Handel. After moving to Naples early in his musical career to study, he remained there the rest of his life. Leo composed numerous, mostly vocal, compositions. This 2 LP album, "world premiere recording", has his entire instrumental output, using original instruments. The music is pleasant and interesting, and very similar to Vivaldi in style and mood.
The sonics are exceptional. The sound is very natural, detailed and transparent. The performers are slightly laid back. There is an excellent sense of decay and space. The strings, and the cello soloist, are particularly well reproduced. The sound-floor is low, but not ultra-low, so it won't be near the top. This album originates from a small, Canadian independent label that I used to carry in my store in the 1980's. This same label came out with a few other Baroque period LPs during that period. All of them have excellent sonics. It may be difficult to find this set, but it is worth it.
According to the liner notes, Beethoven only used the title "Serenade" twice in his entire career; these two early compositions. The reason given was his strong conviction that "music should be sincere" rather than the previous maxim that "music should be beautiful", which was used by his immediate predecessors, Haydn and Mozart, along with countless other composers and performers before Beethoven arrived.
The sonics on this record are mainly extraordinary. The instruments are up front, proper sized, immediate and with body. The dynamic qualities are amazing; possessing tremendous power. In fact, they are as good as any chamber music LP I have heard. This is exactly what I mean by "African Rabbits". The small details are heard easily. The sound-floor is low, but not "ultra-low", and there is an occasional strain at the highest volumes. This record comes from a small German label, so I don't know how easy it will be to find it in North America.
Sir Arthur Bliss composed a number of chamber works, including string quartets, early in his career, but withdrew or destroyed most of them. The two quartets on this record were from his mature years and satisfied his critical standards. In fact, he considered the Second Quartet (1950) to be "my best work in chamber music..." The music is modern, but still accessible.
The sonics of this record are very similar to the Haydn/Mozart LPs listed above. This makes sense because it was recorded around the same time, and by the same team. The sound is immediate, pure and natural, and with very good separation of instruments and retrieval of detail, though it is not the sonic equal of their incredible "Troubadour" record above. This is a LP that is not in demand.
A beautiful recording from this small, independent European label. The music is "mature Mozart" (1777-8), consisting of a string trio plus flute. The sonics are wonderful, with immediacy and purity. The performers are upfront and focused, but with still plenty of the recording hall space. The instruments sound natural and have plenty of inner detail. The dynamic qualities are also noteworthy, despite the nature of the music. Accent made many excellent recordings, but this is one of their finest efforts.
Another outstanding chamber LP from Accent, which is virtually a sonic clone of the Mozart Flute Quartet record listed above. It has a very similar sense of immediacy and space, plus extraordinary inner detail. The sound is very natural and clean, and it also has some of the "alive" quality. This was one of the more popular LPs from this label, but it will still take some effort to find a copy in North America.
A beautiful record that sounds very different from most of the LPs coming from this famous label. The sonics are rich and natural, but also transparent and very liquid; with excellent decays, sense of space and ambience retrieval. The dynamic qualities are also superb as usual, and the sound remains clean at all volume levels. A very desirable LP.
FURTHER RR: There is another chamber music LP from Reference that is also excellent, but not quite as liquid and rich as the above, it is the Vivaldi/Bach, RR-23, which was recorded a few years earlier. A near miss.
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was about the closest England ever came to having their own Mozart. He lived (and died) almost exactly 100 years before the great German master. He also specialized in vocal compositions and wrote a large number of them despite his short life. This LP has a variety of his songs for counter-tenor, which are accompanied by baroque violin, cello and harpsichord. This type of music isn't for everyone; even those who prefer classical forms and the Baroque period might find it monotonous.
The sonics are up to Harmonia Mundi's usual high standards; with extraordinary purity, transparency, retrieval of low-level detail, sense of space etc. The voice and instruments are as natural and full-bodied as can be imagined, and the voice doesn't distort or strain at any volume level. This LP is not in demand.
Henry Lawes was an English song-writer who lived, and composed, between John Dowland and Henry Purcell. According to the liner notes, this 1984 recording was the first ever "entirely devoted" to his work. There is much more variety here than in the Purcell/HM LP listed above, with 6 different vocalists, two violins and an organ. The music was recorded in the Forde Abbey, Devon.
The sonics are up to Hyperion's highest standards. It is extremely clean, detailed and immediate. The performers are always well separated and focused. The sound-floor is low, as usual. There is an excellent sense of the recording space. The only downside is an occasional strain on the soprano voices, but the bass voice is sometimes spookily real. This LP is not in demand.
FURTHER: Another two Hyperion LPs are similar to this, but with a few more sonic problems; Dr. Arne at Vauxhall Gardens (A 66237), which has fewer vocalists but more instruments. It is a digital recording, but it's still excellent. The other record is: It fell on a summer's day (A 66095). This consists of a tenor, Ian Partridge, and a lutist, Jakob Lindberg, performing songs by John Dowland and Thomas Campion. This is an analog recording with the same high quality sound as the finest Hyperion's, except for some occasional strain in the voice.
A beautiful recording, and only the 3rd solo piano record to make this list. It has the purity and immediacy of a direct-to-disc. The recording space is well captured, including the decays. The piano sounds extremely natural, and it has plenty of inner detail. The sound-floor is very low, so the music sounds "alive" even at the very softest volumes.
The sound is also extremely dynamic, with no compression on either low or high notes, and (most satisfying for me) it is still clean at the highest volumes, being totally devoid of the usual strain and distortion you routinely hear on other piano LPs. This record is obviously a serious contender for the designation of "the finest solo piano LP", and I have heard many. It is a "must have" record for lovers of piano music, considering everything.
Near the closing days of the major labels producing vinyl records, a Japanese company made one last batch of classical LPs from the most recent (at the time) Decca recordings. They called it: "London final LP series". These records were an "all-out effort" for that period, using 180 gram vinyl, and with very quiet surfaces.
Many, if not most, of the records used Digital master tapes, which were the rule at that time, though at least one of them was made from an analogue master; the Mozart Serenade K.361. I've heard an assortment of records from this series, and while the digital LPs also have a number of sonic strengths, their overall sound has too many problems to qualify for this list. The Mozart is the very welcome exception.
The sound is Decca at its near best. It is extremely natural and full-bodied. It is also pure and transparent, with excellent dynamic swings, especially considering the music. The decays and details of the instruments are also impressive. It is not quite as "alive" as the finest records, so this LP will not make the top two categories, but it is still one very desirable record.
I have not had an opportunity to audition either an English or Dutch pressing of this recording, which most likely will also qualify for this list (Decca Ace SDD 579).
COMPARISONS- There are two other "audiophile" recordings of this work, one by EMI/Barenboim and a direct-to-disc by Sheffield Lab. Neither one of them is as natural and real as this Decca recording.
Further- Listeners, who are also film buffs with good memories, will recall that the 3rd movement of this composition is the exact same music that Antonio Salieri "heard" from the score, and described, the first time that he saw Mozart very early in the movie Amadeus, and was simultaneously shocked at both Mozart's unprecedented talent and his behavior.
I seriously underestimated the quality of this recording when I initially put this list together in 2000-1. On a re-listen, I feel it not only belongs here, but it may even join The Demi-Gods. It is that good.
The sound is very clean, transparent and immediate. The voices have a real natural body and texture. The sense of a large space is superbly captured. There is also an excellent reproduction of hall decay. There is some variability, and it doesn't quite reach the sonic heights of another Proprius recording, Jefta, but it is close.
I did compare the two pressings a number of years ago, giving a slight advantage to the ATR reissue, which was a little cleaner and quieter, but I am not certain of that small edge, or my exact memory of it, at this time. Both pressings are recommended.Top
The Complete List of THE SUPREME RECORDINGS
The Descriptions and Awards of THE DIVINITY
The Descriptions, Awards and Essay of THE DEMI-GODS
The Descriptions of THE BASIC LIST-LARGE SCALE ORCHESTRA & OPERA
The Descriptions of THE BASIC LIST-POP/JAZZ/FOLK/ETHNIC MUSIC & SOUNDTRACKS
The Descriptions, Award and Essays of THE BASIC LIST-ESSAYS & CONTROVERSIES
Some Descriptions and Essays of THE HONORABLE MENTIONS
The Alphabetized Classical Music Supreme Recordings
Purchasing Used Classical Records
The Reference Components
THE RECENT FILE
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