SUPREME LP RECORDINGS

THE HONORABLE MENTIONS

UPDATED JULY 2015

INTRODUCTION

CLASSICAL MUSIC

POP/JAZZ/FOLK/ETHNIC MUSIC

ESSAYS & CONTROVERSIES

VARIOUS TAS "SUPER DISCS"
"AFRICAN RABBITS"-A SHORT DIGRESSION ON "DYNAMIC CONTRASTS"
REFERENCE RECORDINGS-THE PROBLEM
ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA-THE RECORDINGS

INTERNAL LINKS
The Supreme Recordings List
The Divinity-Descriptions and Awards
The Demi-Gods-Descriptions and Awards
The Basic List-Descriptions and Awards
Audio Critique

INTRODUCTION

Only a small fraction of the records within The Honorable Mentions have a description, mainly because I just ran out of time. Accordingly, this means that the records without descriptions are not less worthy.

Many of these records below were originally on the "official" list, but were eventually removed after further listening caused me to have second thoughts. For those LPs, I have included the descriptions (below) that were used when they were first put on The Basic List.

CLASSICAL MUSIC

READERS DIGEST CLASSICAL (12 LP) BOX SETS

These various box sets were released in the 1960's (along with numerous non-classical sets). I've heard a number of them, though not all of them as of yet, and I have been generally impressed by what I heard. While probably all of these classical albums have sonics good enough to qualify for entry into "The Honorable Mentions" (though no higher), the two box sets I am most impressed with overall (sonics, music & performance) are "Festival of Light Classical Music" and (in particular) "Treasury of Great Music". In fact, the "Treasury" set contains a number of the original recordings reissued (30 years) later by Chesky, including the dynamite Stravinsky/Petroushka conducted by Oscar Danon. So how do the original pressings compare to the Chesky reissues?

It's somewhat variable, though the Chesky reissues almost always have an easily noticeable overall advantage and never sound worse in my opinion. As for the Chesky Petroushka reissue, it is far superior to the original pressing from Readers Digest, which has a serious disadvantage of having an added Prokofiev composition on the same LP. This brings me to my advice concerning these albums.

I believe these box sets are generally excellent deals if you can find them at good prices (easiest on eBay) and in excellent condition (also easy, because many of the original purchasers didn't actually play the albums for various reasons). There are some caveats though: Most sets are in both Mono and Stereo, so a careful check must be made if that is an important consideration. Also, while the record surfaces are pretty good (if cleaned), they are not as good (quiet) as the original RCA "Shaded Dogs" or modern pressings for that matter. In the end, these albums are best suited for those listeners who want a good selection of popular Classical Music, well recorded, and with some basic information (available in the included booklets) about the composer and composition. Serious lovers/collectors of classical music will probably already have all the compositions in their current collection, so the utility of these sets will be marginal for them, and while the sonics in these box sets are consistently good, recordings with superior sonics are also available for those audiophiles who search for them.

The order below has no significance. It is simply the same chronological order that they were originally included.

SHOSTAKOVITCH- CELLO CONCERTO #2- ROSTROPOVITCH- DGG 2530 653

Deutsche Grammophon recordings are underrated by reviewers, critics and LP collectible dealers. While many, if not most, of their records are mediocre in sound, a fair number of them are excellent, and some are even outstanding, including this LP which was recorded in the U.S.

This recording is both transparent and very dynamic, and better than many a Decca or EMI. The soundstage could be better focused and is "highlighted". The tonal balance is natural.

BERNSTEIN-FANCY FREE-BERNSTEIN-DGG 2531 196

This LP is quite transparent and with a good size soundstage. There is some highlighting and phase problems, but the overall sound is generaly natural and with good low-level information. Its great strength, and the reason it is on this list, is its dynamic qualities. They are superb, unexpected for this label and sometimes "breathtaking", though there is some increase in distortion at very high volumes. The Serenade on Side 1 isn't as good. This disc will "only" make "The Honorable Mention" list, but it is here!

RAVEL-CONCERTO IN G/D'INDY-SYMPHONY-MUNCH-RCA LSC-2271 (CLASSIC REISSUE)

Most of the RCA Classic reissues addressed most of the problems of the original RCA "Shaded Dog" pressings. Unfortunately, a good many Classic reissues had their own problems; a less natural tonal balance and an even higher sound-floor. Some of them, mainly the more recent pressings, are excellent or superb, and this Ravel/d'Indy is one of them.

It combines the more natural qualities of the original pressings with all the sonic advantages of the earlier reissues, while avoiding most of the problems of both. It is not spectacular since the musical compositions won't allow that, but then the strings are simply outstanding.

LITTLE MARCHES BY GREAT MASTERS-NETHERLANDS WIND ENSEMBLE-PHILIPS 6599 172

Philips is a label rarely brought up in audiophile circles. Their catalog has a wide variety of music and some of the finest musicians and orchestras. They have good sonics on the vast majority of their LPs. Their sonic strengths are excellent tonal balance, with good harmonic content and dynamic qualities. Their weaknesses are a lack of transparency and immediacy, with both frequency extremes usually rolled-off. While their average record is superior to DGG's average record, they didn't produce "outstanding" LPs as frequently as did DGG.

This LP is an exception, of course. It has the normal Philip's strengths, but with less of their usual problems. Both frequency extremes are there and the sound is much more immediate and "alive" than a usual good Philips. This LP is somewhat rare and the music (short marches) might not be that desirable.

SIBELIUS-SYMPHONY NO. 2-MONTEUX-RCA LSC-2342 (CLASSIC REISSUE)

This is another one of Classic's recent RCA reissues, which are generally a nice improvement on their earlier (and still mainly excellent) releases. This was one of RCA's English Import (meaning Decca) recordings. It has almost everything you want; excellent transparency, dynamics and a very natural quality throughout. There is a slight audible tape hiss which compromises the otherwise pretty low sound-floor. The soundstage is both quite large and focused.

COPLAND-APPALACHIAN SPRING-ARMENIAN-CANTABILE RECORDS CSPS 1617

This recording may also be available on a CBC LP, number SM5000. (It is a confusing situation.) The sound on this pressing is superb. It is very natural and transparent, with good dynamics. It could even be better, because all the pressings I've heard are a little noisy, obscuring some low-level information. It sounds like the used cheap vinyl. This LP is also on the TAS list.

CONCERTOS FROM SPAIN-SURINACH/MONTSALVATGE-LONDON CS6990/DECCA SXL 6757

Another excellent and somewhat unknown and rare record from Decca/London. The cover's artwork is striking (similar to Carlos Santana's famous "Abraxas")and the sound quality is outstanding; Very natural, transparent and dynamic. It is almost, but not quite, equal to the Prokofiev/Ashkenazy set, which has an even lower sound-floor and is also a bit cleaner and more transparent.

The music, of course, is also not on the same level of inventive skill and interest. There are only Late English pressings of this LP. The pianist on this LP is Alicia de Larrocha.

MAHLER-SYMPHONY NO. 2-BERNSTEIN/NYP-DGG 423 395-1

This is a 2-LP album, and it is also digital, which makes it the first orchestral record of that type to make this list. I've heard a number of very good digital orchestral LPs, mainly from Decca/London, Telarc etc. This is one of the best of them.

What distinguishes this album is the natural perspective (a little distant) and the tonal qualities. There is also incredible outer detail and separation, deep, tight bass, plus spectacular, clean and explosive crescendos. There is very little "highlighting". The sound-floor is pretty low, but it's not outstanding.

The overall sound is very similar to the recent LPs from Reference Recordings. The 3 reasons why this LP is here, while most of RR's LPs are not, are very simple: Gustav Mahler, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic!

PROKOFIEV-LIEUTENANT KIJE/KODALY-HARY JANOS-DORATI-DECCA 4355/LONDON 21146

This LP is part of the Phase 4 Stereo series by Decca/London, and the very first of its label to make this list. The sound of most of them is very upfront and loud. They are almost always very exciting to listen to, but there is an unnatural, overly "spectacular" quality that disqualifies almost all of them. This is an exception.

It still has that forward quality you expect, but not to the point of overkill. The rest of the sound is exceptional, with superb woodwinds and brass. The dynamics are also excellent. The sound-floor is very low; allowing oodles of inner detail and musical expression to be heard.

I've never seen a "Late English" or Dutch pressing of this recording. Finally, the Hary Janos work, while still excellent, is not quite on the same sonic level as the Lt. Kije.

JANACEK-SINFONIETTA/HINDEMITH-ABBADO-DECCA SXL 6398 (SPEAKERS CORNER)

This is another excellent reissue of a more recent Decca/London LP. The works are modern 20th Century orchestral compositions, but still in the "mainstream". The sonics are superb, but not at the very top. The sound quality varies a little, and the last movement of the Sinfonietta is homogenized. It has exceptional transparency and brass reproduction. This reissue is superior to both the Dutch/Decca and the English/London, which I auditioned recently.

HONEGGER-KING DAVID/MARTIN-IN TERRA PAX-ANSERMET-DECCA DPA 593/4

These two compositions have been available in different pressings, since one was recorded in 1964 and the other in 1970. This late (1978) Dutch pressing is the only one I've heard. The sound is very natural and dynamic. The voices are slightly veiled and distant, but they don't overload the microphones either. There is exceptional focus and detail. The sound-floor is low, but it's not outstanding in that area. The sound is "laid-back", but in a natural manner.

The King David is a "modern" work, but almost sounds like Handel could have composed it at times. The Martin work sounds more "conventional". This album won't be near the top, but it is still superb.

MASSENET-SCENES ALSACIENNES & OTHERS-BONYNGE-DECCA SXL 6827/LONDON CS 7048

This is a recording that is excellent in every way, but it is not outstanding in any one area. The sound is very natural, rich and dynamic. The soundstage is both large and focused. There is also a good sense of decay and ambience. The sound-floor is low, but not low enough to put this record near the top. The music is Late Romantic and melodic, though not as interesting or spectacular as Le Cid above. This LP is still worth looking for.

DEBUSSY-NOCTURNES/IBERIA/JEUX-MAAZEL-LONDON CS 7128/DECCA SXL 6904

This recording was not well received by the Penguin Record Guide. When it comes to sonics, the story changes. It is excellent in every way, with exceptional transparency, body, detail and a low sound-floor. There is some "highlighting", but it is subtle. Even the softest sections are heard clearly, which is critical with this music.

As good as this record is, it is still not the equal of the extraordinary Philips (Haitink) recording of Iberia.

R. STRAUSS-DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION-REINER-RCA LSC-2077 (CLASSIC REISSUE)

According to the accompanying literature, this was the first Decca recording that RCA used to augment their "Living Stereo" series. It has a number of unique sonic qualities that earn it a place on this list.

Its major strength is an enormous amount of inner detail. This is even true of the orchestral amusical noises and sounds, maybe as much as any other record I have heard. It is also very dynamic and harmonically rich. The sound takes a while to open up on the composition on Side One, Till Eulenspiegel, and also hardens a little at high volumes. The image size is smaller than usual, and with less separation of instruments. This record will be in "The Honorable Mentions", but the performances are also considered legendary, so this LP may be an important addition to many collections.

NOTE: A 45 RPM version of this LP was also available on 4 sides from Classic.

*I have since found out that the original tapes of this recording have been lost. Speakers Corner did the best they could with what they had.

KHACHATURIAN-PIANO CONCERTO-DE LARROCHA-LONDON CS 6818/DECCA SXL 6599

A very natural sounding recording, with the piano superbly captured. Everything is excellent; the perspective of soloist and orchestra, dynamics, focus, image size and low-level detail. It is similar in quality to the Spanish concertos listed previously and performed by the same artist. The Decca is not better than the London, and there are no Dutch pressings that I am aware of. It's not at the top, but it's still a solid choice.

KABALEVSKY-THE COMEDIANS-KONDRASHIN-RCA LSC-2398 (CLASSIC REISSUE)

There are only 15 minutes of interesting music and outstanding sonics on this LP, but it is still worth buying. The sound is big, detailed and dynamic. The sound-floor is low for its time, and it has the "alive" quality. There is a bit of pre-echo and the tonal balance isn't always natural, but these are minor problems overall. Unfortunately, the other side of the record, Masquerade Suite, by Khachaturian, is not in the same ballpark sonically. It actually sounds like a different recording. I also don't find the music nearly as interesting. The incredible Kabalevsky can stand on its own.

SHOSTAKOVICH-THE COMPLETE STRING QUARTETS-BORODIN-EMI EX 27 0339 3

Shostakovich's string quartets have had a very fortunate recording history, with 3 superlative sets to choose from. The Borodin Quartet, above, also recorded an earlier version of these compositions, EMI SLS 879. That album was hailed by the critics, but it was released before the last two quartets were composed. The sonics were good, but not exceptional.

This more recent album was recorded by Meloydia between 1978 and 1983. It is complete, the performances are even better and the sonics are also much improved, now rivaling the Fitzwilliam (Decca) set. The sound is immediate and has excellent inner detail. The instruments are well separated and generally sound very natural, though there is some brightness on the violins at high volumes on a few of the LPs. These are, by far, the finest sounding recordings I have ever heard originating from Meloydia. There is even a bonus, live performance of Shostakovich's Piano Quintet Op. 57, featuring Sviatoslav Richter. This is a 7 LP album.

RIMSKY-KORSAKOFF-LE COQ D'OR/RUSSIAN EASTER-MAAZEL-LONDON CS 7196/DECCA 6966

This is quite an amazing record, especially in terms of its mastering. There is another composition included besides the two listed above; Capriccio Espagnol. It is on Side One along with the Russian Easter Festival, making that side 30:45. Considering the length, the orchestration and the dynamic requirements, the LP should have serious sonic compromises, but it doesn't. Remember this when "collectors", "experts" and used record dealers proclaim that all the talented mastering engineers retired in the early 1960's.

The sonics are Decca/London at their near best. It is very transparent, immediate and has a little of the "alive" quality. The instruments are all natural sounding, and with texture, though a little lean. There is excellent detail and the sound-floor is low. The only sonic factors that keep this record from the top classes are what can be expected.

The dynamic contrasts are good, but not outstanding, and the sound still lacks some "weight". There had to be some negative effects due to the 31 minute side, but their achievement is that they kept them to a minimum. There are also a few audible "splices", in the sense that the ambience changes abruptly at different moments. A good audio system will be able to resolve these changes. I have only seen, and heard, Dutch pressings. The record came out in 1980, so there might not be an existing English pressing.

FURTHER- This record proved to be very educational when I indirectly compared it to the Lyritas I have been playing recently. It demonstrated the sonic weaknesses of these otherwise superb LPs. The Lyritas, virtually all of them, have a tendency to sound "cold", slightly veiled and also noticeably "dry". I find it difficult to hear these "characteristics" when listening to them on their own, because they are so impressive in so many other ways, but it becomes obvious when comparing them to a record that doesn't have these same problems. That is why the majority of the finest Lyritas are in The Honorable Mentions, not here.

BRITTEN-CONCERTO FOR PIANO-RICHTER-DECCA SXL 6512/LONDON CS 6723

The primary strength of this recording is its soundstage, which can be a "reference" for other recordings. It is huge, both wide and deep, and it is very focused, including the piano. The sound is also full bodied, very dynamic and powerful, but there are no "explosive" moments in the music. There is good retrieval of detail, but the sound is noticeably veiled and the sound-floor is not as low as most of the others on this list. It won't make the top two classes, and it will be a tough call where to eventually place it, because it is "special" in a number of ways.

HOLST-THE LURE/THE MYSTIC TRUMPETER-ARMSTRONG/ATHERTON-LYRITA SRCS 128

This was one of the very last analogue recordings made by Lyrita. I would have auditioned it earlier, except that I filed it under "Holst", rather than "Modern 20th Century Composers". After playing dozens of Lyritas, I have the impression that, generally, their later recordings were noticeably cleaner and more transparent than their earlier ones, though the differences are minor. There are greater differences amongst the various pressings.

The Holst has all the normal Lyrita attributes; detail, dynamics, wide-range etc., but it also has a somewhat greater sense of delicacy, purity, warmth and refinement. It is a little more transparent, and also has a slightly lower sound-floor than an average Lyrita, though it's still not as low as most of the LPs on The Basic List. The end result of this is that the sound is "dry", at least compared to the finest recordings.

The only other (easily noticeable) downside is that the sound becomes "aggressive" and hardens at higher volume. This record, along with many other of the better Lyritas, almost makes The Basic List. There are two other Holst LPs by Lyrita that also make The Honorable Mentions.

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POP/JAZZ/FOLK ETHNIC

CAT STEVENS-TEASER AND THE FIRECAT-MOBILE FIDELITY 1-244

This LP was part of the series of LP's that Mobile released in the middle 1990's, and not from their first batch of the early 1980's. I wasn't as impressed with their 1990's releases with the exception of this record and the Muddy Waters LP. This record is very clean, transparent and immediate, but it still has the multi-miking, phasing problems that adversely effected the earlier pressings. That is why this LP doesn't make The Basic List.

I haven't heard all the other pressings of this record, but this is the best of the many that I have heard. This LP is still available new, even though Mobile Fidelity is now out of business, which is another audiophile/musical tragedy.

Further- Mobile previously released a reissue of "Tea for the Tillerman" in the 1980's. There was even a UHQR version of it.

THE HUMAN LEAGUE-DON'T YOU WANT ME-VIRGIN VS466-12 (45 RPM)

This LP is a true reference for pure, relentless impact. There is no subtlety here. Side Two is where the real fireworks are. When the "music" is over, you should feel like you have been "assaulted".

BLUE FIVE-TOMAS ORNBERG/DAVERN-OPUS 3 8003

This is a jazz record from Sweden, featuring Ragtime and Dixieland styles. The musicians are all relatively unknowns. OPUS 3 is an independent label that put out a variety of records in the 1970's and 1980's, specializing in acoustical music; jazz, folk, classical etc. Their recordings were consistently excellent. (Their covers were truly awful, all of them being off-white and with brown lettering.) Their most popular LPs were the "Test Records", which were really just a selection of "highlights" from their different recordings.

This record was one of their most successful. It is very transparent and dynamic, with excellent image focus and instrumental detail, and it almost has a direct-to-disc sound, because the dynamic peaks have a (very rare) clean and uncompressed feeling to them, especially when the horns are "competing" with each other. My favorite cut is "Rent Party Blues" on Side 2. The plucking of the double bass is superbly well captured, especially when it is solo. However, the recording still lacks some harmonics, decay and ambience, which prevents it from sounding totally natural and will keep it from the top.

Opus 3 records, in general, sound a little "cool", which bothers some listeners more than others. One other audio writer described the coloration as "a lack of warmth".

ROZSA-THE THIEF OF BAGDAD-BERNSTEIN-FILMMUSIC COLLECTION FMC-8 OR BSK 3183

Miklos Rozsa's most famous soundtracks, from an audiophile perspective, are Ben Hur and Quo Vadis, primarily because they are on the TAS list. This was composed much earlier in his career (1938-40), and this recording dates from 1977.

The sonics are exceptional, with tremendous detail and transparency. It is also very immediate and has a low sound-floor, which gives it the "alive" quality. It won't make the top categories because the sound is variable, highlighted at times and it also has a slight transistor/"hard" character that compromises its otherwise natural quality. The end result is that it's "cool" in character, though it does warm up a little by the end of each side.

The two pressings are similar, each better at certain times, but the reissue is noisier at the beginning of both sides. The covers are different, but the excellent and complete liner notes (by Christopher Palmer) are exactly the same. This is both my all-time favorite movie and soundtrack. (Maybe there is a connection there.) In fact, there is such an abundance of memorable music in this film, that this soundtrack LP is missing two of the most interesting sections: The Princess's March and the Dance of the Silver Maid.

Further- The same musicians and recording team made another LP with very similar sonics. It is (conductor) Elmer Bernstein's acclaimed film score: "To Kill a Mockingbird" (Filmmusic Collection FMC-7 or BSK 3184). The only difference is that the music lacks the oriental and spectacular percussive effects of The Thief of Bagdad, though it also has its own powerful moments.

THE DOORS-STRANGE DAYS-DCC COMPACT CLASSICS LPZ-2045

I would have been amazed if someone had told me in my college days that, 40+ years later, The Doors would be the rock group I enjoyed the most (along with the 1960's Rolling Stones). I've delayed placing this record on the list because I was afraid that my musical preferences were overpowering my audiophile sensibilities, but I believe the sonics also need some recognition.

The sound is variable of course. There are electric guitars and organs etc., but there are also acoustical instruments, and then there is Jim Morrison's voice, which is so natural and immediate that even the most picky purist would have to be impressed hearing it. The best cut is: "When the music's over", to hear what I am describing. There is a soft studio hum in the background.

TOUCH-JOHN KLEMMER-MOBILE FIDELITY MFSL 1-006

The music on this album is different than the other John Klemmer LP that is already on this list, Straight from the Heart. This album, all Klemmer compositions, is "light Jazz", melodic and soft, and with not a hint of any hard edges. It is perfect for "late night" listening.

The sound does not equal the amazing Klemmer/Nautilus record, which is a direct-to-disc, but it is still superb. It would make The Basic List, except for its noticeable electronic "effects", mainly decays, which compromise its otherwise natural qualities. This LP is not one of the "collectible", expensive Mobiles.

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ESSAYS & CONTROVERSIES

Do not forget that these records are all still part of The Honorable Mentions. These LPs are here because they have been, for one or more reasons, the catalyst and inspiration for some relevant subject or controversy (about recordings, pressings or audio reproduction) to be brought up and written about at greater length.

HINDEMITH-CONCERT MUSIC FOR STRINGS AND BRASS-ORMANDY-EMI ASD 3743

This LP is a recent addition to The Honorable Mentions, and while I no longer provide details in such instances, this record required an exception to be made, though not because of its sound quality. It is an excellent EMI; with detailed, immediate and transparent sound. It is natural at lower volumes, but becomes "aggressive" when it gets louder. Its strong suits are its powerful and intense dynamic shifts and wide range. The sound-floor is low, but not as low as the records that are on The Basic List.

This is an enjoyable and desirable record for admirers of 20th Century music, and Paul Hindemith in particular. It also includes one of his other well-known works; Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Weber. Now, for the real reason I added this description.

Comparison- There is a Hindemith LP that was on the TAS list for many years. It includes the above mentioned "Metamorphoses" composition, plus Mathis der Maler, a symphonic suite based on the themes from his opera of the same name. Just like the EMI, it was conducted by Eugene Ormandy and performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra. It is on Columbia (MS 6562).

The sound quality is "better than average" for a Columbia, but it is far inferior to its EMI "rival". It doesn't even come close to making The Honorable Mentions, let alone The Supreme Recordings. In fact...

Not even one Columbia orchestral recording will make any of these lists.

That includes, all the "originals", their reissues and even the recent 180 gram reissues. Any critic who describes any of their (Columbia's) orchestral records as "Super Discs", has far less demanding standards than most other serious audiophiles and I.

Bottom Line- Don't pay a monetary premium for this Columbia record with the expectation of receiving "superior sonics", you won't get them.

ROB WASSERMAN-DUETS-ALTO ANALOGUE AA 011 (MCA RECORDS 42131)

The original pressing of this LP is on the TAS list. It is excellent, even though it is a digital recording, but this German reissue is even better. It is more transparent, cleaner and has a lower sound-floor. The strength of this record is in the reproduction of the voices, which are all very natural, both male and female. The double bass of Wasserman is also well recorded, both tight and defined, but for some reason it's not quite as natural as the voices.

PERCUSSION MUSIC-VARESE/COLGRASS/SAPERSTEIN/OAK/COWELL-NONESUCH H-71291

This LP has been on the TAS list for years. It consists of very modern percussion compositions by a variety of composers. The "most famous" being Ionisation (1931) by Edgard Varese. There are actually two sirens and a "lion's roar" in it. The sound quality is stupendous at times. It has a huge and focused soundstage. The dynamics are outstanding and so is the quality of the bass reproduction. The only weaknesses that keep this record from the top classes are a noticeable dryness of the timbres and shortening of the natural decay of the notes.

FURTHER NONESUCH INFORMATION: For those readers looking for other records with similar music and sonics, you are in luck. Nonesuch came out with two more LPs in this series, both with music by the avant-garde composer Charles Wuorinen. Even the performers, The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, are the same as above. The record numbers are H-71263 and H-71353. These two records are both outstanding enough to be recommended on their own, but I don't want this list to be dominated by 20th Century Avant-garde percussion music.

There is also another record dedicated to music by Edgard Varese, H-71269, that has incredible sonics. Finally, there is one Avant-garde LP which is a little different than the others (it has voices), but also falls in this category; Ancient Voices of Children, by George Crumb. The sonics are once again superlative, with the exception of some occasional strain on the female voice. The record number is H-71255. (The sides are very short.)

PROKOFIEV-ROMEO AND JULIET-MAAZEL-DECCA SXL 6620/LONDON CSA 2312

This was the first complete recording of Prokofiev's ballet, and it consists of 3 LPs. It was recorded in June 1973, and has been on the TAS list for many years. I've heard all the different pressings, and the best are the later English and Dutch. However, the Dutch pressings have a noticeable roll-off in the bass. The sound quality is generally superb; it is very large, dynamic and with lots of body. Unfortunately, there is a veil plus the sound-floor is too high for the album to make the higher categories. This album was very popular and it is easy to find used.

There are also "Highlights" of the above album, with all the main themes and melodies, on one LP (Decca SXL 6668 and London CS 6865).

More good news: King Super Analogue has come out with its own 180 gram reissue of the highlights and the sound is even better than any of the earlier pressings (KIJC-9158). This LP is still available new.

BORODIN-SYMPHONYS NO. 2 & 3-ANSERMET-LONDON CS 6126 (SPEAKERS CORNER)

This was a popular LP that was also on the TAS list. I have heard all the pressings and the finest is this recent 180 gram reissue. The original London Blueback is mediocre, and it is a total mystery to me why this record was ever distinguished by The Absolute Sound.

The London Stereo Treasury reissue (STS 15149) is better than the Blueback, but it's still not as good as the Speakers Corner, which is the only pressing to make this list. Even this latest reissue has some obvious problems. The sound is distinctly veiled and closed down at the beginning of the Second Symphony. However, by the end of the first movement, the sound begins to really open up and the sound-floor drops enough to elevate the record to "The Honorable Mentions".

MOERAN-SYMPHONY IN G MINOR-BOULT-LYRITA SRCS 70

This symphony by Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950) had a rocky road with the critics when it was first performed back in 1938, but time has demonstrated its many strengths and imaginative touches. Now it is considered a minor masterpiece, and it is much more memorable and original than most of the music on the other Lyrita recordings.

The sonics on this record are excellent in every way, though not outstanding in any one area. It is natural, detailed, dynamic and it has a large, focused soundstage with a real sense of depth. Like the other superb LP's from this label, it is not quite as immediate as the finest orchestral records, so it won't make the top two classes. As for the performance, the Penguin Record Guide awarded this record its highest accolade, "The Rosette".

Competition: There is one other well known recording, with two different pressings, of the Moeran Symphony. It is the 1973 recording by EMI, ASD-2913, which is on the TAS list, and the Mobile Fidelity Reissue, MFSL 1-524. The conductor was Neville Dilkes. The EMI is an excellent record, but it is not as rich and natural as either the Lyrita or the Mobile, though its bass drum is deeper and more powerful than any of the others. The Mobile is even a little better, overall, than the EMI, but it still doesn't have quite the liquidity and natural body of the Lyrita.

PRAETORIUS/WIDMANN/SCHEIN-TANZMUSIK-ARCHIVE SAPM 198166 (ALTO REISSUE)

This is another recording that is on the TAS list, however the pressing they recommend is the original. This pressing is the current ALTO reissue, which used CELLO electronics for their mastering amplification and, the now typical, 180 gram vinyl. I have purchased all of the pressings ever made of this recording (a real favorite of mine), and there is no question that this is, by far, the best of the bunch.

I first picked up Archive's own reissue, and it sounded excellent. Then I found the original Archive pressing, and it didn't sound quite as good, but the differences were minor. This reissue is a different story; it is far superior to either of Archive's own pressings. It is immediate, focused, extended and with excellent transient speed. The sound-floor is a little too high for this LP to make the top classes (where I originally placed it), but its dynamic qualities are so exceptional that they warrant an unusual explanatory anecdote below.

"African Rabbits" and Dynamics

Back in the early 1990's, I was making yet another series of modifications to my amp and preamp; the details now long forgotten. Around the same time, I saw a comedy routine by the late Richard Pryor, where he described a trip to Africa. Part of the routine was his observations of the animals he saw living "in the wild" and the comparison between them and the exact same species in his local zoo. The point Pryor was trying to make was that all the animals living in the wild were much tougher and intimidating than those he saw in the local zoo; which isn't that surprising considering their different "life styles". His punch line was: "I was even scared by African Rabbits!". I said to myself at the time, "Wow, can you imagine rabbits so tough and aggressive that they are scary!?".

What does all this discussion about "African Rabbits" have to do with audio and dynamics? Well, shortly thereafter I played the well-known Praetorius LP to test the results of my modifications. The medieval flute, in the 3rd dance on Side One, just went ballistic and my head jerked back in a protective reflex motion. I couldn't believe that a lowly, wimpy flute could do this to me. Then I thought of the analogy; the flute on this LP, with my newly modified system, was just like those rabbits living in the wilds of Africa. When inhibition (or sonic compression) is minimized, even the weakest have force and power. Even they can then startle and frighten you.

Now, when ever I listen to a system for the purpose of evaluation, one of the first things I listen for is the "African Rabbits Effect". Unfortunately, it is very difficult to achieve, but I know it is possible because I have heard it and still do on a continuing basis. It is something all audiophiles should strive towards because it best mimics reality, and once attained, it will never be sacrificed.

WALTON-FACADE-REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-19 (45 RPM)

Reference Recordings came out with a bunch of 45 RPM recordings in the middle 1980's. They were all excellent, though none of them reaches the highest levels of recording art and technique. The sonic advantages of 45 RPM usually come across as a greater sense of precision and purity, especially in the higher frequencies.

However, virtually all Reference Recordings LPs still have a problem with their (relatively) high sound-floor. This compromises the sense of space and presence, like digital technology does. You only hear and sense a "presence" when an instrument is actually playing. The decay is very rapid, as though the recording venue was in an over damped chamber. Other than that, the sound is superb in every way. I will listen to the other records in this 45 RPM series to see if they are worth pursuing.

Further: The Kronos Quartet is impressive, but lacks ambience, natural harmonics and complete decay. All 3 records have high "sound-floors". Another (very early) 45 RPM LP from RR is First Takes (RR-6). This Jazz record does have a low sound-floor, and the piano is magnificently recorded, but the double bass is out of focused, ill-defined and loose.

COMPARISONS: There is another Facade that readers should look into. It is the Classic Reissue, RCA LSC-2285. The recording was made by Decca. It is the "full orchestra" version of Facade, which is an advantage. It has a greater sense of immediacy than the RR, plus it is more dynamic. The sound-floor is also lower, but there are some noticeable problems during dynamic peaks. The sound is also variable, changing with the volume. This is a judgement call, both have strengths and weaknesses, though I prefer the RCA Classic overall.

R. STRAUSS-ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA-MEHTA-KING SUPER ANALOGUE K38C 70006

The opening of this composition (utilized in the movie 2001) is probably the single most frequently used Classical audio demonstration music. It has also been used in countless commercials etc. There have been numerous recordings made of this work over the last 45 years. Because of its length, only around 30 minutes, many of the records included other works, usually by the same composer, Richard Strauss. This, of course, compromised the sonics of all the works on the record. However, there were many LPs that came out with just this single composition, and that is our focus here.

I have heard all of the top contenders (see below), and the finest recording, and pressing, is the Mehta/King. The original Decca and London pressings, (SXL 6379 & CS 6609) are just about as good, and also recommended. With that said, I must sadly write that no recording I have heard of this work, including this one, really does it justice.

This recording does not equal the better Mehta/London recordings recommended within the other classifications. It is relatively veiled, homogenized and the sound-floor is too high to allow a true "alive" quality to be sensed. So, this recording can only join "The Honorable Mentions". The King pressing was made in Japan. The Decca and London pressings will cost less.

Other contenders: The other recordings of this work are even more disappointing than the Mehta. At the top of the list is the famous Reiner on RCA (LSC-1806); the very first stereo recording ever made by RCA. I have heard the original (now rare and expensive) "Shaded Dog", also the Classic Reissue, and even the RCA re-recording and the respective reissue by Mobile Fidelity of the re-recording.

The original "Shaded Dog" had an excellent sense of hall and body in the instruments, but it was veiled, distorted, homogenized etc. The Classic reissue was a little better in some ways, but it was less natural, especially in the strings, though it improves a bit after the first 10 minutes. The RCA re-recording, and the Mobile reissue, were even worse. The various recordings by Karajan (all), Kempe and Haitink, are also not competitive.

So there you have it; a short, showpiece composition, and not even one blockbuster recording to enthusiastically recommend.

HOWEVER, SOME GOOD NEWS!...

For those listeners who are looking for just the famous opening sequence, with the deep organ note and the full orchestra crescendo, there is a "Dream Record" made for you:

ORCHESTRATIONS ASTROMANTIC-OTAKA-RCA RDCE-6

This record is so good that it is actually in The Divinity! It has some popular passages of other famous classical compositions as well.

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