Friday, August 2, 2013

Columbia SAX 2279 Giulini's Firebird and Ma Mere L'Oye

SAX 2279

Stravinsky: Firebird Suite; Bizet: Jeux D'Enfants; Ravel: Mother Goose Suite

Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor

Philharmonia Orchestra


YAX 79-17
YAX 80-7

Performance:  9/10 
Sound:  7/10

Price range:  $25-197, mean $78

Comments:  I love the cover on this one.  I wanted to really love the album, too, but I was honestly a little disappointed at the sound quality.  Side 1 with the Rite of Spring starts out wonderfully.  There is a nice soundstage to the recording, and one can appreciate the ambience of the recording venue.  I particularly liked the performance of the Dance Infernale du Roi Kashchei.  Sadly, though, when you get to the final movement, the loud, dynamic passages lose clarity, and once again there is distortion.  Same as what I experienced on the Karajan Pictures at an Exhibition album.  The final climax of the work is ruined by this distortion, and because of that, I couldn't give this record any higher than a 3 out of 5 for sound.  The gong in the Laideronette of the Ravel, for instance, is hardly audible.  That being said, as aforementioned, there are some sonically pleasing moments on this album which make it worthwhile to listen to.  I am a big fan of Giulini's work, and as far as interpretation goes, these are enjoyable and exciting performances.  Though I haven't seen the Ravel reissued in digital media, the Stravinsky and Bizet were reissued on CD as part of the Great Conductors of the 20th Century series.


  1. I experienced the same thing with my Benz RubyH ($3000) cartridge with the Toy Symphony on the Karajan Peter and the Wolf Blue and Silver SAX. The tracking issue was more in the treble domain (similar issue on ASD of Hiawatha's Feast). Played the Toy Symphony today on a Basis/Graham/Lyra Titan ($7000 cartridge). It had absolutely no problems with the same cut. Fortunately, the owner's dogs were caged for some movers when it was playing. Earlier, one of them was staring around the room looking for birds while listening to Mozart's German Dances on SAX 2389 (Water Music/Nachtmusik). The piece has some bird noises. The Toy Symphony is an extravaganza of odd percussive instruments featuring a host of bird calls. It would have been something to see with the dogs in the room. It still was something to hear and really sounded great.

    I don't think my cartridge or setup is defective. My hypothesis is that the original SAX and ASD pressings represent a hard tracking test in the treble. I'll try this cut on the local audio circuit (audiophile friend in town) and see if a fast moving coil cartridge may be the solution. I was amazed when the album tracked perfectly today.

  2. That is an important observation! Thanks for your input on this. I've been wondering this for a long time, whether this was just an issue with the pressing or whether it was an issue with equipment. It seems a little sad if one needs a $5000+ cartridge to be able to clarify the distortion in the louder passages, but I suppose you get what you pay for. Please let me know how your experiment continues!

  3. SAX's are expensive enough. My new friend the bassophile has this same cartridge and setup the recent test system's Titan cartridge. I will email him right now. He loves classical and is due for a good torturing with these SAX and EMI LPs. Hopefully, he can get to the bottom of the issue. Hopefully he'll be left wanting more LPs and we'll get a tip on cartridge alignment instead of cartridge buying.

  4. The problems I've had with ASD and SAX pressings is not the LPs. I've played the records with systems with Lyra Titan, Clearaudio Goldfinger, and Lyra Delos. I do not hear tracking issues on these systems. The last person to see the records thought they were on the thicker side. It is possible that the VTA (vertical tracking angle) may be off enough to cause issues. I am going to adjust mine. All three owners of these systems believe in altering VTA based on vinyl thickness (playing card is equal to about 20 grams). I believe the VTA may be the issue. It is the one thing that myself and the blog host would likely have in common. As SAX and ASD seem to be thicker than the average LP, I think this is likely the source of the issue.