SUPREME LP RECORDINGS
THE BASIC LIST
LARGE SCALE ORCHESTRA & OPERA
RCA CLASSIC REISSUE/CHESKY
MERCURY GOLDEN IMPORTS
The Supreme Recordings List
The Divinity-Descriptions & Awards
The Demi-Gods-Descriptions & Awards
The Basic List-Ancient Music & Small Scale Classical
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 also possible that a few might end up in The Honorable Mentions. As a general rule, the LPs in this class have a slightly higher "sound-floor", and are not quite as "alive" sounding, as those rare records in the top two classes.
The descriptions below 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".
Pulcinella was composed during Stravinsky's "neo-classical" period. There is a lot of variety considering that only a chamber symphony is used. The LP has very transparent and natural sound. There is one particular section, a "duetto for trombone and double bass", that I use as a reference for those two instruments plus for gauging dynamics.
All the pressings I have heard for this LP have been superb, including the (somewhat noisy) Early English from 1968, though the London/Decca Jubilee or Argo Dutch pressings are the most desirable. The LP's other musical selection, on Side One, Apollo, while still good, is too long (30 minutes) to be a reference.
This 2 LP set is one of the finest (non-reissue) orchestral recordings I've heard. It is very transparent, immediate and dynamic. The soundstage is also very large. The Dutch pressings are superior to the earlier English, though the English are still excellent. The Dutch pressings are more transparent, immediate, cleaner and also have a lower sound-floor.
Only the Dutch pressings are recommended and part of this list, though the English pressings are still excellent.
This is a 2 LP set that has long been on the TAS list. It is very worthy of being distinguished, and I've been fortunate to hear virtually every pressing of this recording. The best pressings I have heard are all the later ones, meaning both the late English and the Dutch. They are quieter, cleaner and more immediate and transparent than any of the earlier (1960's) English pressings I've heard, though I haven't heard an (excellent condition) "original" pressing from the 1950's*.
The sound on all 4 sides is superb; full-range, dynamic, with tremendous transparency, a large soundstage and plenty of outer and inner detail. On a really good system you can easily hear all the (non-musical) noises and sounds from the orchestra and conductor.
FURTHER: When comparing the late English with the Dutch, neither is a clear and decisive winner. The English is more full bodied and harmonically complete sounding, with lower and stronger bass. The Dutch is leaner, cleaner and more immediate. I prefer the late English pressing overall myself, because it is more "complex", and I think this will also be the case for most listeners on most systems. (My London Stereo Treasury pressings have "2G" in the dead wax.)
*With one notable exception, I can't recall even once hearing an "original" (late 50's to early 60's) Decca pressing sound as good, let alone superior, to an equivalent "reissue" from this same company. The one "exception" was Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3, with Peter Maag (SXL 2246). There's a technical reason for this one exception; the original master tapes were lost.
This is an excellent sounding LP with rather short playing times. It has one absolutely outstanding sonic characteristic that earns it a place on this list: It may be the "largest" sounding record I've ever heard! It almost appears that "the heavens are opening up" when the brass comes in on the first cut. It is a quite breathtaking effect. I've heard many other pressings of this recording and they all sound huge, however the older English pressings (especially the Bluebacks) are not as clean and transparent as this reissue. This LP is still available new.
HONORABLE MENTION: There is another LP with the two famous Suppe overtures, plus a few by other composers. It is: "Overture! Overture!", RCA LSC-2134, recently reissued by Classic Records. The sound is excellent. It is full bodied, transparent and large sounding. However, it also compresses and homogenizes at dynamic peaks and the tape hiss is audible at low volume levels, which compromises its immediacy. A desirable record, but it just misses this list.
The more spectacular of the two compositions is The Sorcerer's Apprentice of course. The sound on this recording is very clear, full and rich, and it has a large soundstage. It also has a superb, effortless dynamic range from the lowest sounds to the loudest. Overall, the entire recording has a very natural quality to it.
There is no "hype" concerning this LP. Don't worry about getting the "right pressing"; they are all "Late English" and they all sound the same, London or (the more expensive) Decca.
Another highly successful Decca reissue. The music is, in effect, a short 1 LP opera about a naughty child. There is a short libretto, but there is no translation from the original French. The orchestra is unusually large. The sound is very upfront and immediate. The dynamics are explosive. The voices occasionally have some distortion at high volume because, I assume, they were recorded too closely. The entire listening experience is very intense. The LP is still available new.
Some readers will be familiar the famous Previn/EMI (ASD 3377) recording of this same composition, which is also on the TAS list. However, I promised to listen to this version by Peter Maag on Decca, and also compare it directly to the Previn.
The result is that the EMI is being replaced by the Decca (in sonics); which is more full-bodied, smoother, much more dynamic, cleaner during climaxes and with a much larger sound. The EMI is still purer and quieter during soft passages, but that's its only sonic advantage. It is in The Honorable Mentions.
The EMI is still excellent, and I also prefer Previn's interpretation, but it is not quite sonically worthy of making this list. Many listeners will want both (as I do). This Decca reissue is not at the top because of a slight veil and distortion, which also increases its sound-floor, and causes other problems. This LP is still available new.
Further- The above, impressive and desirable Previn/EMI LP has a "sister record", which includes Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony, plus some Overtures. The number is ASD 3763. I regret to say that it is nothing special in the sonics department, with a noticeably unnatural tonal balance.
Another superb reissue from Speakers Corner. This LP was recorded much later (1975) than most of their other reissues, so the original Decca/London English pressings were already exceptionally good. This reissue is even better; it is cleaner, more transparent and has tighter bass; which is very important to this music and superbly reproduced in this pressing. The overall sound is harmonically rich and has a very natural quality to it.
This recording was recommended by TAS, so the price is quite high for the original, Decca English pressing. Fortunately, this reissue is cheaper, with superior sound, and is still available new!
This is a reissue of the very first Classical Stereo LP ever released by Decca, and this time it has been remastered by Alto. Once again it is a big success, with sonics that seem unbelievable for such an old recording. It combines the usual Decca strengths; full and natural tonal balance, low sound-floor, transparency and powerful dynamics. The only real sonic downside of this record is that the end of the 1812 is congested. Other than that it is simply superb, period. This LP is still available new.
This LP is recommended along with one of King Super Analogue's most successful early reissues, K38C 70019. The English Decca/London's (later) pressings were also excellent, but these are even better.
Both reissues are very clean, natural and transparent. They also have an excellent, effortless dynamic range and a "big sound". The main differences are that the King is cut at a lower level and it's also not quite as immediate as the Speakers Corner. Other than that, both are highly recommended. (Whatever you do, avoid the early originals. They are very expensive and don't come close to either reissue sonically.) The King LP (pressed in Japan) is both very rare and in constant demand, but the Speakers Corner is slightly preferable.
This set only received mixed reviews from the music critics, but it is one of the finest recorded symphonic albums ever made. The Mehta/LAPO LPs have been overrated sonically in some circles (mainly TAS). All are good, some are excellent, but these records are just superb in every way; immediate, natural and very dynamic, and with a low sound-floor.
These six LPs are also available individually. There are both late English and Dutch pressings for each symphony except the Sixth, which is English only (I think). The differences between them are insignificant. I use all of Symphony No. 4, and the first movement of Symphony No. 6, as personal references.
The original pressings of this recording were Decca SXL 6001 and London CS 6323, which was both a "Blueback" and a FFRR. TAS later put the Decca version on their list. The result was a relatively rare record with a huge demand. Years later, Decca/London remastered it and the pressings were made in Holland.
When I first listed and described this record, which is both bombastic and fun, I wrote that I preferred the (Dutch) London Enterprise (LE) pressing. I have recently changed my mind, after listening again to both the London Enterprise and the (narrow-band) late English Decca pressing that I still own.
Both LPs are in excellent condition, and both were mastered by the same outstanding engineer, ("G") Stan Barkett. The English Decca is more harmonically complex, rich sounding and "complete". Accordingly, it is also more natural. The LE pressing is still cleaner, but it's also drier, so some of the musical information was lost somewhere. Both pressings are still recommended, but I believe the Decca, or its late English London equivalent, is preferrable overall.
Finally, I believe my English Decca pressing (2G/2G), was "out of phase" compared to my other Decca/London pressings. I mention this because it is a rare occurance for Decca, and some readers may get better results by changing their system phase for it.
An excellent Decca/London recording, that was made in 1975 in Kingsway Hall. The sound is high quality in every way. It is very natural, transparent and dynamic. The sound-floor is low, though not outstanding, so some information is missing and there is also a slight veil. This keeps this record from the very top. It is superb otherwise. It is not in big demand. There were only late English pressings ever made of this LP, as far as I know.
A very high-quality Decca recording, which is maybe a touch more immediate than the Bartok/Mehta, but not quite the equal of the Gerhard/Plague. It is all "modern music", but it's not "way out". There never was a London equivalent pressing of this recording, so it is quite rare.
I have also heard another famous (to audiophiles) LP in this series, Alun Hoddinott's Symphony No. 5., Decca SXL 6606. It is also an expensive record for the same reasons as above, with an additional demand caused by being on the TAS list. It is an excellent recording, and while not equal to the Welsh Concertos, it is now in The Honorable Mentions.
FURTHER: There is one other record from this series that is on this list. In fact, it is even better than this LP in sonics. The music is all by William Mathias. It has now been listed and described in The Demi-Gods.
This LP sonically excels in every way: dynamics, naturalness, cleanness, immediacy etc. It is one of the better Argos, almost, but not quite, near the top. Stravinsky's Capriccio (for piano and orchestra) is one the other side, with equally good sound, but not quite as spectacular. There is no "hype" around this LP.
This recording has been available for some time in different pressings. It was originally recorded back in 1964. All the pressings are exceptional, with the two finest I've heard being the Late English Decca Jubilee above, and the the very recent King Super Analog (KIJC 9130).
The Decca Jubilee is a little more immediate, alive and dynamic, while the King has a little more warmth and body. This LP has that "alive" quality that is very elusive to capture, though the highs are sometimes pronounced, keeping it from the very top. The early London pressing I heard is softer, but doesn't have quite the immediacy and detail of the Jubilee. It is still excellent. I haven't heard an original Decca.
This LP is compared to the rare and famous Argenta "Espana" (London FFSS Blueback) in another secion, meanwhile a more appropriate comparison is below:
COMPARISON: There is another famous recording of the exact same 5 Chabrier compositions, Mercury SR90212, conducted by Paul Paray. I auditioned the recently available Classic Reissue pressing.
The Mercury has a large and focused soundstage. It is dynamic, detailed and clean at high volumes. The tape hiss is not as obtrusive as their Ravel reissue. Sadly, the sound is veiled and dry, to the point of being "analytic". The natural life and bloom are missing. The best description I can make is that the sound is transparent, but it's still not immediate. The Ansermet recording is much preferable. The later Mercury Golden Imports pressing, while "good", is even less competitive.
This LP was part of a "modern music" series by Argo. The sound is exceptional in every way, similar in quality to the Argo Pulcinella at the beginning of the list. The music is very modern, but not avant-garde or "way out". It's too bad that Beethoven, Mozart and the other great masters weren't recorded like this. This LP is rare.
This is a children's play set to music by Benjamin Britten. It was recorded way back in 1961, but the sound is so fresh and clean that it's possible to believe it was recorded last month. There are no recent reissues of this recording, which is surprising since it has been on the TAS list for a long time. Fortunately, there were many excellent pressings of this popular work, with the best from the 1970's. There are no Dutch pressings that I am aware of.
CAVEAT: I must give a warning that, for some readers, the children's voices in the choir etc. might "get on your nerves". A superb recording, but it will not be at the very top of the list.
This popular recording was made in 1970 and has had many different pressings. I've been fortunate to hear them all, and the best are the Dutch, with either the original Decca/London covers (Decca SXL 6440/London CS 6661) or the London Enterprise listed above. The Dutch pressings have the usual advantages of greater transparency, purity and a lower sound-floor, and with no "downsides" in this instance.
Both of these works are essentially one, long movement, late Romantic, cello concerto. The sound is rich, the climaxes increasingly overwhelming and the low sound-floor allows you to hear the cellist, Janos Starker, continuously breathing, plus all the other usual noises of an orchestra. However, I do notice the sound improving after the first few minutes.
This was one of the later analog recordings by Decca/London and it was very successful. There are only late English and Dutch pressings available and I have heard them both. Unfortunately, there is no clear "winner".
The Dutch has the typical advantages in purity, lower sound-floor etc., but the late English has more weight and sense of power in the lower frequencies. This may be more important to some listeners, even though there are not that many big climaxes in the composition. Other than that, the sound is superb on both pressings, very transparent, pure, natural etc.
It should be obvious by now that I am more impressed with Decca/London's "orchestral" recordings than from any other label. I have listened to most of the recent reissues and have found that almost 50% of the "2000 series" are worthy of this list. Many of the reissued Decca recordings (while still "excellent" and far superior to Decca/London's own original and reissued pressings) are still somewhat noisy, veiled and distorted, especially compared to more modern recordings (1965-1980's). In short, they sound "old".
This reissue is one of their successes. It is cleaner and quieter than most of the others, and it has more accurate and extended frequency extremes. The dynamic qualities are also superb. There is also a nice variety of music on this record. This LP is still available new.
This is a superb set that has been overlooked for years. The sound quality is about as good as it gets for Decca/London original pressings; very neutral, immediate and dynamic. The piano is upfront and the the bass is slightly emphasized, but it is also deep and tight. The most outstanding quality is the unusually low sound-floor, normally only achieved in the recent 180 gram reissues. One small caveat though; The English pressings are slightly superior to the Dutch. The one noticeable difference is in the bass, where the Dutch are rolled off and attenuated, which reduces the impact of the music. This 3-LP box set is not in demand and there were quite a few pressed.
This is one of the finest of the Decca Reissues and the best I've heard (so far) of the "2000" orchestra series. The sound is very transparent, natural and "huge", with an upfront perspective. The music has a lot of big crescendos and the recording's dynamic qualities are outstanding; being both effortless, clean and with no compression. The recording is so powerful and the music so relentless, that you may almost avoid playing it again. This LP is still available new.
I have heard an original "Blueback" of this recording, in excellent condition, and this reissue is far superior.
This is a magnificent recording, very similar in quality to the Prokofiev set listed earlier. It was recorded in January 1973, and I have had the fortunate experience of auditioning all the different pressings, including the recently reissued King Super Analogue (KIJC 9161).
They are all superb, but the original English pressings are veiled in comparison to the others. The Dutch is the most transparent, immediate and "alive" sounding, but it has a lean quality in the bass. The King has body in the bass and is also cleaner and more transparent than the English pressings, but is still not equal to the Dutch in those areas. The King also has the quietest surfaces.
This record has been on the TAS list for years. The English/Decca is the most expensive, but not worth the extra money. The real choice is between the Dutch and the King pressings.
This is a famous and popular violin recording from the early 1960's. There have been many pressings through the years, but this is "the best" of them. The soundstage is large and the violin is upfront and vivid. The dynamic qualities are excellent and there is superb retrieval of detail. The sound-floor is not quite low enough to give you the rare sense of "aliveness", but that is the only true negative. The performances on this record are legendary. This LP is still available new.
This is one more superb reissue from Speakers Corner, with virtually the same artists that recorded Albeniz's Suite Espanola, the very first LP to make this list. This recording actually originated in 1967, two years prior to the Suite.
The sonics of both reissues are very similar in most ways, though the Suite still has the more "spectacular" moments, but the original pressings of the Falla LP aren't even close to the originals of the Albeniz. (It was during that late 1960's that Decca was changing their cutting heads to superior models, so it makes sense that the earlier recording was compromised in comparison.)
The sonics of this reissue are everything you can hope for; natural, dynamic, detailed, focused, clean, immediate and with a sense of "aliveness" too. The only negative is that they are also variable. The best demonstration music is the Ravel composition, "Alborada Del Gracioso" on Side Two. This LP is still available.
FURTHER NOTES: The original front cover of this recording, a color picture of the conductor, Fruhbeck de Burgos, was later used by King Super Analogue as the cover of their reissue of Suite Espanola, instead of its own original cover. I have no idea why they did this and I hope this information ends any confusion on this subject.
Finally, El Amor Brujo is one of my favorite pieces of music and I go out of my way to audition every performance on record. My favorite performance, by-far, and also the most passionate and uninhibited, is the Stokowski/Verrett-Carter on Columbia MS 6147. The sound is mediocre, but the end result is still riveting and unforgettable.
The music on the this LP has an ethereal and mystical feeling to it, and is similar in mood to the last movement of The Planets (Neptune), by far Holst's most famous composition.
The sonics are wonderful, though variable. The instruments, especially the harp, are just superb in the Choral Hymns, but the choral voices are not as successful. However, the voices are incredible in the Savitri, bringing out the full character of the soloists, especially Janet Baker, in a manner I never heard before with her. This is one record where the excellence of the sonics could not be more vital, since the expressive nature of the music itself is totally enhanced and transformed by it. It is also on the TAS list.
This composition was one of two late choral masterpieces by Josef Haydn, the other being The Creation. It was recorded by Decca in June, 1977. The sonics are wonderful, and it is a pleasure to recommend another record from the "Classical Age".
The sound is both natural and immediate. Its strengths are the 3 vocal soloists, the Continuo (especially the harpsichord), the woodwinds and brass and even the occasional percussion. The strings and chorus are not as successful, being noticeably indistinct and unfocused. There are no "spectacular" moments of course, but the recording still has a good portion of the elusive "alive" quality. There are only late English and Dutch pressings of this LP. You can't go wrong with either of them. I have the Dutch.
This composition is in Stravinsky's "Neo-Classical" style. It is a short (1 LP) oratorio. The sonics are outstanding. It is immediate, natural and with superb dynamic qualities. The orchestra is particularly well captured, especially the double basses. The voices are not quite as good, with a little strain and homogenization at times. This record will not join the top two classes, but it is a solid member of The Basic List. The Dutch pressings are a little more immediate than the English.
This LP was top rated by the Penguin Record Guide in 1980, for the performance. It also has outstanding sonics. In fact, this may be the finest sounding Violin Concerto I've ever heard.
It is very transparent, detailed, natural and focused. It also has the "alive" quality. The natural complexity of the violin is captured in a manner I don't think I've heard before in a concerto recording. This record is not in any demand at present. I have only heard the Late English pressing. I don't know if there was a Dutch pressing.
COMPARISONS: There are other competitive versions of this masterpiece. The first alternative is the famous Heifitz version (LSC-2129), that was recently reissued by Classic Records. The Heifitz is very good, with excellent body, but it is no match, sonically, with the Belkin/Decca, which is far more immediate, dynamic and detailed. The Heifitz is also missing the "alive" quality. I will make further comparisons at a later date.
Another outstanding recording from the Decca/London recording team. The Decca pressing has been on the TAS list for a number of years. It is superb in every way; being full-bodied, clean, transparent, dynamic and it has a low sound-floor. The sound only slightly homogenizes and strains at higher volumes, and it's normally well detailed. The first few minutes on both sides are slightly congested.
This is a record that should be easy to find in its London pressing. The Decca has no extra sonic benefits. I haven't heard a Dutch pressing as of yet (if it even exists). There is now a "180 gram reissue" from Speakers Corner, but I haven't heard it yet.
COMPARISONS: The main sonic competitor of the Solti/London is the Muti/Mobile Fidelity. The Solti has some advantages; it does a better job retaining the natural "harmonic structure" of the instruments and it's also a little more full-bodied. The Muti, in turn, is both more transparent and immediate, but its major advantage is its unprecedented and unforgettable dynamic range. The Muti is still the first choice for sonics, though serious admirers of this music (like the author) will want both records. (For what it's worth, I also prefer the Muti performance; it's much more "savage".)
Mehta/Decca- This is also a superb sounding record. (Decca SXL 6444/London CS 6664) It was one of the very early recordings by Mehta/LAPO at Royce Hall, but it sounds better than the other recordings they made during this period.
It is in the same sonic league as the Solti; with natural body, transparency, good inner detail, a sense of space, excellent dynamics and a relatively low sound-floor. The two records are so similar, they almost sound like they were recorded with the same equipment. The Solti still has a slight sonic advantage overall, but it is not significant. This record's sonics are still good enough to make The Basic List, but it already contains two other (even better) LPs of this work, so it will go in The Honorable Mentions instead. This record also includes another short work by Stravinsky.
Mehta/Decca also produced a recording of Petroushka that I also remember being in a similar sonic class, but I haven't heard it recently.
This is the 3rd version of Iberia to join this list. It is also the second LP by the same team that made Gerhard's "The Plague", and in the same recording venue. The sonics are just about as good, and that's saying a lot.
The sound is very transparent and immediate. It is also full-bodied and natural. Especially satisfying is the female, wordless choir in the third movement of the Nocturnes: Sirenes. There are a few minor problems; the (rare) deep bass notes are not quite as solid and defined as they should be, and the sense of space varies because of what appears to be some "highlighting", but this is still a fabulous LP. This record is not very common, but it is not in demand either. As far as I know, there are no Dutch pressings of this LP.
COMPARISON: This LP is superior overall to the (still superb) Decca/Maazel, but the Maazel offers more music.
Another recording from the same "team" as "The Plague". Once again, it is not quite as stunning, but it is still an outstanding recording; very transparent, a large soundstage, excellent dynamic qualities, and the sound is very natural and full bodied. There is also a good sense of immediacy, but not quite the equal of "The Plague". The compositions are essentially "B Level" Tchaikovsky, but still interesting. There are only Late English pressings of this recording, as far as I know.
A fabulous recording from around 40 years ago that almost sounds like it was recorded in the last month. The music is "light" ballet from early 19th Century composer Ferdinand Herold (of "Zampa" fame), with modern arrangements by the conductor, John Lanchbery.
The sonics are phenomenal. It is immediate, very transparent and full-bodied. The image is large and focused. The dynamic qualities are also excellent. The only "give aways" as to the age of the recording is some (both pre and post) echo and a noticeable, but not obtrusive, tape hiss. It just misses the top two classes.
I have heard all the pressings of the record. The finest is the recent Speakers Corner reissue. The second best is the Dutch pressing, which also makes this list. The original English pressings, all of them, weren't as clean, transparent or immediate, and are not recommended. This LP is still available new.
This is one of those "compilation" records, with this one featuring the most popular "Americana". The three compositions were recorded separately in 1969, 1976 and 1977. While the idea may have been haphazard, the end result is a fabulous LP.
The sonics range from superb to amazing. The drum on the Fanfare for the Common Man may shock you for both its natural quality and detail, let alone its powerful impact. The other recordings are slightly different, but always natural, transparent, clean and detailed. A very desirable disc overall.
There is no London equivalent of this record, though it may be possible to find these recordings on other LPs. (The Rhapsody in Blue is played by Katchen and conducted by Kertesz, with the remainder by Mehta.)
This 2 LP album is part of the same series of modern recordings as The Plague, and even used many of the same performers. It was actually recorded one year earlier. The sonics are very similar, but not quite equal to the later recording.
The orchestra is equally well captured. The brass and percussion are absolutely phenomenal. The chorus and two soloists sound veiled in comparison. The music is modern, intense and complex. Most listeners either love it or hate it. The Decca pressing has been on the TAS list for years. It is no better than the equivalent London. I haven't heard a Late English or Dutch pressing of this album, if they exist. They should be even better than what I have described.
This was actually an EMI recording, made in 1965. Argo licensed it and came out with their own pressing 10 years later, as part of their "modern composer's" series. A few other records from this valuable and noteworthy series are already part of this list.
The sonics on this record are just extraordinary. It is extremely immediate, dynamic and detailed. It is also quick, clean and natural, though the tonal balance appears to be shifted slightly "upwards". The decays and sense of performance space are very good, but not outstanding. In effect, the sound-floor is low, but not "ultra-low". It may still make the top two classes in the end because of its strengths.
This record has been on the TAS list for years, and it is also quite rare. There is also a Dutch pressing, according to a reader, but I haven't heard it. I must point out that all the music on this LP is "very modern" (atonal), so many listeners will find it unappealing, though there is some "variety" on it. Finally, the original (now rare) EMI pressing doesn't sound as good, and it is not on this list. It is also more definitive proof that original pressings are not always "the best".
FURTHER: There was another LP of "Modern Music", originally from EMI, that Argo (ZRG 752) also reissued at around the same time. It was Roberto Gerhard's First Symphony and Dances from Don Quixote. The sound is similar, and it also made this list.
This is another recording with an excellent reproduction of a soundstage, which is vital to put this piece across. It is big, not huge, but with width, depth, a sense of space and good focus. The sound-floor is low; enough to allow decays and ambience to be heard, and there is enough transparency and immediacy to make the listener feel that a performance is right there, including what is going on in the rear of the hall. It is not quite the equal of the best Harmonia Mundi's in these areas, but it is still good enough to make the Basic List.
The voices are also well captured, and have very little strain. The dynamic qualities are excellent, with real intensity. There are also some interesting percussive effects along the way. This is a fun record, and one of the last analog recordings that Argo ever made. It has a very colorful cover. There is a harpsichord concerto on the other side.
COMPARISON- There is another well-known recording of this work, by Ataulfo Argenta, which is contained within the recent box set of his reissues. It has very good sonics, but it is not the sonic equal to the Argo, which is cleaner, more natural, transparent and immediate.
This superlative record is at the same sonic level as the (Decca/O-L) Mathias Harp Concerto just above. It has the same sonic strengths; meaning stunning immediacy, dynamics, detail, decays etc. It would be in the top two classes, but there is one problem. The Clarinet Concerto was recorded, or mastered, at a very loud volume and is extremely "up-front". It is startling when first heard, but it becomes too much of a good thing, because there is some strain and distortion at the highest peak volumes. So it will have to go in the Basic List instead. Good news: The music is just as interesting and accessible as in the earlier record.
This is actually Symphony No. 9, but back when this LP was recorded, 1961, they still didn't count Dvorak's first 4 symphonies. That being said, this recording has been famous and a "best-seller" since it was released. Istvan Kertesz, who died tragically young, was a Dvorak specialist and he recorded the entire 9 symphonies a few years later, including another version of the popular 9th, which has melodies and themes that everyone has heard.
This record has a "big sound", which is very wide (though with average depth), well focused and has superb separation of instruments, to the degree that you could almost write out the score from it. The differentiation of the woodwinds is particularly impressive. It is also natural, full-bodied and with excellent bass. Just as important and even rarer; it has immense power and weight. The tympani are extraordinary, but they are "highlighted".
This won't make the top two classes because it doesn't have the purity and the ultra-low sound-floor of the finest recordings. There is also some pre-echo in places, but the tape hiss is innocuous. In short, it still sounds a touch "old". This record is still available new.
COMPARISON- The main competitor of this record is Kertesz's own re-recording that was made 6 years later, 1967, and which was part of his complete Dvorak Symphonies album that is listed in The Honorable Mentions.
I only have the late Decca Jubilee (JB 118) reissue. Usually, I would prefer this later pressing, but in this case Decca added the Othello Overture to the record, which compromised the sonics. It is still cleaner and more immediate and transparent than the 1961 reissue, but it has a "small sound" and is noticeably compressed. The bass is also rolled off. It is highly possible that another late pressing of this same recording, without any "filler", could be superior to the older recording. I will now start my search for this theoretical pressing.
A magnificent record, with both interesting and moving music and some unique sonic qualities. The Psalmus Hungaricus is very natural, full-bodied and immediate, and with tremendous transparency. The dynamic qualities are on the verge of "shocking" at times. The soundstage is just huge, and it is still focused. Particularly satisfying is the fantastic reproduction of the chorus. This may be the closest I have heard to the sound of a large chorus: its size, individualization and weight. You can almost sense the "mass of air" move when they sing.
The Psalmus has one sonic problem, it is somewhat homogenized and strained near the end of the side. The Missa Brevis, on Side Two, is almost, but not quite as good. It uses an organ in contrast to an orchestra. This is a Dutch pressing. There may be a Late English pressing, but I have no knowledge of it. The earlier English pressing is also excellent, but it is not as immediate, natural or pure. It has the Peacock Variations on Side Two (Decca SXL 6497/London OS 26186). I originally placed it in The Honorable Mentions, but it has since been replaced by this superior pressing.
The Haydn Cello Concerto wasn't discovered until 1961, when Czech scholars found it in the Prague archives. Unlike most discoveries of lost compositions, this time it was a true "masterpiece", and it has already become part of the standard cello repertoire. There have also been numerous recordings of it, including this one by Decca from 1964. This is the reissue from 1982, with the two Haydn Horn Concertos on Side Two.
The sonics are mainly superb. It is very transparent, clean and detailed. The sound-floor is low, though not ultra-low. It has a good sense of "immediacy", space and presence. The harmonic structure and decay of the instruments are also excellent, but there are some problems. Maybe it is because the sides are longer than average, but there is insufficient "weight" to the sound and a slight lack of "body". That, along with the less than outstanding sound-floor, will keep this record from the top two classes. This LP is a really great value, in every sense of that word (for all the music, performances and sound).
NOTE- The Haydn Horn Concertos should not be confused with his (now very popular) Trumpet Concerto.
This is a stupendous recording. It is very immediate, "alive", dynamic, detailed and it has a natural tonal balance. The sound is also pure and the sound-floor is quite low. The sound stage is large and focused, and the frequency extremes are well captured. It has one very noticeable (and predictable) flaw that keeps it from the top two classes.
The original recording was made with the Phase Four "technique", so there is some obvious "highlighting" of certain instruments and the piano is also unnaturally forward and large. Some listeners are very bothered by this unusual perspective, but I am not, at least in this particular instance, so that is why it is here.
The Viva reissue I auditioned is from Holland. I haven't heard either of the original English (Phase Four) LPs (Decca 4252/London 21081) which may be as good, with the usual caveat that the London will have the "hi-fi" equalization, which makes it a less desirable record.
COMPARISONS- The most famous version, by far, of these two compositions is by the original Mercury/Philips recording team, with Richter as the soloist. I don't know which of the many pressings is "the best". I have an early Philips reissue. It also has excellent sonics, including a more natural perspective, so some people will prefer it even on just sonic grounds. However, it is veiled and not quite as immediate and open as the best modern recordings. It will go into The Honorable Mentions.
Another superb Decca recording, with an unusual history. It was recorded in 1970, but it was not released until 1982, and then only after Clifford Curzon's death. This was because Curzon wanted to re-record No. 27 (K. 595) after he felt he had learned some new insights as to how it should be performed. Sadly, no new recording was ever arranged, so this will be Curzon's legacy regarding Mozart's final piano concerto, which was Curzon's favorite and the concerto he most identified with.
The sonics are outstandingly natural, with excellent detail and transparency. The piano is focused and of "one cloth". The sound is pure and the sound-floor is low, but it is not "ultra-low", so it won't make the top two classes. This is an extremely desirable record.
At its best, this is one of the finest Decca recordings ever made, which means it is one of the finest recordings by anyone ever made. The music is modern, but is still accessible. It is part of a series of works by modern Welsh composers that Decca recorded in the 1970's. An earlier Decca recording, "Welsh Concertos", is also on this list. This record has even better sonics.
This phenomenal LP excels in almost every way. It is extremely immediate, dynamic and detailed. The soundstage is large and very focused. It doesn't homogenize at high volumes. The sound-floor is very low and there is a great sense of space. It is natural, full-bodied and has good decay. The harp sounds like it is in the listening room.
It is both rare and in demand because the music is uncommon. It is one of the very few expensive Decca's that I feel is actually worth the premium. It can be found on two different Decca labels, but they sound the same. There is no "London" pressing of this recording.
Note- This record was once in The Demi-Gods. It has been removed because the sonics are unfortunately variable; The other two compositions on this LP, both on Side One, "Ave Rex" and "Invocation and Dance", are not at the same high sonic level of the two compositions seen in the title.Top
This recording has been on the TAS list for years. The best pressing of it is this 180-gram Klavier. The second best is the EMI "Greensleeves" (ESD-7040) reissue. The original EMI pressing, (TWO-350), is sonically inferior and also way overpriced. For collector's only. The Klavier is very immediate, detailed and dynamic, with an upfront sound. It is cleaner, more explosive and more transparent than any of the older pressings. The only real problem with this recording is that it may sometimes sound a little "tipped up" in the high frequencies. This LP is still available new, and because of its many interesting themes and exotic orchestrations, it is highly recommended, even for those listeners who are not normally into "Classical Music".
This is a 2 LP box set consisting of modern orchestrations of 19th Century operatic themes. This is one of the finest orchestral recordings EMI has ever produced. EMI's orchestral LPs (not Operas or Chamber works) are more uniformly excellent than the other major labels such as Decca/London, RCA etc. Ironically, EMI also has fewer outstanding recordings. This is why you will not see as many EMI's on this list as you've seen on others from the past (TAS). The problem with almost all EMI's, with a few exceptions, is that they have a slightly lean, dry quality which also causes them to appear a bit bright.
This LP set is more liquid sounding, with better retrieval of harmonics and air, while it still retains the typical EMI strengths of excellent bass reproduction and large dynamic swings.
FURTHER: These two records were also available individually as reissues on the EMI "Greensleeves" label. The sonics were very similar to the above album, as far as I can remember.
The original EMI pressing of this recording is very good. It even made the TAS list, but this reissue is definitely superior. It is on 3 sides and also has better and thicker vinyl. The result is an LP that is cleaner, more natural, more dynamic and with quieter surfaces. One of the finest EMI's ever made. The overall sound is superb and sometimes stunning.
Let's hope Alto releases more EMI reissues like this and the Babi Yar below, because it's starting to appear that EMI's mastering was the cause of their usual sonic problems, and not the quality of their original master tapes. This LP is still available new.
This Alto reissue totally transforms this LP. The original was compressed and distorted in a vain attempt to put an hour's worth of complex music on two sides. Alto put the recording on 3 sides and what a difference; from "pretty good" to "outstanding"!
I was very disappointed when I purchased the original (English) EMI because of the TAS recommendation(?!). I paid "big money" too. This 2-LP set isn't cheap either, but it's worth every cent, just like the Manfred above. Now how about Andre Previn's Planets? This LP is still available new.
EMI's engineers must have gone to extra lengths when recording the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, because the results were consistently magnificent. This becomes obvious with the various reissues that have come out over the years, especially by Klavier. This reissue is hyped by Acoustic Sounds; who "warn" their customers that their house "foundations" will be in danger from the LP's low bass. Don't worry, it's just more marketing hyperbole, like professional wrestlers "warning" their fans that they may faint from all the blood they will see in the next rematch.
The sonics don't need the B.S., because they are outstanding. The sound is full-bodied, clean and very dynamic. The orchestra is not as "up-front" as on the Klavier Le Cid listed above. The sound-floor is low and there is a good sense of the recording hall. The bass does go low, but only on the very last cut on Side Two. There are other records, with organs, that are much more powerful at those frequencies. This LP just misses the top two classes. The music itself is pleasant and amusing, similar to Offenbach, but not nearly as melodious or memorable. This record is still available new.
This is the one and only "complete recording" of the ballet, at least on LP, and it is also been on the TAS list for years. This is an Australian pressing, and there has been no "alternative pressing" that I am aware of, including an English or an American "Angel". John Antill, himself, conducted the Suite No.2 based on the ballet in a different, earlier Australian EMI recording; OASD 7554. These two records should not be confused.
The sonics are equally outstanding on this LP as the Everest recording also on this list, but there are significant differences. This has a more laid back and natural perspective. It also has a larger sense of space and superior focus of the instruments. There is also more "harmonic completeness" and greater body, but it is not as immediate and dynamic as the Everest Classic. Neither one "knocks out" the other in sonics, but I feel most listeners will be more taken with the "gut wrenching" Everest. Listeners who really love the music will want both records, with the EMI being indispensable because it is complete. The EMI has long been one of the most expensive used LPs from this label.
FURTHER: There is another record, with excellent sonics, that has some very interesting music which is similar to the above. It is: "Music of (Silvestre) Revueltas", RCA ARL 1-2320, a talented Mexican composer (1899-1940). It was recorded in England, by Kenneth Wilkinson and Charles Gerhardt. I've only heard the U.S. pressing, but it is good enough that I am almost certain that the superior, original, English pressing, would make this list.
A superlative reissue from Klavier, which once again far improves on the already excellent original LP from EMI. The clarity and dynamics are just stupendous. The perspective is up front, like Le Cid above. The sound is also very smooth and natural. I wish more of the better EMI's were remastered like this. The "EMI situation" is almost as frustrating as the Mercury, especially considering how much larger EMI's catalog is. This LP is still available new.
COMPARISON: There is another "Carnival of the Animals" that is still available new, the Decca reissue: SXL 2218. I originally was not that thrilled with it (the sound-floor is higher), but a second listen really impressed me. Unforunately, the narrator, Beatrice Lillie (top billing), can also get on your nerves, since she is obviously speaking to children in her mind. There is one particular sonic highlight in the recording: The double basses in the "Elephant" section are simply amazing. It is better than the Klavier, and may be worth the price of the LP on its own. Peter and the Wolf, is on the other side, with similar sonics and narrative style.
One of the finest LPs EMI ever produced. The sound is very immediate and dynamic. There is excellent inner-detail and a low sound-floor. The bass is very articulate and with impact. The voices are a little variable from movement to movement. This LP is much more natural and full sounding than an average EMI. This is a late reissue, but was still pressed in England. The earlier pressings were not as good.
This EMI LP has the exact same compositions as the outstanding Solti/Decca Reissue. This is one of EMI's finest original pressings; with more natural body and air than their standard pressings. It is also very clean, transparent and delicate.
While it is not the sonic equal of the incredible Solti recording, which impresses me more each time I hear it, it is still superior, overall, to the very disappointing, 180 gram Reiner/RCA Classic reissue (LSC-2374). This LP is not in any demand.
All the compositions on this record were composed for (English, of course) Coronations or "celebrations". Two of the works are choral in nature. One of the purely orchestral works, the Crown Imperial, was originally written for the King George VI Coronation in 1937 (Queen Elizabeth's father). (It is now better known as the "event music" which was used in the popular and "biographical" movie, Ed Wood, from the 1990's, which focused on the incompetent, though enthusiastic, film director of that name, whose movies have become "cult favorites".)
The sonics are different on each of the 4 compositions. Fortunately, the two choral works are the most successful. The Gloria's orchestra is outstandingly reproduced, as is the Te Deum's. It's as good as any of the other superb Fremaux/Birmingham recordings by EMI. It is large, focused, immediate, dynamic, detailed, natural etc. The chorus on the Gloria is not captured quite as well; it is distant, veiled and homogenized in comparison. The chorus in the Te Deum is noticeably better; it is more immediate, cleaner and there is more low-level information. The two orchestral works also sound different.
The Crown Imperial sounds excellent, though it is not quite as pure and natural as the previous works. The Orb & Sceptre, which was composed for Queen Elizabeth's 1953 coronation, receives the worst engineering; it sounds lean, veiled, homogenized and distorted. For Anglophiles, monarchists or lovers of modern English choral works which are both short and "accessible", this will be a very desirable record.
BELSHAZZAR'S FEAST- I have auditioned two recordings of this Walton composition; Previn on EMI (which is on the TAS list), and Solti on Decca/London. Both of these LPs have "excellent" sonics; with strengths and weaknesses which are typical, though "better than average", for their respective labels. Unfortunately, neither of them have sonics which I would describe as "outstanding". They are both still part of The Honorable Mentions.
This is the one Klavier record that has received virtually no hype or recognition. I guess this is because the music is not exactly "spectacular", and the sides are also short. In addition, there are other, much more famous, records of Offenbach's popular music.
The sonics, by Klavier, are once again outstanding. It is very transparent, with a large, focused soundstage and with an excellent sense of depth. It is also very detailed, dynamic and it has a low sound-floor. The sound is quite natural at low volumes. On the downside, it is a little "tipped up" on top, like most of the Klaviers, and it is also homogenizes and strains at high volumes. This record is still available new.
COMPARISON: If a reader wants just one Offenbach record, I still advise going for the Fiedler/Chesky, which is already on this list. There is more music, a better performance and the sound is slightly more natural. Offenbach admirers will want both records.
This 2-LP album is definitely one of the finest EMI recordings ever made. It has all the usual strengths of that label: Outstanding dynamics and bass, but there is more. It is very transparent and immediate, with much more of the "alive" quality than a typical EMI. It is also cleaner, more natural and even has more low-level information than a normal EMI. The soundstage is large and focused, another EMI strength. It is especially impressive at higher volumes.
It is also excellent at lower-volumes, but it gives up a little there in comparison to the finest records, and what itself does at higher volumes. So it isn't quite "complete" sounding. However, it is still good enough to almost make the top two categories.
This album has been on the TAS list for years now. This time the premium is worth it, especially for the admirers of the composer, and/or 20th Century music. Highly recommended.
One of the finest records ever made by EMI, though the Mobile Fidelity reissue is even better, but it now usually costs a fortune. The original EMI pressing is still outstanding, so it is highly recommended if the Mobile reissue is too great an investment. The two compositions are both highly popular and established masterpieces, and the performances are as good as I've ever heard. A real winner!Top
This is one of the most well-known and expensive RCA "Shaded Dogs", and it was also on the TAS list for years. This reissue is outstanding.
The sound is very spectacular and immediate, overwhelmingly dynamic, with tight, deep and powerful bass that is frightening at times. The sonics are generally superb, but there are three minor problems (compared to the finest records); a slight lack of openness and "bloom"; a noticeable background tape hiss; and a slight brightness that becomes more noticeable as the volume rises. (My previous system couldn't handle the volume levels, and it actually sounded "metallic" at times, which I wrongly assumed, at the time, was the record's fault.)
Highly recommended, especially for those readers who want to be "blown away". This LP is no longer available.
I've heard all the pressings of this very famous (early 1954) recording, and this one is "the best". The original RCA "Shaded Dog" (LSC 1817), which I have heard numerous times, had some typical (more natural etc.) advantages over the Classic Reissue and vice-versa. Ironically, due to the heated disputes over which of the two pressings, the "original or the "Classic Reissue, is better, the (even better) Chesky has been almost totally overlooked.
The Chesky has the strong points of both and then some. It is even more natural than the original and has all the desirable qualities of the Classic; enhanced immediacy, lower distortion, superior dynamics and frequency extremes etc., while still avoiding its somewhat dry and "hi-fi" sound. The Classic is cut a few dB louder and has the real original cover; in stunning high gloss color no less. I suppose you can't have everything. This LP is still available new. Highly recommended.
This is a famous LP that came out originally as an early RCA, but it was actually recorded by Decca's great engineer, Kenneth Wilkinson. The two compositions by Mussorgsky are "Pictures at an Exhibition" and "A Night on Bald Mountain". The sonics on this record are simply superb and far superior to the original RCA pressing in just about every way.
Caveat: "A Night on Bald Mountain" is not the well-known version you might be expecting that was orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakoff. Instead the conductor, Rene Leibowitz, decided to re-orchestrate the work himself. The result is quite different; it is much less dramatic, and even includes a wind machine. (I don't like it myself.) The Chesky cover is also boring (as usual) compared to the original RCA, but you don't play the cover.
COMPARISON: This LP was so impressive I felt I had to compare it to the EMI/Mobile Fidelity recording of The Pictures conducted by Ricardo Muti that I previously drooled over. The comparison proved to be fascinating, because it illustrated the difference between something that is "superb" and "great" (a word and expression I try to avoid using). The differences between them were generally not dramatic, but still important.
The Chesky was excellent in almost every sonic area and even superior to the Mobile in the creation of a large, natural and focused soundstage, and also in low-bass extension. It even appeared a touch more neutral, but the Mobile's slightly extra warmth could have been hall related.
The Mobile was superior to the Chesky in dynamic contrasts (by a large margin), transparency, harmonic completeness and the natural decay of the notes. The very low sound-floor of the Mobile allowed a more intimate, immediate and involving experience of the performance. That is the difference between the rare "superb" and the very rare "great". (Sequel and promise: Chesky will get their "revenge" in the end!)
This recording was Chesky's first reissue. It originally was a "standard" pressing of around 120 grams. While most of Chesky's early reissues were disappointing, the Berlioz had simply superb sound, but the bass was still severely rolled off and the dynamic range was also compromised. A few years later, Chesky re-reissued the same LP, this time at 150 grams (using DMM*), and that is the (only) pressing which makes this list.
The 150 gram/DMM re-reissue addressed the two problems. Both pressings are very transparent, clean and have superb low-level information. Both are easily superior in these areas to the famous Reference Recording (RR) 45-RPM version of this composition. The 150 gram is almost as good as the RR in dynamics but, even with the noticeable improvement, the RR still has much greater impact in the bass, almost to the point of being overblown. This recording was very "educational" to me when I first listened to it, because it illustrated the sonic problem areas of the RR LPs in no uncertain terms.
Note- How do you tell the two different pressings apart from each other (without a scale)? Easy: The 150/DMM pressing has a horizontal box on the back of the outer sleeve, at the bottom, on the right hand side. Inside this box is a description of the pressing.
*Direct Metal Mastering.
COMPARISONS: I also compared this LP to the RCA Classic Stereo Reissue, LSC-1900. The RCA is very good, with excellent body and a large, natural and focused image, but it is too veiled and homogenized to make this list. The tape hiss is also very noticeable. Finally, the Freccia is my favorite performance of this work. The final "Dream of a Witch's Sabbath" section can bring "chills down your spine".
This was one of the Decca recordings that RCA licensed for North America. It was not pressed in great quantities and became one of the rarest and most valuable of the RCA "Shaded Dog" series. It was also the only complete recording of the orchestrations, by fellow composers Arbos and Surinach, of Albeniz's piano suite, Iberia. This reissue is then doubly welcomed. On top of that, Classic used tube amplifiers to master these pressings.
The result is a superb sounding album, with unique and wonderful music. The sonics are very natural, with good transparency and dynamics. It isn't quite at the top, because the bass is a little loose at times and it also isn't quite as immediate and pure as as a few others. The tape hiss is just barely audible, and not a serious problem. All in all, a very desirable set. This album is still available new.
One of the most successful RCA reissues. The sonics are top notch, but somewhat variable. For the first 5 minutes or so of the first movement, the sound is veiled and murky. Then, all of a sudden, everything opens up and sounds alive. The dynamics, transparency, image size, focus, and the capture of the hall are all outstanding. It is also smooth, but not quite always natural on the strings. It is generally clean, but there is some noticeable pre-echo. The brass is about as good as it gets, and with a tremendous sense of power. This record will not at the top, but it's still a solid recommendation. This LP is no longer available new.
Another magnificent reissue from RCA, which was actually recorded by the Decca team in 1961. The greatest strength of this record is its soundstage; it is wide, very deep, open and focused. It can serve as a reference for other orchestral LPs in this area. The sound is also natural and very dynamic. The only problems that keep this from the top are its "just average" sound-floor and a tendency to sound lean during loud passages. This LP is still available new.
EXPLANATION: 50 years ago, the early Dvorak symphonies weren't counted. So Symphony No. 2, back then, was actually Dvorak's 7th Symphony. All the symphonies were counted by the end of the 1960's.
One of the finest reissues by Chesky, and the best recording/pressing I've ever heard of a Brahms Symphony. The sound is very clear, clean and dynamic. The sound-floor is pretty low and the tiny details, mechanical and musical, can all be heard. The only downside is a slightly dry quality that reduces the audibility of harmonic timbers, decay etc., and which kept this record from reaching the top classes of the list. Otherwise, it is just superb. This LP is still available.
Anyone who has read this far will know I was never as impressed with the original RCA "Shaded Dogs" as much as the serious collectors, dealers and reviewers. This LP, even as an original, was a big exception, one of the finest RCAs I ever heard. This reissue takes than excellence a little further.
The sound is big, detailed, transparent and dynamic, perfectly fitting the music. The only serious problem is that the violins are sometimes not as natural as in the original. This record is no longer available new. I don't know what the used price will be.
Comparison: I compared this LP to the Dorati/Mercury SRI 75018. The Dorati is good, but not even close to the Stokowski/RCA in sonics. The Stokowski performance is also unique. The RCA Victor Symphony plays with total abandonment, like "Kamikaze pilots", at the end of the Enesco Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1. It is an unforgettable experience, which is why the Stokowski is a "must-have" LP. The Dorati performances are also acclaimed, especially in the the Liszt compositions.
This LP is undoubtedly one of the finest of all the RCA reissues, despite the fact that it was one of the earliest of those released. It is extremely immediate, dynamic and detailed. On the downside; there is slightly noticeable tape hiss, the hall decays are too short, and the tonal balance is not as warm as it should be. These problems are not as noticeable, or irritating, as in some of the other reissues, so this LP is still very desirable. This record is no longer available new. There was even a partial 45 RPM version, now unavailable, which I haven't heard.
This is the 4th version of Iberia on this list, so I felt some kind of "shoot-out" was in order.
There are 4 different recordings of Claude Debussy's Iberia described in this list. As promised above, this is how they compare to each other, in decending order.
4. The Maazel/Decca has superb high-frequency extension and detail, but it is homogenized and a little veiled in the midrange. It will go in The Honorable Mentions.
3. The Dorati/Decca is more transparent and detailed in the midrange area, but doesn't have the purity and extension that the Maazel has in the highs, particularly noticeable in the percussion. It still makes The Basic List because its sonics are better in the areas where most of the music is.
2. The Reiner/RCA combines the strong suit of the Maazel with most of the strengths of the Dorati. Overall, it is more desirable than either, though it's not in another class, because the Dorati still has some minor (tonal balance/body) advantages. It will also be in The Basic List.
1. The Haitink/Philips is the closest of the four to the sound of a "live performance". It combines, and even expands on, the strengths of all of them, and has that much more natural, musical information. It is extremely open, and has incredible separation of instruments. It is within The Demi-Gods.
PROLOGUE- It was the hearing of an original ("Shaded Dog") pressing of this very recording, many years ago, that alerted me to how much undeserved hype was attached to the RCA "bandwagon". With only 30 minutes worth of music, the record should have been "dynamite". It wasn't, by a long shot. What about this reissue? That's a whole different story.
This reissue is outstanding, one of the finest RCA classical records I have ever heard. The sound is large, natural, full-bodied and dynamic, with plenty of weight. The sound-floor is reasonably low and the usual distortion and veiling aren't that noticeable. The sonics on Side Two are even cleaner, more detailed and more immediate. There is some "pre-echo", but it is only occasionally obtrusive (on Side Two).
This reissue just murders the original pressing. In fact, it may be the largest single improvement I have yet heard. It is a "must buy" for those who want to experience the strengths of an RCA vintage recording, plus get a famous performance of a popular composition.
COMPARISONS: As superb as the Reiner/RCA is, it faces extremely tough "competition"; the Leibowitz/Chesky and the Muti/Mobile Fidelity, both of which are already on this list.
The Chesky is even more transparent, cleaner and more immediate. It also has superior focus, detail and a lower sound-floor. It just sounds more "alive", but it doesn't have the dynamic weight of the RCA, which is a serious compromise with this music.
The Mobile Fidelity is even more dynamic than the RCA, at both low and high volumes, and it also has superior inner detail, purity, natural tone, transparency etc. Its very low sound-floor allows it to sound much more "present" and "alive". On the other hand, the Mobile's soundstage is more upfront and not quite as focused and natural as either the RCA or the Chesky.
DIGITAL PICTURES: There are two digital recordings that deserve mention, because they both have exceptional sonics. They are London LDR 10040, with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Georg Solti, and the famous Telarc 10042, with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel.
The London has a good sized and focused image, though you don't really sense the hall. The dynamic qualities are good and the sound is natural at lower levels, but becomes confused at higher volumes and doesn't sound as natural. The dynamics aren't as overpowering as the top analog choices above.
The Telarc is surprisingly full-bodied, especially when the music is simple, but it has problems when the music becomes loud and complex. The sound is up front, and the hall is not all there. It has excellent impact at times, but its big problem is that it always sounds "mechanical", like it only has a very limited number of "dynamic steps" to utilize.
CONCLUSION: The end result is that both the RCA and Chesky will make The Basic List, while the Mobile will actually be in The Divinity. The Telarc will make The Honorable Mentions.
It only takes a few seconds of listening to realize that this is one of the finest of all the RCA reissues. It is superb in most areas; tonal balance, image size and focus, details and dynamics. Even the sound-floor is low, especially for an RCA, while the sense of immediacy and purity are very good, and this time the sonics don't change from side to side.
It is this level of outstanding quality of sound that I, and many others, expected from all of the RCA reissues, not just a select few. Highly recommended.
COMPARISON: There is another famous Pines of Rome LP on this list: the Maazel/Mobile Fidelity (while the original (and inferior) Decca/London pressing of this same recording is also on the TAS list). The RCA is superb, but the Mobile is still in another league sonically. It has superior purity, transparency, dynamics, tonal balance, inner detail etc. Its sound-floor is also lower, which is why it sounds more immediate and "alive". The Mobile will be in the top two categories, while the RCA will make The Basic List.Top
Here is where my recommendations will part with many 'collectors' and 'reviewers'.The Golden Imports label above is no misprint. I have heard the original "Living Presence" pressing of this recording and it was very good, but it was no match for this superb reissue. The original sounded like an "old record", which it is. It was veiled and distorted compared to the later Dutch pressing and the extreme highs were also rolled off. Even worse, it was quite "dry" compared to the very harmonic, rich and immediate sounding reissue.
The one problem I heard, on all the pressings, was a loud distortion at the very end of the Symphony. This Golden Imports is the finest Mercury I have ever heard, withstanding the recent Classic reissues. Because of all the unfair and inaccurate negative press this label has received, you should grab it and prepare yourself for a real surprise when you listen to it.
This is another reissue of a famous Mercury Living Presence LP by Philips in their much maligned Golden Imports series. Once again the reissue far outshines the original. This is no surprise considering what the perfectionists at Mercury had to use as mastering equipment in the late 1950's. The vinyl they used wasn't very quiet either.
This reissue is very clean, transparent and immediate. The dynamic contrasts are superb. The sound-floor is very low. A very desirable record. (However, this recommendation does not apply to the first three movements of Symphonic Sketches on Side One, which sounds compressed, distorted and rolled off. Philips, once again, made the fatal mistake of trying to put too much music on one side.)
I became very impressed with the Golden Import series of LPs only within the last 10 years. Before that, my system(s) was not capable of resolving their many excellencies. They are still the most underrated records at this time. Even saying that, not many will make this list because only a very few were truly "outstanding".
This is one of them. The sound is very natural and transparent. The dynamic contrasts are excellent. If the sound-floor were a little lower, this LP would be near the top. The music is very similar to the Virgil Thompson LP from Analogue Productions, pure "Americana". In fact, they even share the exact same musical themes. I'd love to hear a reissue of this.
This Mercury LP is another successful production of popular, 20th Century "Americana" compositions, with a couple of short "Armenian Dances" by Khachaturian as a "filler".
The sonics are exceptional; with excellent inner detail, purity and a good sense of immediacy. The sound-floor is also low, so it has an "alive" quality, though not to the same degree as some other Merucry's. There are no strings, but the brass is beautifully captured. The dynamic contrasts are also excellent, but one can sense that the lowest bass has been rolled off. A reissue of these recordings, using present technology, would be a most desirable event. As for now, this LP is neither rare nor in demand.
An outstanding reissue from Mercury which almost equals the finest from this label. The music is all from the 20th Century, but there is good variety, including a concerto from Barber and The Black Maskers Suite by Sessions.
The sides are of normal length, so there isn't the distortion and compression you will hear on some of the Golden Imports. However, the bass is still noticeably rolled off in the Sessions work, which means the organ climax doesn't have quite the same impact and effect as on the, otherwise, inferior and expensive original.
This is the 2nd recording of this popular, melodic ballet to make this list. The first recording is on the Decca/London Jubilee label, and is conducted by Bonynge. It is at the very beginning of the list.
The sonics on this 2 LP album are mostly magnificent. The sound is large; being both wide and deep, and it also has good focus. It is very dynamic and powerful, to the point of being "explosive" at times. It is also clean, transparent and immediate, and it even has the important, rare "alive" quality. It would enter the top two classes except it doesn't have quite the "harmonic completeness" and "natural body" required to qualify. A near miss.
COMPARISON: I will be comparing this album with its superb Bonynge/Decca "rival" as soon as it is practical.Top
The Planets is one of my favorite musical compositions and I've heard every competitive version on vinyl. This recording, by Georg Solti, is the current "champion" in the sonics department. It has two well-known sonic rivals; Andre Previn on EMI and Zubin Mehta on Decca/London (sadly, a very overrated LP).
I prefer the performance by Previn, but the sound is not quite as natural, full-bodied and clean. However, Previn's climax in "Saturn" is the most dramatic I've heard. The Mehta has one major problem; that same climax in "Saturn" is "compressed" right at the critical moment. The Mehta does make up for it somewhat by having an overwhelming "Uranus". Overall though, the Mehta isn't quite as natural, transparent, clean or dynamic as the Solti.
On top of that, the Solti also has an organ note, at the end of "Saturn", that is a subwoofer's nightmare. It starts off softly, but eventually overpowers almost all of them. This same organ note is relatively non-existent in the other two recordings. There is also the "regular" pressing of this same record by Mobile which almost equals the UHQR. Both are superb and superior to any of the original (and still excellent) English Decca/London's.
IMPORTANT NOTE: There is now a much more "up to date" and detailed comparison of these three recordings. This time it includes the recent Decca (Speakers Corner) Reissue of the Mehta, along with almost all of the other pressings of the record that TAS still considers to be one of "the 12 best Classical LPs of all time". Is it? The comparisons can be found within the entry of the Previn/EMI Planets within the Essays and Controversies section of The Basic List.
Another superb reissue by Mobile Fidelity. The original recording was by Decca/London, and was excellent, but this is better; cleaner, more transparent and with a lower sound-floor. This LP has a very natural quality to it, even including the piano. The sound on this record is also superior to the famous RCA/Fiedler and EMI/Previn versions of these works. This record is not in any special demand.
Another unknown, unhyped and outstanding reissue from Mobile Fidelity. This was from their original 1980's releases. The sound is very clean, immediate and transparent. The sound-floor is exceptionally low, allowing virtually everything to be heard. It also has that rare "alive" quality. The only downside is that the large dynamic swings are compressed and not quite as clean. This LP is not in demand.
There are probably more recordings of Beethoven's Symphonies than those of any other composer, but it appears that this will still be the only one of them to make this List, though probably not in the top two classes. It is the closest, overall, I've ever heard to a "live performance" of any Beethoven Symphony on LP. This album, like the original Decca/London (on the TAS list), has a real sonic advantage by mastering the Symphony on all 4 sides, instead of the usual 2 or 3.
The sound is very transparent, clean, detailed and immediate. The orchestra sounds huge, and it is focused, though there is some obvious, unnatural "highlighting" (like the tympani's in the 2nd movement). There is good separation, and no homogenization or compression, even during the many climaxes of the first 3 movements.
The only real problems are in the difficult 4th (choral) movement. The orchestra is just as well recorded, and so are the two male soloists, but the female soloists are not as immediate as their male counterparts. The choir doesn't have the same width and separation of the orchestra, and while the male voices sound magnificent and with excellent body, the female voices sound distant and unfocused. There is also some inevitable homogenization during the "tuttis", when everyone is playing or singing together.
Considering everything, this is a very desirable album, and definitely superior, overall, to the original Decca/London pressings, which are still excellent, though not quite as clean, detailed or immediate.
The original EMI pressing (ASD 2970) of this record has been recommended by The Absolute Sound for many years, but in an unusual and highly amusing manner.
Since its inception, the TAS record list has been dominated by 20th Century Composers (it still is), while the "old masters" (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart etc.) have been virtually absent. However, TAS did have one "Bach LP" on their lists from around 30 years ago; the above mentioned Elgar/EMI record. What, you say?
This particular Elgar/EMI LP had a short, 5 minute "filler"; an Elgar transcription of a Bach composition (The Fantasia and Fugue in C minor). TAS actually listed this record under Bach's name (it still is) instead of Elgar's, conclusively demonstrating TAS's recognition and appreciation of the great master's art. (The most current TAS list, 30 years later, has one other "Bach LP"; a Stokowski transcription of some of Bach's organ works on the Chandos label.) To be fair though, the short Bach transcription is the finest sounding piece of the recording.
This 2-LP album was part of Mobile Fidelity's first batch of reissues from the early 1980's. It has never been popular, partly because of the unfamiliarity of the music and the fact that it originally cost more because of the extra record, though that original cost is irrelevant today. This was (and is) a shame, because all the typical benefits of mastering a standard, 2-sided LP on 4 sides instead, are clearly audible. And yes, the Mobile is far superior, overall, to the original EMI, which is still a very good record.
The sonics on these 2 records are truly special. The soundstage is large, both wide and deep. The separation of the instruments is superb, and it is also very pure and clean. It sounds natural, with a competent capturing of the harmonic structure and body of the instruments, although it isn't "outstanding" in those areas, being a little "dry" (similar to the records from Reference Recordings). The sound-floor is pretty low, though not "ultra-low". The dynamic qualities are outstanding and so is the mid and deep bass, which has power, weight and definition.
The most exceptional quality of this album, and its strongest suit, is the retention of all of its strengths at higher volume levels. It never "falls apart", distorts or homogenizes, even during the loudest passages. This is very rare sonic achievement in my experience. This record makes The Basic List, though just barely, because of the problems discussed above.
This album has never been desirable or expensive in all the years since its release. In fact, up until a few years ago, some record dealers literally "gave it away", as part of a larger sale.
Caveat- These records are "out of phase", and, in this case, it makes a noticeable sonic difference. The sound will be somewhat dry and bland unless the phase is correct; either through a phase switch or by reversing the polarity of the speaker cables.Top
This LP features an arrangement for wind orchestra of Kurt Weill's famous Threepenny Opera (Mack the Knife), made famous by Bobby Darin.
The sound is simply excellent, one of the best DGG's ever. It is transparent, natural, immediate, with a large focused soundstage and has excellent low-level information. No major label is more unpredictable in sound quality than DGG, from truly awful to superb, and that is not a compliment.
This record was originally part of a Weill 3 LP box set (2740-153) that included a variety of his vocal works. The orchestra was just as well recorded on those two other LPs, but the sonics of the voices were inconsistent; sometimes excellent and sometimes bright and even a bit harsh.
This is a recording of the complete ballet by Stravinsky. It includes some extra musical sections and three voices that were not on the Suite by Argo, recommended above.
The sound is quite special. It is very immediate and dynamic, basically on the level of the Ebony Concerto above, but with a chamber orchestra. The voices are very good; better than the DGG/Weill set that I also recommended, but there is still a sense of strain and overload at the end of Side One. The doublebass and horn 'duetto" section, near the end of Side Two, is just incredible. However, it is still not the equal of the phenomenal Argo record.
This LP is a bit scarce, but it is not in demand.
Further- EMI also came out with a version of the complete work, ASD 3604, conducted by Simon Rattle. The sound is excellent, but not quite equal to the DGG. It is not as harmonically complete. However, it is still good enough to make The Honorable Mentions.
OTHER STRAVINSKY/ABBADO RECORDS: DGG and Claudio Abbado produced an entire series of Stravinsky's famous ballets. Every one of them has at least "good" sound and the performances were very well received. Unfortunately, none of the other records, despite their many strengths, will make this list. They have serious problems with both missing deep bass and compressed dynamics, as well as other noticeable faults.
This is the Canadian pressing of a DGG recording. I haven't heard the German original, but I seriously doubt it would sound as good as this because the Canadian engineers used tube amplifiers to master it. So far, DGG Canadian pressings have been superior to every equivalent German pressing I have compared them with.
The sonics on this LP are very natural, precise, clean and transparent; a perfect match for the music. This record is not rare in Canada, but I don't know how available it is in the U.S. I do know that it is not valuable anywhere!
This is a stunning LP, maybe the most spectacular that DGG ever made. The music is a modern "jazz concerto" in the "honky-tonk" style. The solo instruments are an harmonica and a piano, both played by Corky Siegel.
The sound quality is unique for DGG; with excellent bass and superb low-level information. The sound is much more natural than an "ordinary" DGG orchestral LP. The dynamics qualities are incredible; with the harmonica filling up the entire room; as if an elephant was playing it. On Side Two, Gershwin's "An American in Paris", has decent sound, but it is not even close to the quality of the Russo on Side One, despite its much shorter length (only 18 minutes versus 31 minutes for the Russo). This LP is relatively rare for a DGG, but it is not in demand yet.
Toru Takemitsu is a contemporary Japanese composer. A number of his compositions have been recorded by major labels. This one is a sonic jaw-dropper, and it's so unlike a typical DGG recording that you could actually believe a "ringer" replaced the original.
It has a startling sense of immediacy, and it is very dynamic. It reminds me of those LPs in the modern music series of Argo, which is a real compliment. If any DGG ever makes the top two classes, this will probably be it. This LP is not expensive, but it is a bit rare. Remember the music is "modern", though not "avant-garde".Top
This recording was one of the most famous original Mercury's. Here it is remastered and pressed in England. The results are exceptional, and superior to any original Mercury pressing from the U.S. that I've heard. It is very full bodied, transparent and dynamic. The frequency extremes are still there, which is a problem with many Dutch pressings.
It is still possible to sense that even more would be there if it were to be remastered today, but this is the best up to now. This LP is rare, but not in big demand because of its label.
Orff's most famous composition is, by far, Carmina Burana. Unfortunately, all of the previous recordings were seriously compromised by putting the entire work on just two sides, and the only exception was a Telarc digital. This recording helps make up for those misjudgments.
It is very natural and full bodied, especially the voices, and this time the voices don't compress or distort at high volume (except when singing together-Side 3). It is also highly dynamic, well detailed and has a very large and focused sound space. The sound-floor is low, although it is not ultra-low, like a few rare LPs. There is a bit of audible tape hiss, but, overall, this album is phenomenal, and just misses the upper categories. The music is similar to that of Carmina Burana, but much closer to an opera.
IMPORTANT NEWS- The Edition Phonix is a reissue of this recording on 180 gram vinyl, by the same company who produce the Decca Reissues. The sound is even better, in virtually every area. They also came out with a 2-LP (4 Side) version of Carmina Burana, which is also superior to the original Philips, and will also make this list.
"Trionfi", according to the album's booklet, refers to the "triumphal processions" of the ancient emperors, which we have now seen recreated in many movies. Carl Orff was inspired to compose a three part work based on the spirit of these historical events. One of the three self-contained compositions, the first, is the very famous: Carmina Burana. The other two are "Catulli Carmina" and "Trionfo Di Afrodite". This album contains all 3 works. The performers are virtually the exact same team that recorded Orff's Der Mond, already listed above.
The sound, with one important exception, is just as good. It has tremendous transparency and immediacy. It is also very clean and detailed, with excellent dynamic swings. The exception, of course, is the Carmina Burana LP. Its two sides are just too long, 25 and over 30 minutes, to avoid distortion and compression. This record album is rare and desirable. It might also be possible to find these recordings as individual LPs.
This record was a "curve ball" from totally out of the blue. I had no idea that it would have such outstanding sonics. I listened to it as a simple comparison to the Tippett records that were put out by Argo, which is where I thought the real "treasure" would come from. Instead, the Philips LP is here, while the still excellent Argo's may make the Honorable Mentions at best.
The sound is up-front and immediate, but still large and with depth. There is a full-bodied, natural quality, which is normal for Philips. The music is string dominant, but with plenty of brass and woodwinds. There is virtually no percussion. The many dynamic swings are superbly captured, and there is excellent weight in the brass and doubles basses. There are only noticeable problems at the highest volumes, where there is some homogenization.
This record is even better than I remembered. These are all "secular" cantatas, which was both Telemann's interest and "strong suit". There is no subtlety or allegory here, that was not Telemann's style.
The sound quality is both unique and amazing. The chamber orchestra and (the Salzburg Boy's) choir are well recorded, but they aren't "special". What sets this record apart is the stupendous reproduction of Hermann Prey's (baritone) voice. I can't say enough about it. It is incredibly "alive", present and immediate. It is also natural, full-bodied and totally "individualized". If that weren't enough, it has a tremendous sense of power, and, very importantly, it has none of the normal strain you would expect to hear. For admirers of Telemann, and/or the late Hermann Prey, this record is a "must buy". It is not in demand.
This is virtually a sonic clone of the other Carl Orff "opera", Der Mond, listed above, which also had the same (Eterna) recording team. It is an extraordinary recording, that almost makes the top two categories. Its only problem is that it's slightly "dry". Meanwhile, there is now a 180 gram reissue of this album, and also Der Mond, by the same company who produced the superb Decca Reissues. It is by Edition Phonix: EPH-09. These are the pressings that I am listening to at present. This reissue of Die Kluge (and also Der Mond) is superior to the original Philips in sonics, in virtually ever way.
Unfortunately, these two (now discontinued) albums must be ordered directly from Germany, and they won't be cheap, but they are indispensable to audiophiles who are also Orff admirers. Unexplainably, there are no liner notes or translations, so you will have to keep your Philips too.Top
Lyrita produced around 100 stereo LPs, but today they only market CDs. They are an independent label that wasn't large enough to have their own recording team so they used Decca's. This was a very smart move, because every Lyrita I've ever heard is at least excellent.
The music they recorded is all 20th Century and all by English composers. Most of the recordings are orchestral, but there are a few solo piano and chamber pieces and there is even one opera.
I chose this recording for two reasons; first it is one of their best sonically, and the music is much more accessible and popular than probably ant of the others. Unfortunately it is also on the TAS list, which means it will also usually cost more.
I've heard all the different pressings of this LP; Decca, Nimbus and EMI. There were noticeable differences; the earlier Decca and Nimbus pressings were slighlty more natural sounding, with more body, than the EMI, but I didn't feel it was significant. The largest difference was between the Decca and EMI. All of them are special, but I would avoid the EMI if you are intolerant of a leaner sound.
One of the finest sounding Lyrita's, and it also has an excellent variety of music. All the compositions are short and imaginatively orchestrated. One of them, William Alwyn's Four Elizabethan Dances, is much more interesting and "fun" than the usual works you hear on this label. This record won't be near the top, because the sound-floor is a little too high, but is still definitely worth acquiring.
One of the absolute best of the Lyrita's, with an assortment of music from different composers, including Walton and Britten. This is purer with better liquidity and a lower sound-floor than most Lyrita's, while still retaining all their usual strengths. It is somewhat variable in sound, with Side One noticeably superior to Side Two.
There are a number of collectors and dealers that swear that Lyritas sound different depending on the pressing. In chronological order; Decca, Nimbus and finally EMI. They probably have a point here, because the earlier Decca pressings appeared more full-bodied during the very few comparisons I made years ago, and I now detect a "lean quality" on the later pressings that wasn't so obvious back then. This LP has always been in greater demand than most Lyrita's.
If there were contests for the recording label which had "the finest average sound" and/or "the highest percentage of excellent sounding recordings", Lyrita would be near the top. That being said, I've had trouble finding records from this label that are truly "outstanding". Virtually all of them are at least worthy of "The Honorable Mentions". I have almost every (stereo) Lyrita, so I will continue to audition them over time. Readers can almost always assume that any Lyrita record will have "excellent" sonics, but usually not at "the highest level".Top
This is an LP with an assortment of music by Paganinni, the great Italian violinist. The composition above is unusual, being both a violin concerto and a choral work. It sounds like it was recorded "live". The soundstage is huge and with excellent depth. The sound is natural, full-bodied, very transparent and has excellent low-level information. The dynamics are sometimes "explosive", which confirms the name of the label. There was a time, in the 1980's, that I felt that this was the finest orchestral/choral LP I had ever heard. This record is rare, but fortunately there is no hype about it.
FURTHER: I've heard some other LPs by this same label, but none of them were even close to this in sonic quality, unfortunately.
A superb reissue that is noticeably superior to the very good Turnabout original in every way. The Turnabout has been given a lot of hype by TAS for many years now. This new pressing is cleaner, smoother, and even more dynamic etc. The vinyl is also much quieter and heavier.
The greatest strengths of this recording are its transparency, its full-bodied, natural quality and its dynamic shifts, which are very intense and powerful at times. The sound has an upfront perspective. This LP is still available new.
This is a 2-LP set from the original Super Analogue batch that was mastered and pressed by JVC in Japan. The sound is large, very full and rich, and with overpowering and authoritative dynamics. The only downsides are some "highlighting" and a higher than ideal sound-floor. It is both very natural and overwhelming at the same time. This LP set has long been deleted. The original Decca/London pressings are on the TAS list but, on comparison, they are not as good, but they are still excellent.
I enjoy Organ music, but I am not a fanatic nor an expert on the genre. I have around 20 Organ LPs in my own collection. These are the best I've heard. They have a large, natural, full-bodied and transparent sound, with bass that is deep, tight, controlled and textured. There may be more LPs in this series.
Organ music is infamous for being extremely difficult to record, considering both its own tremendous size and power, plus the extra challenge of capturing the effect of the recording venue. I also have access to dozens of other organ records through my store, so I'll keep listening and hope to find more to add to the list.
Warning: The low bass on this LP is extremely powerful. For a system to reproduce it "properly", it must have a very solid room as well as the necessary high performance components. Even my own system/room is not up to the demands of these two records.
This is the same Atma-sphere that makes the superb OTL power amplifiers. Ralph Karsten, the innovative designer/owner of Atma-sphere, was the recording engineer for this 3-record album, based on the poems of Pablo Neruda from Chile, with music by Mikis Theodorakis, who also was the conductor.
The sound quality of this 1986 recording is exceptional. It is very clean, transparent and dynamic. The bass drums and percussion are outstanding. The sound is laid back and distant. The recording was made during a live performance, but you only hear the applause a few times. The music is "folksy" and ethnic, rather than "classical" in style. The voices are not "operatic". This album never received the praise it deserved. It is no longer available new as an album, but there is a CD.
A superb recording with over one hour of playing time. There should usually be some sonic compromises caused by this, but they are minimal considering the actual sound quality and with the realization that these compositions don't have any powerful (and problem causing) dynamic swings.
The sonic strengths of this LP are its amazing inner detail, purity and its overall natural quality. The sound-floor is also exceptionally low, just like the other top Harmonia Mundi's. Only "authentic instruments" were used throughout. This was another recording in the USA by Peter McGrath.
Another very successful reissue from AP. The Copland has a large, full-bodied sound and with excellent detail. The most amazing part of Copland's sonics are the dynamics, which seem totally uncompressed and at one point can be shocking. The Menotti is just a little better than the Copland in transparency, harmonic completion and natural decay, but the music doesn't have the same explosive dynamics. This is a superb LP overall, but it's not quite at the level of some of their other reissues. This LP is still available new.
This is just one LP from the complete Bach Cantata recordings, made in the 1970's by Telefunken. These were two of Bach's most popular secular cantatas, BWV 211 and 212.
I've listened to a few dozen of the over 200 Canatas from this monumental collection, and every one of them had excellent sonics. This recording is exceptional though, with a very natural, full bodied sound and a low sound-floor. The reproduction of the bass voice is particularly outstanding. This record is so quiet it can even be compared to a CD. The entire series was popular.
This was Mozart's last composition, which was left unfinished when he died. In the popular movie "Amadeus", Mozart's "rival" composer, Antonio Salieri, was shown helping him complete the work, after Salieri was previously shown plotting Mozart's sickness and death. This is all total nonsense.
In reality, Mozart's student, Sussmayer, was asked by his then struggling widow, Constanze, to finish the work shortly after the great master's tragic death. Then she would receive the last monetary installment, which she desperately needed at the time.
That being said, this LP has received pretty good reviews regarding the performance. As for the sonics, it is one of the finer choral recordings made by Proprius, which is a serious compliment. It is transparent and the voices and instruments have a natural, full bodied quality. The soundstage is focused. While it does not attain the sonic distinction of a couple of previous Proprius records that were listed, it is still superb, and the music is a universally recognized masterpiece.
I am having a very difficult time trying to classify this record. The music is very modern, in fact the two composers were both born in the 1950's. The recording was made in 1981 by Brian Auger. It is a digital recording. Unicorn made a number of excellent, but not outstanding, analog recordings over the years. None of them will make this list, yet their first (and maybe second) digital recording does, and with room to spare.
The sonics are unique. There are some minor digital artifacts; a little dryness and some frequency aberrations, but the rest is stunning. The transparency, inner details, precision and dynamics are about as good as anything I've heard. The sound is so clean and immediate, that most other records sound defective in comparison. I don't understand why almost all the many other digital recordings I've heard, from various sources, never even came close to this.
This is a record to play when someone foolishly claims: "Digital has no positives".
FURTHER NOTES: Unicorn came out with another digital stunner shortly after the Knussen above; RHD 401. It features music from Alun Hoddinott, the Welsh composer. (Some of Hoddinott's symphonies, on the Decca label, are featured on the TAS list.)
The Hoddinott Unicorn is similar in immediacy and transparency to the Knussen, but it is a little drier and not quite as dynamic. It is still special and highly recommended for listeners who enjoy this composer or modern English music. Unfortunately, most of the other Unicorn digital LPs were just average and mediocre.
Listening to these two Unicorn recordings, especially the Knussen, must force an objective observer to admit that digital is superior to analog, in some ways. That's my opinion.
This 4 LP box set's sonics are very transparent, natural, detailed and immediate, and it has a very focused sound stage. The music is a combined opera/oratorio. It uses original instruments and has a wide variety of voices. It is an excellent test for solo vocals, imaging and for evaluating hall decays. Superb low-level detail. There is a slight sense of strain on the the soprano during Side One. Side Two (et al) is better, and that is the side I've used as a demo. The chorus, which comes in during the last half of the composition, is homogenized at higher volumes. That is all that keeps this album from the top two classes.
Telefunken is an unjustifiably overlooked label. It has many excellent sounding LPs and the pressings are almost always immaculate. (See the Bach Cantata LP below.)
Both of these compositions come from the 1920's, when classical composers were breaking with the 19th Century Romantic traditions and their huge orchestras. These works use "jazz instruments" and smaller ensembles.
The Nonesuch recording team does another superb job of capturing the performances. The sound is immediate, dynamic and natural. It has a good sense of the "alive" quality that is so often missing in otherwise excellent records. The details, both outer and inner, are outstandingly recorded. The pressing quality could be better, which, along with a slight transistor character, keeps this LP from the top. I think this is even better (overall) than the DGG Weill listed earlier, though the DGG may be a little more natural than the Nonesuch.
HONORABLE MENTION: There is another record with very similar music that is also interesting. It is the recent reissue: The Four Faces of Jazz - Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-255. The conductor is Bernard Herrmann. It includes the above compositions plus two others by Stravinsky and Gershwin. It is a Decca/London recording, but this reissue is far better than the original.
The sound is very immediate and clean, almost like a direct-to-disc. Some listeners may even prefer this recording to the Nonesuch. However, it is variable and also has a dry, analytical quality which compromises the sense of transparency and the recording space. So much so, that the musicians in the back sound veiled and dead. It's a tough judgement call not to put this LP on the list for now, but it is still an excellent recording.
Chandos, a small, independent British label, made a number of interesting records, with usually excellent sonics. I heard many of them when I used to sell them in my store during the 1980's. This LP was their sonic masterpiece. Their recording engineer was Brian Couzens. Chandos now makes classical CD's only.
The composer and conductor, Gerard Schurmann, lived in a village outside London where his neighbor, and eventually close friend, was the painter, Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Schurmann admired Bacon's art and composed a work based on six of Bacon's painting. In effect, this is a modern composition similar in design to the famous Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky.
The sonics are phenomenal. It is very immediate, transparent and dynamic. The soundstage is huge and focused. The sound-floor is low. It sounds both powerful and delicate, a rare achievement. The music is "modern", sometimes violent, but still accessible, and it is performed "live" on a regular basis. This record "wipes-the-floor" with most of the RCA Reissues (let alone the originals) I have been listening to lately. This is a "must have" record for readers who enjoy 20th Century Music.
The most pleasant surprise I've had creating this list was the re-discovery of the small Hyperion record label. Every LP I have auditioned has been at least very good, and that even includes their digital recordings. Most are excellent and some are superb, including the above title.
Hyperion reminds me of Harmonia Mundi in many ways, including its varied repertoire, with the main difference being their focus on English composers and performers, which makes sense because it is an English label. The sonics are also very similar, though Hyperions, in general, are a little leaner in body and harmonics than their French "rival". Not quite as much "bloom". This is the reason why you won't see as many of their titles in the upper two categories. Their immediacy and purity do equal the French label, which is why they are so special. I wouldn't hesitate purchasing any of their records if the music looks interesting. The prices are usually reasonable and their (German) pressings are generally very quiet.
This LP is a little different than most of the others, since it was recorded in Seattle, Washington, rather than an old English church, which is their usual recording location. The recording engineer, Albert Swanson, is also not a "regular", but it's the results that count, and they are magnificent none the less. The sonics have the purity and immediacy that are typical with this label, along with excellent dynamic qualities and outer detail. The soundstage is realistic and focused. The sound is still a bit "dry", which will keep it from the top two classes, but it's still superior to their average results. This LP will be difficult to find, but worth it for lovers of modern Clarinet compositions. It is not in demand.
This is one of Bach's "secular" (and most popular) Cantatas and it is relatively long, taking up the entire LP. There is also a "bonus" of sorts, since two movements of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 are used as "bookends", at the very beginning and the end of the work.
The sonics are up to Hyperion's high standards, just missing the top two classes. The clarity and purity are disarming and actually similar to a good direct-to-disc record. There is excellent separation of instruments with stupendous amounts of detail. The downsides are some strain and confusion during some loud vocal solos and complex choral passages. This LP is a "must have" for Bach choral lovers.
I underestimated this record when I listened to it a few years ago, because this is truly a sonic spectacular, in every sense of that term. The soundstage is huge and focused. It doesn't have the noticeable "veil" that is common on RR records. It is extremely clean and highly detailed, so much so that most records sound "crude" in comparison. The dynamic qualities are outstanding, including the lowest bass, and the sound doesn't homogenize when the music gets loud and complicated. It is also very natural, with good low-level detail. It should be in the top two classes, but it has one significant problem, which I find difficult to accurately describe.
Simply put, the music is not quite "complete": The "harmonic bloom" begins in a natural fashion, but it "fades" prior to being totally finished. The "decays" have the same problem. They start off naturally, but then they "die" prematurely. You can sense the hall, but not all of it. It almost sounds like an incredible digital recording, or one in which an analytical transistor amplifier was inserted in the signal path. This problem is important, but it is still not serious enough to dampen my enthusiasm for this impressive record. I think this LP is still available new. Highly recommended.
This album is a recording of a live performance of The Creation at the 1982 Liege Festival in Belgium. There is some audible audience noise, but it is not distracting, though the applause is included at the end.
The sound has that rare and very desirable "alive", immediate feeling to it. It is also clean and detailed. The soundstage is well captured, but the focus is just average. The tonal balance is very good, but it is just a little "tipped up" in the highs. Ideally, there should also be a little more body and "weight" to the sound. The dynamic qualities are excellent, but there is some homogenization during the Choral crescendos. These slightly noticeable problems will keep it from the top two classes. This is a (2-LP) album.
This is a Mass using popular French folk melodies as its musical themes. It even has a different theme for each verse within a section (Kyrie, Credo etc.) It uses a full, modern orchestra, soloists and choir, and it also has "ancient instruments" in a number of sections. In short, it is a truly unique composition with plenty of surprises and variety, so much so that you don't know what is going to happen next.
The sound is distant, as though you are listening from the back rows or the balcony. It is very natural, full-bodied and transparent. There is an excellent sense of space and detail, and there is even some of the "alive" quality. In many ways, this record reminds me of the Canto General album by Atma-sphere, both in sonics and the general "feel" of the music, though this Mass has greater musical variety.
This record is virtually a sonic clone of the Arnold Overtures album listed just above. This is amazing because, as far as I know, the recordings were done in two different locales. The only difference is the Arnold might be a touch more immediate. Other than that, the astonishing strengths, and frustrating weakness, remain the same, and yes, it is also spectacular.
What I can honestly say is: If these recordings didn't have their noticeable sonic imperfections (the subtle veil; the lack of completeness and total openness; shortened decays), they would be, I believe, the finest orchestral records I am aware of. As it is, any of the best Decca or Harmonia Mundi LPs can demonstrate what is "missing" in (and wrong with) the RR records in a matter of seconds.
Still, these records have far too much going for them in sonic terms for them to be ignored, as I mistakenly did in the past. Even more important, the excellent variety of music on this particular album is unique and interesting enough to highly recommend it in its own right. I think this album is still available new. Overall, it is a "must have" for lovers of 20th Century popular orchestral music, especially those who enjoy a Latin "flavor".Top
Here we have the most famous opera of them all, and there have been many excellent recordings of it. This is the finest in sonic terms, and it is also one of the most critically acclaimed to boot.
The sound is natural and transparent. The sound-floor is low, allowing the stage and space to be heard, and with excellent separation. The voices, usually the "Achilles' heel", are full-bodied and clean. This isn't at the level of the two Britten operas described elsewhere, but it is still superb.
The Dutch pressings are slightly more detailed and transparent than the English equivalents. There is also a rare Mobile Fidelity pressing that I remember being a touch better than even the Dutch. It comes in an oversized album box, and it is usually pricey, so it is recommended only to serious Carmen enthusiasts. This London album also has the convenience of consecutive sides, just like the Decca.
COMPARISON: There is another famous Carmen on DGG (2740 101) by Horne/Bernstein. This recording has been on the TAS list for many years. It also has excellent sonics, but it's not quite equal to the Decca/London in immediacy, transparency and overall naturalness. It is also a very desirable album, but it's not worth a premium for the sonics.
This a short (2 LP), modern opera with a contemporary story. The heroine finds herself in a marriage without love, and a "battle-ax" for a mother-in-law. She has an affair and eventually commits suicide because of it. There are no memorable melodies as in Carmen or Lakme, but the orchestration and atmosphere are inventive. The entire musical experience is intense.
The sound is extraordinary, somewhere in between the Carmen and the Britten operas. I've only heard the English pressing, but I think a Dutch pressing does exist.
Another superb London/Decca opera album. This opera features a large orchestra, chorus and it even has a prominent organ. The voices are full-bodied and powerful. The stage is huge, and the crescendos can be overwhelming. The only problem is an occasional strain on the female peaks. The male voices are fine. The sense of immediacy is similar to the Porgy and Bess and Carmen sets.
The opera story line is about a princess (Joan Sutherland), with magical powers, looking for a suitable husband. Unlike the similar Turandot though, there is not an unpleasant, violent foundation to it. I have the late English pressing. I haven't heard the Dutch pressings, if they exist.
This is the best known performance of Offenbach's best known opera. It also received a "Rosette" in The Penguin Record Guide. It even includes one of the most famous melodies of all time (The Barcarolle-Side 3).
The sonics are also outstanding indeed, equaling any of the finest operas previously mentioned, but with one problem. Occasionally, the male voices sound a bit strained and thin at higher, and even lower volumes. This is just serious enough to keep it from the top two classes.
This was the first of 3 Puccini opera sets that Von Karajan recorded for Decca. All of them were very successful in every possible sense of that word.
The sonics are outstanding, with the dynamic qualities being particularly noteworthy on all 3 recordings. (This a poor reflection on the DGG engineers, who recorded the bulk of Von Karajan's comparatively compressed orchestral recordings.) The voices are also very well captured on this set, with body and no obvious distortions. This album will not be at the very top, but it's a solid choice.
Sadly, the other two Puccini operas, La Boheme and Madama Butterfly, have very noticeable problems with the voices; either they are too distant or too distorted, so they won't make this list, but the orchestras are just as well recorded as this Tosca set. This album was very common, and it's only 2 records. The Decca set is not worth the extra money.
This is one of the famous recordings that helped made a star out of Luciano Pavarotti. It also includes his now signature aria, "Nessun dorma!" (No man shall sleep!), which "The Three Tenors" always use to end their concerts.
The sonics are phenomenal in most ways, equaling the finest of the previous operas on the list. The sound-floor is very low and the crescendos overwhelming. The only problem is the voices are sometimes strained and compressed at higher volumes. Highly recommended. This album is also on the TAS list.
CAVEAT: It is no secret that I usually prefer the Dutch pressings over the English. This is not the case with this recording. Unfortunately, the Dutch pressings have severely rolled off bass which seriously effects the impact of the performance. The sonics are otherwise equal to the English.
There is a tragic story concerning this opera. It was first performed 70 years ago in the Soviet Union, and though it was considered a "masterpiece", it wasn't recorded until 45 years later. What happened? Josef Stalin, the dictator who murdered millions, was offended by the violence and sex in the plot, so it was banned for decades. Shostakovich, only after Stalin's death, rewrote the work to make it "acceptable". This innocuous version is called: Katerina Ismailova. The original work was still under wraps when Shostakovich himself died in 1975.
Enter Shostakovich's friends, Mstislav Rostropovich, the great cellist, and his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. Thanks to them, and some of their colleagues, this important recording was finally made in 1979, in the West of course. The performance has been hailed by critics everywhere.
The sonics, are also stupendous. The best I've yet heard in an EMI opera set. The sound is both liquid and dynamic. The male voices have a few problems, but Vishnevskaya is very well recorded. This is modern music, but not "avant-garde". Highly recommended for those readers who don't have quite the "tender sensibilities" of Stalin. This album is rare. Only the English pressings are recommended.
In one final irony, even with the censorship era long over, this opera is now rarely performed in public. Very few people these days, even in Russia, will pay to hear a "modern opera". The public ended up "accomplishing" what Stalin couldn't.
A famous 2-LP set, that both garnered a Rosette from the Penguin Record Guide and made the TAS list. It was also a very popular recording, so there are many different pressings. The best I've heard are the late English and Dutch, but the earlier pressings are also excellent.
The strengths of this recording include an incredibly large and focused soundstage, excellent dynamics (and thumps) and a very good feeling of transparency and immediacy. The only real sonic problem is that there is a sense of strain on some of the louder passages. The extra price for the (relatively) rare Decca is not worth it.
Another outstanding opera recording from the Decca team. The plot, based on the novel by Alexander Pushkin, involves the misjudgments, and the resulting tragedies, of young people in love during the 1820's, in Russia's version of "high-society".
The performance received good reviews when it came out and the sonics are almost at the top, with phenomenal transparency, immediacy and dynamic qualities. The voices are also excellent. The recording dates from 1974, so all the pressings are recommended.
EMI made a large number of highly acclaimed opera recordings, but sadly, very few of them are superb in the sonics department. This is one of those exceptions.
The sound is very natural and transparent, and the voices are full-bodied and clean. There is also an excellent sense of space. Just as important, the performance was top-rated by most of the opera critics. However, for some strange reason, EMI deleted this album early on, and only re-released it one more time on a German pressing, which is what I have. I've never seen the original English pressing. Highly desirable.
COMPARISON: There is another excellent sounding, and celebrated, recording of Otello by Von Karajan on London/Decca (OSA 1324). It is not quite the equal of the EMI/Barbirolli in sonics. It is veiled and distorted in comparison.
This opera is renowned for its many melodies and it is very popular with the public. Even non-opera lovers have heard the "Anvil Chorus" etc. The sonics of this album equal all but the best in the Decca catalogue.
It is transparent, immediate and natural. The voices are full bodied and have very little strain. There is a good sense of space and stage. The dynamic qualities are also excellent. Only some "variability" keeps the album from the very top. This album shouldn't be too hard to find, and there is no demand for it. I've only heard the Dutch pressings.
COMPARISON: The best known "competitor" is the RCA/Mehta (LSC 6194), which even received a "Rosette", in the Penguin Record Guide, for its performance. In contrast, the Bonynge/Decca received only two "stars". Sonically, the RCA is pretty good, with body and space, but it is very veiled and homogenized in comparison to the Decca/London.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 and Award of THE BASIC LIST-ANCIENT MUSIC & SMALL SCALE CLASSICAL
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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