SUPREME LP RECORDINGS

THE DEMI-GODS

UPDATED JUNE 2016

INTRODUCTION

DESCRIPTIONS

ANCIENT MUSIC

CLASSICAL MUSIC-SMALL SCALE

CLASSICAL MUSIC-LARGE SCALE

OPERAS

POP/JAZZ/FOLK/ETHNIC MUSIC

ESSAY & CONTROVERSY
PROKOFIEV-SCYTHIAN SUITE-THE CLASSIC REISSUE & THE "ORIGINAL"
TWO DISAPPOINTING MERCURY LIVING PRESENCE CLASSIC REISSUES & TAS/HP

(4) AWARDS

INTERNAL LINKS
The Supreme Recordings List
The Divinity-Descriptions & Awards
The Basic List-Descriptions & Awards
The Honorable Mentions List (and Some Descriptions)
Audio Critique

INTRODUCTION

Some readers may feel that a few of these records equal, or even exceed, the sonics of some of the records in The Divinity. I understand and appreciate this viewpoint, because this is a personal judgement and not an exact science, so I wouldn't be surprised if there is an "exchange" within these two classes sometime in the future.

A few of these records might still be "demoted" to The Basic List. None of them will end up in The Honorable Mentions. Eventually, there will be around 50 records within this class, so expect to see a number of LPs from The Basic List added to this group sometime in the future.

THE DESCRIPTIONS

The original descriptions haven't been altered since they were placed in this separate file, which means there will be references that no will longer make any sense. So...

CAVEAT- I may alter the descriptions of these entries at any time and without notice. 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.

ANCIENT MUSIC

LA SPAGNA- ATRIVM MVSICAE DE MADRID/GREGORIO PANIAGUA- BIS LP-163/64

This is a 2 LP set that has long been on the TAS list. It has an incredible variety of music and instruments from a 200-year period. There are no voices. The sound is very clean, transparent, complex and extended in the highs. The harmonic richness and decay within the hall is outstanding. The soundstage is very deep, but it is not unusually wide.

Anecdote: Around 12 years ago I used this LP (Side 3) to demonstrate the superiority of the Purist Audio I.C. cables to the Wireworld Gold Eclipse on phono sources for my guest at the time, Israel Blume of Coincident Speaker.

Blume was so surprised and impressed that he has since used this same LP (3rd side) as one of his basic references. He has told me that "it is virtually unique in how fast it weeds out the routine components from the true contenders", usually less than a minute!

TARENTULE~TARENTELLE-GREGORIO PANIAGUA-HARMONIA MUNDI HM 379

Another extraordinary record from Harmonia Mundi. The music is from 300 to 400 years ago and features many unusual instruments. The sound is very transparent, immediate, natural and dynamic. The retrieval of low-level information and inner detail is simply outstanding. This LP has never been on any other list as far as I know, but there still has been a steady demand for it over the years; word-of-mouth I guess.

Caveat- A reader has informed me that there is one pressing of this LP that should be avoided. It is a DMM pressing, that he felt "lacks life and dynamics" compared to the earlier releases. This particular pressing can be identified by looking closely at the "inner grooves", where it will read DMMB. "The jacket also displays a UPC code", which are not on the earlier copies. I have not seen, let alone heard, this particular pressing myself.

HARMONIA MUNDI & SPEAKERS CORNER COMPARISON

This LP has been in The Supreme Recordings ("The Basic List") for a long time. It is one of the best sounding records from Harmonia Mundi, though not at the "very top"*. The music is very lively and quite surprising at times. One relatively lengthy cut on Side Two, Tarantela I to VI, might have a greater variety of instrumentation, dynamic scale and "arrangement", than any other I've yet heard in "Ancient Music". In fact, this one cut alone may make it worthwhile for some to buy this recording.

I recently purchased, through an eBay auction I won, a Speakers Corner reissue (180 gram) of this recording, and I have since compared it to an original pressing from France, which was made 30 years ago now. Which was better? I prefer the original pressing, which was noticeably more immediate, detailed and dynamic. Further, the unusual instruments in the original pressing were less homogenized, better individualized and it also had a slightly lower sound-floor. Overall, it sounds somewhat more "real to life", while the reissue sounds like it was mastered with a decent, though old, tube amplifier.

However, the Speakers Corner LP had slightly more body and deeper and more powerful lower bass (most noticeable on the bass drum). It was also "more forgiving", meaning it may sound better to a listener with a system that is "bright and forward" in character. The Bottom Line- This reissue is useful only for those readers wary of buying any records used, since the original sounds better and even costs less, or those listeners who prefer or require a "mellow sound". While this reissue does have outstanding sonics, it's still "second best".

Further- The Speakers Corner pressing was "pretty good", which is somewhat below the norm for this company. It had no warps or noticeable marks, but it was pressed decidedly "off-center" and there was also some slight surface noise at the start of one side. This level of imperfection is not as good as what I usually experienced when I used to sell their reissues (mainly Decca/London), in my former audio store, during the 1990's: Rarely bad enough to return, but still not quite as good as the better Japanese pressed reissues (MoFi, original King Super Analogue etc). Bottom Line: They could do a little bit better. (In fact, the original pressing, 30 years old, played at least 20 times, was noticeably quieter.)

*At the very top are: Ancient Greek Music, La Folia** and Villancicos.

**I also have the Speakers Corner reissue of La Folia, from the same auction, which I haven't heard yet. The review should come later this month.

Addendum- I have never received any free "review samples" from Speakers Corner, or their distributor, Acoustic Sounds. In fact, they won't even allow me to purchase records at "wholesale prices". This is why I must try to find them on eBay, like many other economical audiophiles, on a tight budget. This is true despite all of their reissues I sold as a retailer, and my extensive, long posted enthusiasm for many Harmonia Mundi titles, let alone their earlier Decca/London reissues.

This haphazard "purchasing strategy" is the reason why reviews of newly released reissues, from any of the record companies, are rarely found on this website. I suspect this new review probably won't change my current status with them for the better.

IMAGES GALANTES DE LA RENAISSANCE-PIERRE VERANY PV 4791

This LP is from a small French label that specializes in unusual music, mainly Ethnic and Medieval. All their LP's are very upfront and immediate. There are also cut quite loud. In many instances the overall effect is too much "in your face", and sometimes there is even a noticeable overload distortion, but this LP is one of their true successes.

The sound is as described, but still natural, and with plenty of low-level information. The only real fault is a very slight strain on peaks, due to the miking and mastering. Otherwise, this is a real competitor to the top Harmonia Mundi's, which is saying quite a lot. This LP is now rare, but it's not in demand.

LA FETE DE L'ANE-CLEMENCIC CONSORT-HARMONIA MUNDI (FRANCE) HM 1036

The translation of the title is: "The Feast of the Fools", at least according to the notes enclosed in the record jacket. Others say it is "The Feast of the Ass". What is not in question is the unusual nature of the record. It is supposed to be a recreation of the (then) traditional "end of the year" celebration which started during the Middle Ages and did not end until the 16th Century, despite the strong efforts by the Catholic Church to stop it during this time.

The festival consisted of the common people celebrating and "letting off some steam"; especially insulting the Church, the Mass, and the clergy, and all of this was supposed to happen inside the churches themselves. I'm not certain of the historical accuracy of this recording, but I can tell you that an unsuspecting observer might think some of it comes from a real-life insane asylum. If I divulge any more, it would compromise the "surprise factor" for the first-time listener.

As for the sonics, they are truly phenomenal, and in every way. There is a large, focused soundstage, with superb inner and outer detail. The sound is natural and very transparent and immediate. It just misses the very top. There are two pressings of this recording; the original from France and a later one from Germany.

The German pressings are cleaner and more transparent. They also have a lower sound-floor. However, the French pressings are cut a touch louder and are more dynamic, but the print echo is also more obtrusive. You can't go wrong with either one, but the German is slightly preferable. There has been a recent reissue of it, but I haven't heard it myself.

MARTIN CODAX-CANTIAGAS DE AMIGO-CRISWICK-HARMONIA MUNDI HM 1060

Another absolutely stunning recording from Harmonia Mundi. It is competitive with even the finest from that label. It has an outstandingly low sound-floor, sense of immediacy and of "aliveness".

The music is all from the 13th Century. Along with the featured Codax songs on Side One, Side Two has 6 of the "Cantigas de Santa Maria" by Alphonse X, Le Sage, which also have a greater variety of instruments. The only sonic flaw I heard was a very slight, occasional strain of the mezzo-soprano (Criswick) during the Codax songs. This LP is neither common nor in demand.

CANTIGAS DE SANTA MARIA/PIAE CANTIONES ETC.-JOCULATORES UPSALIENSES-BIS LP-225

This LP is a collection of Spanish and Arabic songs from the 13th to the 16th century. There is a surprising amount of variety in the voices, instruments and settings.

The sound is simply fantastic, even better than the more famous La Spagna from the same label (see above). It's as impressive as all but the very top Harmonia Mundis. The voices, especially when solo, are extremely natural and vivid. In fact, I have used certain cuts for demonstrating and evaluating an assortment of human voices. The recording hall, both in space and ambience, is excellently captured. Only its "variability" keeps it out of The Divinity, where I put it originally. This record is not recommended anywhere else, but it is also rare.

FURTHER NOTES: There are 3 other records by this same group on this same label that are interesting and with excellent sonics. They are: The Four Seasons, LP-75; and Woods, Women and Wine, LP-120. Both have sonics worthy of The Basic List. Their first record is: Early Music at Wik, LP-3. It has excellent sonics, but it is sligthly veiled and homogenized in comparison. It is in The Honorable Mentions. Unfortunately, all 3 of them are also rare.

TROUBADOUR SONGS AND MEDIEVAL LYRICS-HILLIER-HYPERION A66094

The recording engineer on this LP was Tony Faulkner, who is now famous for his Decca recordings and the remastering of the recent Decca reissues. He also did a superb job on this recording from 1982. His task was to record simple songs with usually one male voice and one instrument.

At its best, the sonics on this LP are as good as it gets, equaling anything on this list. The sound is so immediate, that the musicians almost appear to be in your actual presence. It's almost like a super direct-to-disc. The instruments also sound very natural and with body. The sound-floor is so low that the small details you normally hear only in "live" performances are preserved.

The only problem that keeps this record from the very top is a slight strain and unnatural edge that is sometimes noticeable when the baritone, Paul Hillier, sings at a medium to loud level. Unfortunately, this LP now sells for a high premium, unless you're lucky.

ENGLISH AYRES AND DUETS-THE CAMERATA OF LONDON-HYPERION A66003

The unique element of this record is that all the songs are "sung in authentic Elizabethan pronunciation". There are two singers, a mezzo soprano and a baritone, and two instrumentalists, a lute and bass viol player. There are a good variety of songs from an assortment of composers, though mainly Campion and Dowland.

The sonics of this record are very similar to Hyperion's other "best effort", Troubadour Songs, already listed above. It is also as immediate and clean as a "super direct-to-disc". The musicians are focused and there is an excellent sense of space. There is also natural body to the voices and instruments. There is only an infrequent slight strain on the voices.

There have been (3) other LP's with "ancient songs" that have already made this list, but this is the one to get if you only want only one of them. It offers the finest combination of music, variety, authenticity and sonics.

FURTHER: Two final LPs with very similar music from Hyperion that I can recommend are: Time Stands Still; A66186. It features soprano Emma Kirkby, and the sonics equal all but the top three records from this label.

The other record is: Gemma Musicale; A66079, which was recorded by Tony Faulkner. These are songs from the 17th Century featuring a male voice that has a huge vocal range, from a tenor to a bass. The sound quality on this record is actually comparable to the Troubadour Songs, though there is some strain on the voice at loud volumes. Both records should be listed, but there are enough "ancient song LPs" as it is.

THIBAUT DE NAVARRE-PANIAGUA-HARMONIA MUNDI HM 1016

Thibaut (1201-1253), was both the King of Navarre (now a Basque province that was an independent kingdom during the Middle Ages), and a "trouvere", a lyric poet/musician of Northern France, at around the time of the Crusades. Accordingly, these compositions have a strong Middle Eastern or Moorish flavor, and there are no vocalists.

The sonics of this LP are in the league of the finest from Harmonia Mundi. There is outstanding transparency and immediacy. The performance space is well reproduced and there is superb outer and inner detail. The sound-floor is very low and the dynamic qualities are intense and lifelike. It also has the "alive" quality, which you sense immediately.

This record is rarer than any of the other top Harmonia Mundi LPs that I have listed. I don't know why, but maybe it wasn't a big seller. In fact, I have only seen a few copies of it during years of searching. Further, this is the only recording ever made of this music and, even worse, Harmonia Mundi has not yet come out with a CD reissue of it. Thus, there will be a continual demand for it from at least two groups.

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CLASSICAL MUSIC-SMALL SCALE

JOHNSEN-KANTAT, SONAT & ODER-LJUNGGREN-PROPRIUS PROP 7805

Another LP with music from a very obscure Baroque composer and with amazing sound. Hinrich Philip Johnsen lived from 1717 to 1779, the same period as J.S. Bach's older sons. Unfortunately, the record's liner notes are all in Swedish, so that's all I can "translate". There is a nice variety of music on this LP; a Cantata, 5 songs with a harpsichord accompaniment and a three movement Trio Sonata without voice.

The sonics are phenomenal indeed; with superb body, transparency, immediacy, detail, sense of space, decay etc. It has the "alive" quality too. This record is rare, but it's not in demand.

HANDEL-WATER MUSIC-MCGEGAN-HARMONIA MUNDI HMU 7010

An absolutely magnificent recording of Handel's most popular instrumental compositions. It is superlative in every relevant sonic/musical parameter. It is as "natural" as can ever be imagined. The amount of detail is staggering. The sense of transparency and immediacy are competitive with the best. The soundstage, separation of instruments and decay are as good as it gets. It is pure, at all volume levels, and has an ultra-low sound-floor. It has the "alive" quality in a degree that few other records do.

However, Side Two, recorded on a different date, doesn't have quite the immediacy, transparency and dynamic intensity of Side One, so it won't make the very top class.

Comparisons- There are at least two other well-known records of this music. Both of them have just the "highlights" of the Water Music, but include "The music for Royal Fireworks" as the replacement. The first is the best-seller from Argo (ZRG 697), conducted by Neville Marriner. It uses a larger chamber ensemble (ASMF) and modern instruments. The sound is excellent, but it is not "outstanding".

The second "contender" is the Speakers Corner Reissue, Decca SXL 2302, which was conducted by Georg Szell. This is a truly unique recording, because a large, modern orchestra was used. This can be somewhat disconcerting after hearing the music first played by a small chamber ensemble. The sonics are also excellent, but not truly "special". The record still sounds a little "old". Both records may be very desirable for lovers of this music, though neither will make this list, or even "The Honorable Mentions".

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CLASSICAL MUSIC-LARGE SCALE

ALBENIZ-SUITE ESPANOLA-DE BURGOS-DECCA SXL 6355/LONDON CS 6581

This is a special and fabulous LP. In fact, this is the very first record that actually joined The Supreme Recordings list. There are a wide variety of pressings and I have heard all of them, but not at the same time, so I can't make a definitive ranking, yet.

I do know for certain that the earliest English pressings and the (recent non-Japanese) King Super Analogue are the two worst of the bunch, with the earliest English also being the most expensive of them all. However, any pressing of this recording, including the still available Alto, is at least excellent and most desirable. I have known a number of (usually rational) people who became almost obsessed with this record.

There was once a time (during the early 1990's) when I could state that this was "the best sounding orchestral LP" I had ever heard. The sonics are superb in every way; naturalness, transparency, cleanness and dynamically. It was not an accident that this was the very first record placed and described on this list back in January 2000, because this LP is so incredible, desirable and it is "mucho fun" to listen to, regardless of musical tastes.

This is the only recording of the orchestration of Albeniz's piano and guitar pieces. This record came out after the Blueback series. It was available for 15 years. This LP will probably cost you more than an average London or Decca, but it's well worth it. The Alto reissue is more desirable than the recent King Super Analogue.

Update from May 2015...

ALBENIZ-SUITE ESPANOLA-DE BURGOS-ORG 100 REISSUE 45 RPM (2 LPS)

"Suite Espanola" was the very first LP to join The Supreme Recordings, when I initially posted the list in 2000. This was not an accident. I loved the music, the sonics were phenomenal and the record had been neglected by the entire audio press (print and web), record dealers and audiophiles in general for well over 20 years at the time. I did my best to make up for that neglect (which bothered me for some reason), then and since then.

There was even an unique human element related to this distinction of being "First": For some unknown reason, an unusual number of my audiophile friends immediately became obsessed with this LP the first time I played it for them. They just had to possess their own copy of the record, at any price. Interestingly, one cut in particular seemed to compel that obsession: "Asturias", which is the 2nd cut on Side One. On my own part, since the first time I heard this recording, now around 25 years ago, I have felt some sort of attachment to it and I have made a continuing effort to find and hear every pressing of it that became available (looking for the best one of course), and this brings us to this current shootout.

There were four pressings in the shootout and they all had very different backgrounds. There was a very first pressing (1G), with a Decca label, pressed in the UK of course. There was also Decca's final (3/5G) pressing, this time with a London label, and pressed in Holland. There were two Reissues; one from Alto, which came out in the 1990's and the latest reissue from ORG. The ORG is the only 45 RPM of the group and its presence admittedly inspired this shootout.

This meant that nearly every "pressing bias group" had their "champion" in the game, from "first pressings are always the best" to "Decca is always better than London" to "UK is always better than Holland" to (finally) "a 45 is always better than a 33". Considering all of this, the final results were somewhat surprising to us, which is always a good sign that they are also accurate. The records were all in excellent condition. We, one of my "obsessed associates" and I, played at least two cuts on each LP, and even multiple times for verification, but the results remained the same.

All of the records had outstanding or better sonics, and all of them are highly recommended, but there were still important sonic differences between them. The largest sonic improvement was noticed between #3 and #2. Starting from the bottom:

4. Alto Reissue- It may have come in last place in this ultra-tough competition, but it still had outstanding sonics, though not quite as clean and natural as No. 3.

3. Original "Earliest Pressing" Decca (1G)- The sonics were again clearly outstanding. It was more natural than No. 4, but not as immediate, dynamic, effortless and clean as Nos. 2 and 1.

2. ORG 45 RPM Reissue- The ORG was noticeably superior to both the Alto and the Decca, but it lacked the last bit of immediacy and dynamic intensity compared to No. 1. This was most noticeably heard in "Asturias".

1. Dutch London Late Pressing- We were quite surprised ourselves, which is why we made multiple comparisons for verification. Let's see: A "London", and a "late pressing", and "Dutch" and a "33". That's FOUR strikes for many (biased) audiophiles, but it's a home run in the real world. How and why? There is only one plausible reason: Because Ted Burkett ("G") was a very talented mastering engineer, who had the ability to improve on his earlier work. For me, this particular LP is priceless.

The Competitors

Top Row (Left to Right) - Dutch London Pressing (3/5G), "Original First" UK Decca Pressing (1G)

Bottom Row (Left to Right) - Alto Reissue, ORG Reissue (2 LPS) 45 RPM

Suite Espagnol Decca

BARTOK-MUSIC FOR STRINGS, PERCUSSION & CELESTA-DECCA 6111 (SPEAKERS CORNER)

This entire LP is phenomenal, but the recording on Side 2 (excluding the 1st movement) is absolutely stunning. It is very neutral, liquid, clean, transparent, immediate and dynamic. Its very low "sound-floor" reminds me of the Mobile Fidelity "Pictures at an Exhibition" above. The combined results of all this is that the record has an extremely "alive" quality. None of the original (English) pressings I've heard are its equal.

On Side One is The Miraculous Mandarin, which is almost as impressive. Both works are conducted by Georg Solti. This LP is still available new. This is an absolute "blockbuster" that must not be missed. I have long felt that the entire "Speakers Corner Decca Reissue Series" is a huge success, but this pressing is extra special.

COMPARISONS: This record has two serious sonic competitors; the "legendary" Reiner/RCA, which was recently reissued by Classic on 180 gram vinyl (LSC-2374), and the Eugene Ormandy performance on EMI, recorded in Philadelphia (ASD-3655). There is no reissue of the EMI.

The Reiner has a large soundstage and excellent dynamic contrasts, but the sonics are also crude, distorted, veiled and homogenized, especially in the strings. It still sounds like "an old record", despite the new remastering, and it can only be described as a major disappointment, especially considering all the hype it has received over the years.

I can only recommend this pressing for those who want a (still) good sounding record, of a famous performance, by a Bartok specialist (and a very close friend to the composer in life). Meanwhile the original "Shaded Dog" pressings, which I heard recently, sound even worse than the reissue.

The Ormandy/EMI fares much better. The sound is clean and refined. It is transparent and detailed. The instruments have a natural quality. This doesn't have quite the immediacy nor the incredible dynamic swings of the Solti, but it is still good enough to make The Basic List, though not the top two categories.

THOMSON-PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS-STOKOWSKI-ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS AP 001

A simply phenomenal LP. The original was excellent, but this reissue is in another class. The music is "Americana", and similar to Aaron Copland. Both works are excellent, but "The Plow" offers the more spectacular and demanding moments.

The sound is a bit laid back, but very transparent, pure and with extraordinary low-level detail. The soundstage is both huge and focused. The bass is extended and tight. The dynamic qualities are also exceptional. The entire LP is extremely natural. It has been almost entirely and predictably overlooked by the 'reviewers'. I highly recommend you don't make that same mistake yourself.

GOULD-LATIN-AMERICAN SYMPHONETTE-ABRAVANEL-ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS APC 003

This LP is in the same class as the Virgil Thomson LP above, but the perspective is even more laid back. It is very transparent and neutral with a large and focused soundstage. This LP has received virtually no hype, but it is superior to most of the other better known reissues, like the Classic RCA's. The original pressing of this record, while still "good", is noticeably inferior to this reissue.

The music is light "Americana" with a Latin flavor. Of the three musical selections on the LP, the most demanding is the Symphonette on Side Two. It also has more of a natural tonal balance than the two other compositions on Side One. The sound-floor on this record is very low, allowing even the tiniest musical details to be heard. This LP will be near the top of the list, but it does have a slight noise (hum) that is audible during very soft passages.

********************SPECIAL AWARD********************

***********FINEST "PEAK PERFORMANCE" ORCHESTRAL LP***********

KODALY-HARY JANOS SUITE-KERTESZ-DECCA SXL 6136 (SPEAKERS CORNER)

The sound quality on this LP noticeably varies, which I admit is an understatement. It's always at least superb, but it moves to the realm of unbelievable during "The battle and defeat of Napoleon"*, which is the 4th movement of the Hary Janos Suite on Side One. The immediacy, transparency and dynamic qualities are all extraordinary and unforgettable. It is also outstandingly natural, rich and full bodied.

In short, these 5 minutes or so of this record are as good as it ever gets. In fact, they may be the finest sounding moments in orchestral recorded history, with the one possible exception of the Chesky/Danon/Petroushka. (To make a baseball analogy: This is the "Barry Bonds" of orchestral records.) This unique achievement must be recognized, and it also makes this LP "indispensable" for all audiophiles and/or lovers of modern orchestral music.

Unfortunately, the entire disc isn't on this sonic level, including the remainder of Side One. If it had, it would have been competitive with the (above mentioned) LP at the very top place on the list. There are many potential causes* for this variability. I've heard a number of other LPs with this same problem, and I've noticed that the more revealing my audio system has become, the easier it is to hear this aberration. This is obviously a "must have" record.

Note- The Decca/London pressings of this recording are also superb, though not quite as good. They are still good enough to make The Basic List, and I would buy them if the Speakers Corner is difficult to find. They mimic the sonic variances as well. The (very rare Japanese) Super Analogue pressing is also superb and desirable. It's a little warmer (which some will prefer) and cut a little lower than the Speakers Corner, but it's not quite as clean, extended, dynamic and immediate.

*A reader, who also happens to be a professional orchestral musician from Australia, has sent me this interesting and rational explanation for the amazing sonics during that 5 minute section:

"I agree that the track "Battle and Defeat of Napoleon" has particulary impressive recorded sound by comparision with the rest of the album, and I think I know why: this movement has no string instruments. It would have been recorded (probably at the end of a session) with the string section absent from the stage, but of course with all of the microphones used for the recording still in place. I know from my work, that most concert halls have a nice bloom to the sound on stage before all my colleagues are assembled, and that the sound of the instruments gets drier and more 'squashed' as the stage gets more people on it (or more chairs, music stands, whatever). The ramifications for recording engineers are obvious, but hard to work around!"

Further Kodaly- London/Decca also produced another very desirable (3-LP) album of Kodaly's orchestral music, which was conducted by Antal Dorati. The sound is excellent, but the sound-floor is a little too high for this list and it also has some problems in the bass. It can still be found in The Honorable Mentions.

*******************************************

BACK TO AWARDS

COPLAND-RODEO/FANFARE-IVES-JOHANOS-ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS APC 004

This LP is another stunner from Analogue Productions. The sound is very immediate, clean, dynamic and "alive". The orchestra is somewhat distant, but the LP has so much of a see-through quality and such a low sound-floor that it doesn't present a problem. The cymbals in the Fanfare may be the best I've ever heard; both explosive and with incredible detail and decay. There is also phenomenal inner detail, you can easily hear shuffling, scores being turned etc.

Unfortunately, AP decided not to put Copland's Billy the Kid on Side Two, like the original record, but a composition by Charles Ives instead. The Copland side is easily worth the cost of the entire LP.

ALBENIZ-IBERIA/TURINA-DANZAS FANTASTICAS-DECCA SXL 2243 (SPEAKERS CORNER)

Another superlative reissue from Speakers Corner. This LP includes some popular Spanish compositions, all conducted by Ansermet. The sonics are superb in every area, but truly exceptional in the areas of "naturalness" and "harmonic completeness". The large soundstage and its dynamic qualities are also noteworthy.

The earlier pressings of this recording are also excellent, but not in the class of this reissue.

ROMANTIC RUSSIA (BORODIN, GLINKA, MUSSORGSKY)-SOLTI-MOBILE FIDELITY MFSL 517

This was originally an excellent Decca/London release. This Mobile reissue, part of their early 1980's series, is on another sonic level. It is superb in every way; with an exceptionally low sound-floor and a very immediate, dynamic, natural and "alive" sound. It's about as good as it gets.

The prices of Mobile's have always been volatile, and this LP has always been in big demand, because of the popularity of the music. It's worth it this time!

STRAVINSKY-SONG OF THE NIGHTINGALE/REINER-RCA LSC-2150 (CLASSIC REISSUE)

This is a very famous record, mainly because of what is on Side One: Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije. This is also one of the early Classic reissues, which are not supposed to be all that good. This LP contradicts all that "conventional wisdom": Because it is The Nightingale that has the exceptional sonics, not Lt. Kije. In fact, The Nightingale's sound is stupendous. It is better than any other RCA Classical recording I've yet heard! In fact, it doesn't even sound like any other RCA I've heard.

This one of those very rare LPs which is so "immediate" and "alive" sounding, plus so neutral, that you are totally disarmed when listening to it. It is simply breathtaking, with enormous inner detail and excellent dynamic qualities. That, of course, puts it among the best of all the labels and somewhere near the very top of the list. It does have one noticeable problem though, within a couple of short passages of massed violins, the sound becomes unnaturally "hard". This keeps it from the very top.

There was even a 45 RPM version to consider, which was on 4 sides and had a premium price. I wish I could find a copy of it. The Chesky reissue was almost as good and the original RCA Shaded Dog is also special, but I haven't heard a good copy for some time.

STRAVINSKY-AGON/BERG-CHAMBER CONCERTO-ATHERTON-ARGO ZRG 937

One of the very last analogue LPs that Argo ever made. It was recorded in May, 1980. There are only Dutch pressings of this record. The music is in the "12-note technique", but it is still accessible.

The sound is incredible; very transparent, immediate and dynamic. It has that rare "alive" quality that you notice in seconds. Fortunately, it's a Dutch pressing, plus the style of music and the lack of any hype preclude a high price.

VILLA-LOBOS-UIRAPURU/PR0KOFIEV-CINDERELLA-EVEREST LPZ 1003 (180 GRAM REISSUE)

The original Everest recordings/pressings were a real mixed bag. The potential was there, but very rarely was there a total realization of that potential. The Villa-Lobos side of this LP is the exception. It is simply amazing. It is very clean and transparent. The dynamic qualities are about as good as they get, being simply explosive at times. The sound is also very neutral and there is a microscopic amount of inner detail. (The Prokofiev Cinderella side was not as successful. See below.)

This LP was recorded back in July, 1958, and conducted by Leopold Stokowski, but it still retains that rare "alive" quality. It will at least be a contender for one of the top spots.

FURTHER CINDERELLA: The Cinderella recording on this Everest LP, while still superb in many respects, has problems with reverberation and distortion. An alternative recording of the "highlights" is the RCA Classic Reissue, LSC-2135, conducted by Hugo Rignold. The entire LP is dedicated to the composition and the sound is excellent.

There is also a recording of the complete ballet, by Ashkenazy, on Decca/London, that is also excellent, even though it is digital. Both of the above are in The Honorable Mentions.

DEBUSSY-TROIS IMAGES POUR ORCHESTRE-HAITINK-PHILIPS 9500 509

I played this LP on one recent evening, not realizing beforehand how truly special it was. It was much more natural and "real" than all the hyped "contenders" I had previously played that same evening.

What distinguishes this record is its sense of "boundless openness", which is an extremely rare quality. I'm not just referring to its image size, but more to an almost infinite extension and bloom of the music. This quality is there even when the music is soft, which is important with these compositions. This implies that the recording has a very low sound-floor. It is also very natural and harmonically rich, and the dynamic gradations are subtle and complex, as in real life.

The performance is more famous than the sonics on this LP. Side One seems a little more special, sonically, than Side Two. Maybe it is because there is less music on Side One, or maybe it's just my imagination. There are also some noticeable problems with the bass. This keeps the LP from reaching the very top.

This is the finest orchestral record from Philips that I have ever heard. This LP is their equivalent of Don Larsen's "Perfect Game" in the 1956 World Series.

FURTHER- Haitink recorded two more LPs of Debussy's orchestral music on Philips. They are also available as a 3-LP "box set". Unfortunately, the two other records, while still very good in sonics, are not in the same league as this recording.

SCHOENBERG-VARIATIONS FOR ORCHESTRA OP.31-MEHTA-LONDON ENTERPRISE 414 440-1

This LP is part of the last analog reissues London made in the 1980's. They were cheap at the time and dismissed by the 'reviewers', "original pressing fundamentalists", and most snobby collectors and used record dealers. They were all very wrong. Some of the finest sounding LPs I've ever heard were part of this series, which sold for $ 5 new. They were mastered in England and pressed in Holland.

This reissue was one of their best. I compared it to the excellent, original English (London) pressing a while back, and it was superior in a number of areas; mainly transparency and purity. Overall, the sonics are superb and equal to some of the finest LPs, but the "modern" music is not the type that would allow the record to overwhelm you.

********************SPECIAL AWARD********************

***********FINEST PIANO CONCERTO LP***********

GRIEG-PIANO CONCERTO/LITOLFF-SCHERZO/FRANCK-CURZON-DECCA SXL 2173 (ALTO)

A magnificent record. The performances have already been famous for decades, and now this reissue caps it off with superior sonics, the best ever not only for this recording, but for any piano concerto that I've heard.

The main sonic strength of this record is its total naturalness: The body, the harmonic texture and the inner details are outstandingly reproduced. Yet it is also very dynamic and clean. This is the sound that the RCA "Shaded Dogs" were supposed to have, but so very rarely did. The only real negatives are a touch of benign hiss, and maybe the recording could have been a little more immediate.

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GERHARD-CONCERTO/RAWSTHORNE-SYMPHONY NO. 3- NORMAN DEL MAR-ARGO ZRG 553

This is another in the Argo series of "modern composers". The Rawsthorne is the more traditional work, while the Gerhard is more in the vein of the Varese percussion compositions.

The sound quality of the recording is stunning. It is very immediate and dynamic, and has the rare "alive" quality. The Gerhard is the more spectacular because of its use of percussion and its almost explosive qualities. It is one of the best Argos I've heard. This LP is rare and in demand because of the scarcity of the the compositions.

RAVEL-WORKS FOR ORCHESTRA-SKROWAEZEWSKI-ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS APC 007

A superlative reissue from AP that is difficult to find fault with, because it excels in every sonic/musical parameter. It is very clean and has an ultra low sound-floor, allowing you to hear, feel and "sense" everything, just like at a live event. A very impressive LP and achievement, which "wipes the floor" with most of the RCA Classic reissues, let alone the originals. This LP is still available new.

This record was mastered by Doug Sax with tube electronics. If more audiophiles had spent their money on truly worthy reissues, like this Ravel, instead of the typical, mediocre and overpriced "originals", we would all now have far more super reissues like this one to choose from.

Further- A close friend of mine, who is also a used-record dealer, asked me to compare this LP to the EMI/Cluytens reissue that he is very fond of. I did so, and while the Cluytens was excellent, my friend and I were stunned at how far superior the Skrowaezewski was in the sonics department.

RAVEL-RAPSODIE ESPAGNOLE/LA VALSE-PARAY-MERCURY SR90313 (CLASSIC REISSUE)

This is one of the true "superstars" of orchestral LPs. It is simply phenomenal in every way. The original is virtually an abomination compared to this reissue. I'm not even going to bother with all the usual superlatives.

It does not make The Divinity only because the one real problem I can hear, the original "tape-hiss", is still very noticeable during soft passages, and it also creates a slight "veil". Other than that, it is competitive with virtually every orchestral LP I have ever heard. This is a "no-brainer" LP purchase, and must also be described as an indispensable record.

LISZT-VIA CRUCIS-ANDRE LYNCH-PIERRE VERANY PV. 8292

This composition comes from the late years of Franz Liszt's life, when he was concentrating on religious music. It is a choral work, with organ and soloists, and it is based on the 14 parts of "The Stations of the Cross".

The sound is fabulous, with a large and upfront soundstage, and an excellent sense of immediacy, uncompressed dynamics and a natural harmonic richness. The decay within the recording venue, I assume a church, is exceptional. The organ is very well captured, and with powerful bass notes. The record also has an overall "alive" quality that always disarms the listener. This LP is very rare.

********************SPECIAL AWARD********************

***********MOST DYNAMIC ORCHESTRAL RECORDING***********

STRAVINSKY-THE RITE OF SPRING-MUTI-MOBILE FIDELITY MFSL 1-519

The description above says it all. There are no qualifiers to this well deserved title, and careful readers must have noticed I try to avoid absolutes. I don't need to with this record. If there exists one record ever made that could be truly described as "awesome", this is it. There will be a few more immediate and natural sounding orchestral LPs, but none of them are more unique, overwhelming and unforgettable as this. (Most unforgettable moments- The climax of the "Spring Rounds", around 10 minutes into Side One.)

This LP will make the top two classes, and not only because of its unique strength, but because it also has body and a low sound-floor. Amazingly, it is still clean at even the highest volumes, though it does homogenize slightly (but that could be my own system). This record is not on any other list, but it is still hard to find, and it appears to be in constant demand. As far as I'm concerned, it's still obviously worth it.

ALTERNATIVE PRESSINGS: I have heard most of the other pressings of this recording. The (digital) Angels are pretty good, but that is it. The Japanese (EAC-80558) has good body and it is clean, but the dynamics are "only" excellent, not extraordinary. The original English EMI (ASD 3807) is a little better than the Japanese, and even has a touch more body than the Mobile, but it also doesn't have the extreme dynamic range of the Mobile.

PLAYING SUGGESTIONS: If your system has average or better "headroom", then just play this record at your normal listening level and patiently wait for the unique experience to unfold. If your system has very limited headroom, like mine, lower the volume a little the first time you play the LP, just to be safe.

Recent Follow-up

Since I awarded this LP the title of "The Most Dynamic Orchestral Recording", the price has unfortunately skyrocketed. One copy actually sold for around $ 250 on e-Bay. It used to sell for around $ 30 or so when I initially recommended it. This hysterical price inflation was never my goal, since I have been looking for a back-up copy of this LP myself now for several years, but the real news I have about this LP has nothing to do with its current price or its availability.

It appears that this LP, or at least my own play copy, is "out of phase". This means that your own system must also be out of phase, putting the final sound back "in phase", to hear it at its best. So, if you feel or sense something isn't "right", I would switch the system phase to experiment. As a bonus, the stupendous dynamic qualities will be even further enhanced when the record is heard in phase.

Further- I received a letter from a reader in September 2006 on the above. I thought it was both interesting and informative. Here it is:

"I have both the Mofi pressing and also a US Angel pressing from RCA Music Service. While the RCA Angel is not the equal of the Mofi, it is very good, quite transparent- far better than the awful US EMI Angels of the 60s and 70s. The record number is R132496. In this connection, I have found a few late US RCA classical pressings (1977 and later) that were much more transparent than the usual dreck Red Seals (eg Harris Sym 3/Ives 3 Places in NE performed by Ormandy (ARL1-1682))."

The same reader also had some observations on "record phase":

"I find that the majority of records are "inverse phase". I had a Melos 333 preamp for 5 years and it had a phase switch so I could do instant comparisons. The only records I found to be consistently "in-phase" were French pressings and records pressed in the Soviet Bloc. Of course, many recordings are not clearly in or out of phase due to micing techniques. Pop recordings are mostly phase ambiguous unless more natural techniques were used. In addition, recordings using spaced omni micing (as with many Deccas) also introduce phase anomalies. This is part of the reason that Decca's orchestral sound is so big and enveloping. EMI used cardioids more often so the inverse phase attribute is clearer (at least to my ears on A-B comparisons). Often phase differences are subtle. The most reliable way I've found to ID phase is to pay attention to the relative amount of centerfill, rather than to transient punch or instrument focus. These latter factors can be greatly affected by micing or mixing decisions."

Personal Note- I think it's well worth experimenting with the default phase on your system, especially if you don't have a phase switch, which is the case in 95+% of audio systems. You can either change the speaker cables temporarily, or the cartridge pins (both channels in each instance, always!), if you decide to later make the change permanent.

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BRITTEN-THREE CHURCH PARABLES-PEARS/SHIRLEY-QUIRK/BRITTEN-DECCA 1BB 101/3

This 3-LP album is only available on the Decca label. Each parable is one record, and they were also available separately, on both Decca and London, with many different reissues. Each parable has 4 or 5 vocal soloists (all male) and a small chorus. There is also a small chamber orchestra, including percussion.

The sonics on each LP are simply stupendous. The solo voices and the instruments are particularly outstanding. The chorus is usually in the distance, and is mainly used for purposes of creating an atmosphere. The sense of immediacy, transparency, space, dynamics and sound-floor are all top-notch. Some of the works are more "spectacular" than the others, mainly because of the use of percussive instruments, brass and double basses.

The later pressings are cleaner and more transparent than the earlier, original issues, which are still phenomenal.

RESPIGHI-PINES OF ROME/FESTE ROMANE-MAAZEL-MOBILE FIDELITY-1-507/MFQR 1-507

This Mobile LP is simply superb and is also superior to the original (TAS recommended) Decca/London pressings of any vintage. The original English pressings, while still excellent, are veiled, homogenized and compressed in comparison. The sound-floor on the Mobile is also lower. The UHQR pressing has slightly superior sonics than the "standard" version.

The Pines of Rome is a very severe test for subwoofers because it has a sustained bass passage that will overwhelm almost all of them (including the Entecs). It is in "The Pines near the Catacombs" (2nd) movement of the work. Overall, the sound is very natural, dynamic, transparent and immediate.

COMPARISON: There is another famous Pines of Rome LP on this list: The Reiner/RCA Classic Records. The RCA reissue is also outstanding, 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". So the Mobile is here, though the RCA is still in The Basic List.

GERHARD-SYMPHONY NO.4/VIOLIN CONCERTO-DAVIS/NEAMAN-ARGO 701

Another extraordinary recording from Decca/Argo. It is noticeably strong in every sonic parameter; especially in immediacy, dynamic contrasts and retrieval of outer and inner detail. The soundstage is also excellent, with focus, and it doesn't homogenize during louder passages. The sound is mostly natural, but not quite as refined as some others. There was never a large pressing run of this LP. The music is "very modern", and may not suit the tastes of many listeners.

********************SPECIAL AWARD********************

***********FINEST CELLO CONCERTO RECORDING***********

DUTILLEUX/LUTOSLAWSKI CELLO CONCERTOS-ROSTROPOVITCH-EMI ASD 3145

This is a rare and unknown LP, with music that can be described in a similar fashion. The sonics are stunning. The cello almost sounds like it is in your listening room. The recording is very transparent, dynamic and with excellent inner detail. These are "modern" works, but while there is some lyricism, you can also count on lots of growls, plucking etc. This is probably the finest EMI LP I've ever heard.

Highly recommended for those who are adventuresome and want a true reference cello concerto. There is neither a big demand nor a large supply of this LP.

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ANTILL-CORROBOREE-GOOSSENS-EVEREST SDBR-3003 (CLASSIC REISSUE)

As a child, John Antill witnessed the Australian aboriginal dance ceremony know as the Corroboree. It must have had a powerful effect, because around 20 years later he began sketching a ballet based on the ritual. It wasn't completed and performed until 10 years later, 1946, when its premiere (also conducted by fellow composer Eugene Goossens) caused "a sensation". There has been just one (famous) recording of the entire ballet (EMI, see The Basic List), and a few recordings of the shorter "Suites". This LP is one of them.

Antill went to extreme lengths to capture the true essence of the real event. Listeners will hear a large modern orchestra, but with the addition of some unusual percussion instruments, including one called "the bull roarer" or the "thunder stick". The other composition on this record is the "Suite" from the ballet "Panambi", composed by the Argentinean, Alberto Ginastera, when he was only 20. It is based on a South American Indian legend.

The original Everest pressing was famous in its day, and it is still good enough to impress listeners today. This reissue by Classic, not DCC, is considerably better. It has an upfront perspective and is very immediate. The soundstage is large. The dynamic contrasts can only be described as "explosive". The transients are sharp and clean. There is also body to the instruments. There is some tape hiss which is audible, but it's not obtrusive. This record just misses the top two classes. The sonics are equally good on both sides, but the Corroboree is more memorable because of the nature of the music. I highly recommend this reissue, for both the interesting music (on both sides) and the outstanding sonics.

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OPERAS

BRITTEN-BILLY BUDD-DECCA SET 379/LONDON 1390

Decca/London's operatic recordings, on an engineering level, are by far the finest ever made. This is one of their best. It is a modern work, so there won't be "famous arias" or even a small amount of lyricism. The sound is stupendous, especially of the orchestra, but the voices are also excellent. It is at least as good as HMS Pinafore, probably even better, since the orchestral scoring is more demanding in the Britten, and there is also a greater sense of purity and immediacy.

Of course, the two operas only other similarity is that they are both set on English warships at sea. One is a very light, satirical comedy with a "Hollywood ending", while the other is a brutal and depressing drama, sadly based on a true incident, that many would understandably prefer to forget as soon as it's over. I've only heard Dutch pressings of this recording, but I assume the English pressings are also outstanding.

BRITTEN-DEATH IN VENICE-BEDFORD-LONDON 13109/DECCA SET 581

Another stupendous Britten Opera recording, and it may even be better than the Billy Budd listed previously. The sound is extremely immediate and pure, and it has a very low sound-floor too. It is a contender for top honors.

I've compared different pressings, and the late English and Dutch are a little better than the 1973 originals, which are still superb. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that Benjamin Britten was an audiophile, considering how many of his recordings, with Decca/London, have such extraordinary sound. This 3-LP album isn't yet in demand (the Opera's scenario is another "Plague").

DELIBES-LAKME-SUTHERLAND/BONYNGE-LONDON OSA 1391/DECCA SET 387/9

Lakme has had a unique and strange history. First it was famous for "The Bell Song" (Side 4). Now it is even more famous for the duetto used in the British Airways commercial (Side 1). This particular recording has been popular for 35 years.

The sonics are stunning, and are similar in quality to the two Britten operas above. It is very clean, immediate, detailed and natural. It has that rare "alive" quality. The space and atmosphere are also well captured. The Dutch pressings have these qualities, while the earlier English, both Decca and London, are more veiled and homogenized. I haven't heard a Late English at this time.

The only problem I have heard is an occasional, slight strain on some voices. Other than that, it is the equal to virtually anything. This opera may even appeal to those who aren't "opera freaks". There are interesting melodies, exotic orchestration and outstanding sonics.

STRAUSS, R.-DIE AGYPTISCHE HELENA-JONES/DORATI-DECCA D176 D3/LONDON OSA 13135

The German composer, Richard Strauss, was fascinated by Ancient Greek culture. In this opera, The Egyptian Helen, he combines the two Helen legends, including Helen of Troy. It is basically a psychological drama, focusing on the reconciliation of Helen with her husband, after the death of her lover, Paris of Troy.

The sonics of this recording are stunning, and it's even a serious contender for the best ever opera recording. (It ended up coming in Second place to Don Quichotte.) It excels in every area, and the voices are superbly captured. The recording was made in 1979, near the end of analog for Decca, so there were only Late English and Dutch pressings. I have only heard the Dutch, but I assume the English are in the same class. This was the first recording of the opera. This (3LP) album won't sell for a premium.

THE STRAUSS/SOLTI OPERAS: There are two other Richard Strauss operas, both directed by Georg Solti, that are justly famous, and they almost make this list. Their sonics are still excellent indeed. They are Salome (Decca SET 228/9 & London OSA 1218), which was one of Decca's earliest stereo opera recordings, and Elektra (Decca SET 354/5 & London OSA 1269), recorded a few years later.

Both albums feature the now late, incomparable, dramatic soprano, Birgit Nilsson. These are both relatively short (2 LP) and very intense modern operas, to the degree of being "savage". These operas were actually censored early in the 20th Century. No opera cast, performing today, can equal the celebrated achievements of these two opera sets.

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POP/JAZZ/FOLK/ETHNIC

OREGON-DISTANT HILLS-MOBILE FIDELITY 514

The music on this LP is hard to describe. It is a combination of jazz and ethnic music, with guitar, oboe, sitar and tabla etc. The sound is incredibly immediate, clean, fast and explosive and with astounding inner detail.

The original Vanguard pressing is very good, but not in this class. Early Mobile Fidelitys change in price too often for me to be precise, but it isn't "big money". This group has at least one other LP that also sounds phenomenal and will be put on this list.

THE WEAVERS-REUNION IN CARNEGIE HALL-ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS-APF 005(180 GRAM)

A famous LP that has been on the TAS list for many years. I have an early original of this in excellent condition and it's a close contest between it and this latest reissue. Both are superb, with the reissue being noticeably faster, cleaner and more immediate and the original having a little more body, space and decay. The reissue sounds overall more "alive", but I could easily live with either one.

Personal Anecdote- This LP (an early original) was the first to achieve my ultimate audiophile fantasy: I actually forgot I was listening to a record and started thinking and acting like I was at a live performance! It only lasted a few seconds of course when I remembered that I was just in my darkened listening room, but it was some thrill, and also somewhat embarrassing at the same time. Sadly, it can only happen once with any LP because the experience is unforgettable. To complete the story; the exact cut I was listening to at the time was Rambling Boy.

BOB AND RAY THROW A STEREO SPECTACULAR-RCA LSP-1773 (CLASSIC REISSUE)

This LP is just as famous as the above. It is actually a sampler of RCA's popular LPs with comedy skits by Bob and Ray in between the cuts. The actual musical samples are just routine sonically, with the exception of one from the "Bang, Baa-room" record above.

The sonics of the skits, though, are simply amazing. They are so immediate and alive that they almost sound like the performers are in the listening room. If the actual music was recorded like this instead of just the sound effects, this LP would go to the top of the list. This is not a record you will play often, but it is quite an experience and it is spectacular, as the title promises. This reissue is superior to the original.

JOHN KLEMMER-STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART-NAUTILUS NR-4

Around 20 years ago, Nautilus was a combination of Mobile Fidelity and Sheffield Labs. Nautilus produced both excellent reissues and a few of their own Direct-to-Disc recordings. This may have been their most successful effort.

The sound is exactly what you look for (but don't always get) in a direct to disc: very immediate, clean and dynamic. It is up there with the others of this type I've already put on the list. Klemmer's sax solo at the very beginning of Side One (Arabesque) is absolutely stunning. The music is light, but you shouldn't expect that much from a dedicated audiophile recording.

MIDNIGHT SUGAR-YAMAMOTO-THREE BLIND MICE TBM-23

This record has been in big demand for more than 25 years. It was so popular that other jazz records from the same label also became "collectibles". It's a simple jazz trio with stunning sonics. It is very immediate and detailed. The piano notes on the title cut may have no equal in dynamic intensity.

The original pressing was from Japan, but there is now a 180 gram reissue pressed in the U.S.A., by RTI. I have heard both of them, though I haven't compared them yet. Both pressings are recommended. This LP is even competitive with The Divinity recordings.

ED GRAHAM-"HOT STIX"-M&K REALTIME RECORDS RT 106 (45 RPM)

This record is both a direct-to-disc and at 45 RPM. The expectations are obviously high and this LP definitely meets them.

The sound is incredibly immediate, detailed and dynamic. The sides are very short. Side 1 features Graham plus jazz legend, Earl Hines. Side 2 is Graham "solo". The only sonic downside I hear is in the lowest bass, where it is a little loose. Other than that, this record equals anything, sonically.

There will be no musical value here for many listeners. This record is also on the TAS list, and most readers know what that means. I don't know the selling price of this LP at this time, but it is not as popular as the M&K's For Duke (see The Divinity) or "Fatha" Hines (see below), for obvious reasons.

FURTHER: M & K had another direct-to-disc LP, called Encore. It featured singing by the Roger Wagner Chorale during a live performance. The sound is excellent, but still disappointing because it is veiled and dry most of the time. However, on side two, there is a cut at the end titled "Dry Bones" (ironically), which has some spectacular moments with percussion effects.

EARL "FATHA" HINES-M & K REALTIME RECORDS RT-105

This is a fabulous recording, one of the finest ever made. It is, of course, a "direct-to-disc", and part of the same M & K series as "For Duke" and "Hot Stix".

There are just 3 performers so the record is not as system challenging as the more famous "For Duke". The best known cut, "Birdland" (Side 1, Cut 1), is also the worst sonically, along with "Blue Monk". Both are somewhat veiled, dry and closed down. The sound opens up on Cuts 3 & 4 on Side One and all of Side Two. At its best, the sound on this LP is extremely immediate, detailed, clean and dynamic, with excellent decay and harmonic integrity.

The piano and drums are exceptionally well reproduced after the "warm-up", but the double bass is somewhat obscure and homogenized by comparison. These two problems keep this record from The Divinity. This LP has been out-of-print for many years, but it isn't that difficult to locate.

SARADAMANI-VISHWA MOHAN BHATT/NAMDARI-WATER LILY-WLA-ES-23

I've been fortunate to hear all the Water Lily LPs over the years, and most very recently. I found that all of them are at least excellent, but two of them are outstanding. One of them, Saudades/WLA-16, was put on this list months ago.

This record has the same qualities of immediacy and naturalness, but the music is much more simple and subtle, Indian Guitar and tabla, so you won't hear any "spectacular moments". This record is a must for lovers of Indian music. This LP is still available new. The other records in their Indian Music series are not quite as good in sonic terms.

Honorable Mention: One other LP rises above the other recordings by Water Lily, but is still not equal to the top two. It is Misterio. The record number is WLA-CS-08. The music is mainly two guitarists in duets, but there is also a violin and some percussion instruments at the end of Side 2. The style of the two musicians, Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah, is a combination of Latin American and Middle Eastern, their respective cultures.

A MEETING BY THE RIVER-COODER/BHATT-WATER LILY (ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS) APW 29 (45 RPM)

This recording was made back in 1992, just as Water Lily stopped producing records, in favor of (only) CDs. I was really disappointed at the time, because I was looking forward to hearing not only a novel musical collaboration, but also Ry Cooder, for the first time, with all-out engineering. I was so upset, I didn't even purchase the CD. I assumed that the LP would never be made, and soon forgot about the recording. As it turned out, I was, thankfully, dead wrong!

This is the best sounding guitar record I have ever heard. It has the immediacy and purity of a direct to disc, along with a realistic dynamic intensity and it's completely natural. It's a 45 RPM album, and it shows (with the longest side being only 12 minutes). I can't say enough about the engineering, other than to promise that this (2 LP) album will eventually be included in one of the two highest classes of The Supreme Recordings ("The Divinity" or "The Demi-Gods").

The music is unique, at least for me. It's not just another formal "West meets East" concert (which have rarely, if ever, "met" in my experience), but a true "meeting" of the two musicians (as in the title). Both musicians make the effort to approach the other, but they still retain their individuality (and basic sound and styles). The only other times I've heard an eastern instrument work so well (with western instruments) were with the late Colin Walcott (Oregon), who was a westerner who mastered eastern instruments.

This recording is different (in kind), because it is now an easterner, playing an eastern instrument, who has to make the difficult and brave leap of culture, along with his western counterpart. The achievement, for me, was that after a short sense of incongruity (hearing Cooder after Bhatt the first time), I felt that the music was natural and uncontrived, just like any other musical duo in which both musicians are communicating as an intimate pair. Highly recommended, especially for lovers of guitar and/or sitar (though Bhatt plays a Mohan Vina).

Disclosure- This album was sent to me from Kavi Alexander for evaluation, so I did not pay for it. This is the first time this has ever happened, believe it or not, during the entire history of this website, and I felt my readers should be made aware of it.

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ESSAY & CONTROVERSY

NOTE- The below LP is part of The Demi-Gods.

Auditioning this particular record was the catalyst and inspiration for a number of important ideas and issues, almost always ignored, that I felt must be brought up and written about at greater length.

PROKOFIEV-SCYTHIAN SUITE-DORATI-MERCURY SR-90006 (CLASSIC REISSUE)

The original pressing of this record was chosen by Harry Pearson to be the single "best sounding recording" of them all (See TAS Issue 73). (I will discuss that choice below.)

Since then, the used price has skyrocketed, as should be expected. Meanwhile, Classic Records chose this recording to be one of their 6 first (and last, unfortunately) "Mercury Living Presence" reissues to be released. I've heard the earliest original pressing (twice), the Golden Imports equivalent (many times) and now this latest Classic reissue. Here are the results.

The Classic Reissue- Is the best of the three, period. It has a huge soundstage, both wide and deep, and it is focused. It retains its size and focus even at high volumes. The dynamic contrasts are also extraordinary, and at all frequencies. It has a tremendous sense of power and weight, from the mid-bass up until the lower midrange. The transients are also sharp and precise, and with excellent impact. The sound even has natural body. This Classic Reissue is undeniably a great record.

There are some problems though.

The sense of "immediacy", or "presence" if you like, is both frequency and loudness dependent. The sound is most immediate in the midrange and the lower highs, and at medium to high volumes. At softer levels, and/or at lower frequencies, there is an easily noticeable veil. In short, this record has far from "the best", meaning lowest, sound-floor.

Normally, this serious problem would keep a record from the top two classes, but this LP is so phenomenal and memorable in every other way, that it will still go there. I strongly advise readers to make the serious effort to find a copy of it.

The Original- This record is both comparatively veiled and not even close to being as clean and refined as the Classic Reissue. In fact, it is not even as clean as the Golden Imports. We compared the (mint) original to the Golden Imports at the home of the owner of the original, 7 years ago. Two of the three listeners, to our great surprise, actually preferred the Golden Imports in a number of areas. The owner of the original disagreed, but even he finally admitted how disappointed he was with the sonics of the original. (He had paid "big bucks" because of TAS. Don't worry, he could afford it.)

From my own perspective, I've heard literally hundreds of records that are (sonically) superior to the original pressing, considering everything. I strongly feel that there is much more to creating a "great record" than a big soundstage, deep bass and big dynamics, as important as they are.

Sadly, there is even more bad news...

2 DISAPPOINTING MERCURY CLASSIC REISSUES

HI-FI A LA ESPANOLA-SR90144- This is the single biggest disappointment I have had to date with a LP reissue, from any of the labels. I consider the sonics of this record to be mediocre. I don't mean "mediocre" in the absolute sense of that word, but in the relative sense, when considering both its source and its "legendary" reputation.

I have now listened to this record twice. The first time was severely disappointing, bordering on "shock", mainly because of my justifiably huge expectations. The second time I was much more objective, since the "halo" had already been removed, permanently. The description below now reflects this second experience.

A Sonic Description

The sound is noticeably "dry". There is an obvious lack of natural "harmonic completeness", "bloom" and decay. There is very little "inner detail". Everything sounds a little "washed-out". There is also not enough spatial information for an effortless sense of space and the hall to be created. Even other labels which have had this problem, such as RR and EMI, are better in that regard.

The sound is also noticeably veiled and it doesn't sound pure, clean and refined, like the finest modern recordings. There is very little sense of transparency and depth. The hiss is obvious and even obtrusive at times. The extreme highs appear to be attenuated and the sound never "opens up". This LP just sounds really "old". As a result of all these problems, you end up listening "at it", instead of "to it", and this emotional separation impedes the listener from ever becoming involved with the music.

Am I being overly critical? Are there any desirable sonic qualities on this record?

Yes, there are some of the usual Mercury strong points; excellent dynamic contrasts, unusually deep bass, a very wide and focused soundstage; and good, precise outer detail. It can be quite impressive for the first few minutes but, just like digital sound and pizza, it becomes tiresome before you think it will, as its problems start to become more obvious and even more fatiguing.

Yes, it is still a "good sounding record", but that is also an accurate description for more than a 1,000 other LPs I have heard. As for as this being one of "the absolute best sounding records of all time", it isn't even remotely close.

The Music

The music itself is Latin pop, which was very popular back in the 1950's. Much of it sounds like glorified, orchestrated "bossa nova". My parents and their friends used to listen to stuff like this. They even considered it "Classical Music". Most of the music is "Spanish" about as much as french fries are "French Cuisine".

CONCLUSION AND COMPLAINT

No "live music" sounds remotely like this, in even the deadest concert hall I can imagine and, as I write this, I am living in Toronto, Canada, the location of the notoriously dry and dead sounding Roy Thompson Hall.

The fact that some people have paid up to $ 2,000 for the "original pressing" of this record, is something that the entire analog community should be ashamed of. This blind and ignorant indulgence has enabled us all (the vinyl community) to be the legitimate subjects of ridicule and, in addition, it seriously compromises the perception of our collective intellectual honesty and competence.

The fact that what you are reading at this website, after all these years, is the first, and only, hard criticism of the sonics of this label, is a disgraceful reflection on the numerous record "reviewers" who have been either an actual party to the deceit, or too frightened to challenge even the most obvious examples of incompetence, corruption and/or poor lack of judgement.

In the case of this particular reissue, only a listener who has noticeable hearing problems, especially with soft sounds, or who has limited experience with records, may state that this is "a great sounding record" and still retain their integrity.

Are there any "excuses" for this collective oversight?

The only one I can think of is that only a relative few members of the analog community have actually heard the original, but 100% of them have said absolutely nothing. Then there is this reissue, which many audiophiles have now heard, since it has been available for years, and even sold out. Still, virtually nothing. The final verdict: "Guilty as charged".

This record (including the original) is still on the most recent TAS list of the top 12 (Classical) LPs of all time (BEST OF THE BUNCH). If I also felt that this claim was actually true, I would quit high-end analog and purchase a mid-fi digital system. Forget tubes, analog etc. There would be no rational reason to find and purchase an all-out analog system if this record was one of the very best LPs you could ever play on it.

Readers, I've even heard digital records that "blow this LP away" in realism.

My disagreement with TAS, Harry Pearson, and anyone else who feels this is a "great sounding record", is profound and irreconcilable. I have now disclosed my own opinion of what constitutes the top 25 records. The readers of this website can then make up their own mind as to which list more accurately reflects musical reality.

CHABRIER-SR90212- Sadly, this LP is similar in sound to the above, with the same strengths and weaknesses. Unlike the above, this record has a direct "competitor", the Ansermet/Decca, which is already on this list. There is no comparison, the Decca is much more immediate, detailed, liquid and pure.

THE UNHEARD

BALALAIKA FAVORITES-SR90310- I haven't heard this record, so I don't have any idea about its sonic qualities, or lack of them. I really dislike the music, so I didn't purchase a copy. If I can borrow one, I will report on the results.

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AWARDS

MOST DYNAMIC ORCHESTRAL LP

STRAVINSKY-THE RITE OF SPRING-MUTI-MOBILE FIDELITY MFSL 1-519

FINEST "PEAK PERFORMANCE" ORCHESTRAL LP

KODALY-HARY JANOS SUITE-KERTESZ-DECCA SXL 6136 (SPEAKERS CORNER)

FINEST PIANO CONCERTO LP

GRIEG-PIANO CONCERTO/LITOLFF-SCHERZO/FRANCK-CURZON-DECCA SXL 2173 (ALTO)

DUTILLEUX/LUTOSLAWSKI CELLO CONCERTOS-ROSTROPOVITCH-EMI ASD 3145

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The Complete List of THE SUPREME RECORDINGS

The Descriptions and Awards of THE DIVINITY

The Descriptions, Awards and Essays of THE BASIC LIST-ANCIENT MUSIC & SMALL SCALE CLASSICAL

The Descriptions of THE BASIC LIST-LARGE SCALE ORCHESTRA & OPERA

The Descriptions of THE BASIC LIST-POP/JAZZ/FOLK/ETHNIC MUSIC & SOUNDTRACKS

The Descriptions, Award and Essays of THE BASIC LIST-ESSAYS & CONTROVERSIES

The Descriptions and Essays of THE HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Alphabetized Classical Music Supreme Recordings

Purchasing Used Classical Records

AUDIO CRITIQUE

Reference Components

THE RECENT FILE

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