Wednesday, August 14, 2013

LSC 2336 An Underrated Gem in the Living Stereo Series

RCA LSC-2336

Finlandia: Music of Grieg and Sibelius

Charles Mackerras, conductor
London Proms Orchestra

Pressing: Shaded Dog

Condition: VG+


Stampers:
K2 RY2143-1S
K2 RY2144-1S

Performance: 8/10

Sound: 8/10

Price range: $21-130, mean $57 on popsike

Comments:  This is an underrated album in the RCA Living Stereo series.  It stars a relatively young 34 year old Charles Mackerras (before he became Sir Charles) conducting the London Proms in some really nice orchestral music by Sibelius and Grieg.  Side 1 opens with a vivacious Wedding Day at Troldhaugen that gets things off to a good start.  I found this track to be the highlight of this side.  Excerpts from Sibelius' King Christian II and Pelleas and Melisande as well as Two Melodies by Grieg round out the rest of this side.  Side 2 enters with the title track, Sibelius' Finlandia, which is given a powerful, dramatic performance.  I love the ominous brass introduction!  This is followed by the Valse Triste and perhaps the most passionate rendition of Grieg's Two Elegiac Melodies I have ever heard.  The London Proms play their hearts out on this record.

The sound on this album is quite excellent.  I don't have the best copy, even though mine is a 1S/1S pressing. Balance is very good.  Sound stage is wide and deep.  The sound of the strings is rich and particularly lush in the slow movements.  The horns are heard crisp and clear, and in solos you can just hear and feel the air surrounding the instruments.  I found the sound of the percussion to also be impressive.  While this album is not usually listed as one of the top RCA Living Stereo albums, don't pass it up.  It's a hidden gem.      

14 comments:

  1. I've got six of these in a pile. I much prefer the early Classic Reissue pressing with its tremendous bass, tighter emi like sound, and much of the magic of this pressing. I've got London Stereo Treasury STS 15159. I was listening to these to sort down to one copy and the STS must not be too bad as it still is in the pile and has not been put in my sell pile.

    This album was recorded by Decca for RCA. Generally, these are some of the most sought after albums as the RCA pressings of the Decca recordings seem to be very pleasing. These records were not of American orchestras and sold poorly. Combine that with the sound and you've got very high prices (>$1000). This LP actually sold well which speaks to its quality and popular compilation of pieces.

    Here the Classic Reissues look expensive as dealers have sealed copies they are holding onto and trying to get top dollar. Don't do it. I got my original copy for $10 when Classic was blowing out the original Grundman solid state pressings. The next generation tube Grundmann pressings soumd washed out to these ears. The 45 rpm 4 record set is tube. There also may have been Quiex 200 pressings even later on. If one patiently waits for the original classic it probably would cost under $50. If you must have try to snag the shaded dog cheap or go for the STS which might be better as it has much better bass than the LSC.

    Bass is a real bug a boo with shaded dogs. RCA liked to dial down the bass on most of the pressings so the typical changer of the day did not jump out of the grooves. Even the best copies don't hold a candle to EMI in the bass.

    I believe the blog owner has The RCA Bible. Do tell what Master Valin (now editor of The Absolute Sound) says of the pressings and any review. I would love to see this as I've always wanted this book badly and never even been able to get a copy (asked the author himself a million years ago).

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    1. Miles your wish is granted. Email gkargreen@cox.net

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    2. Thx. Got a copy! Most kind of you.

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  2. Your wish is granted. According to Jonathan Valin, and I quote:

    1s/3s 10++/TOPS/VERY GOOD $60

    "An early (Wilkinson) Decca/RCA. The strings are cool, crisp and extremely transparent with wonderful inner detail within the choirs. (Cellos have particularly good bite.) The "stage" is large, darkish, and a bit cavernous (typically Walthamstow). The midbass is somewhat murky, tending toward the reverberant Decca sound, although that reverberance does seem to come and go and sometimes the bass sounds very deep and well-pitched. Imaging is problematical. Half of the time the instruments seem to be swimming in a dark broth; but then everything firms up and the stage takes on exceptional shape and clarity. Plenty of snap and drive but just a tad too dry, dark and amorphous to get the very top grade. (At one time I thought that the bass problems on many Decca/RCA's might have resulted from Decca's half-speed mastering, which tended to screw up the low bass. However, the invaluable Michael Gray has put me right on this subject. [I'd hate to tell you how many other times he's done this in the course of this manuscript.] As it turns out, Decca did not cut its RCA-released tapes onto disc for the U.S. market did. RCA did. Furthermore, all RCA tapes released by Decca were cut in England using RCA-approved Westrex cutters and not Decca's own. One more crack-brained theory shot down. However, Saint Michael also supplied me with a much more plausible explanation of the persistent bass boom on many Decca/RCA's [and Decca/Deccas, for that matter] that were not Kingsway recordings: the "baffled" Decca tree that was used intermittently throughout the mid-to-late fifties as Decca's central stereo source in recording sessions. Briefly, Decca used a trio of closely grouped microphones attached to a centrally-located pole -- one microphone angled left toward the violins, one microphone pointing forward toward winds and horns at center stage, and one microphone pointing right toward the violas, cellos, and basses. To avoid phase and imaging problems, Decca engineers sometimes separated these closely grouped microphones with baffles. Unfortunately, these baffles had a nasty side effect of creating standing waves and cavity resonances around each mike. Thus, the lumpy, overblown bass on many early Decca discs and perhaps some of their imaging woes. [For much more detail on the Decca tree, baffled or open, see Michael's essay "The Birth of Decca Stereo" reprinted in Section 35.]).

    So there you have it.

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  3. The man is a god among insects. Wonderful information including the bit about Decca/London half speed mastering.

    I'll have to see if I've got the 1s/3s ....... Nope.

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    1. What are the matrix numbers on your six pressings? Any 1s?

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    2. 3s/1s on three. One is 1s/1s. He could have had a typo and flipped the sides. I would think our 1s on side one would be better than his since they are from the same mother. When I listen to these I'll update. But don't hold your breath. I compared on one side with the other versions of this album.

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  4. What is your opinion of the LSC of Berlioz Harold in Italy? I was just listening to ASD 537 with Menuhin, ebay seller likes to record LPs for sale which is awfully cool:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/63-HMV-ASD-537-LP-BERLIOZ-HAROLD-IN-ITALY-YEHUDI-MENUHIN-nm-ex-ed1-/160939911969?pt=Music_on_Vinyl&hash=item2578c42b21

    I like the LSC pretty well despite not garnering raves from the audiophile world. It is quite dynamic and it must be a great performance.

    I encourage others to keep an eye on this seller's current items and sold items. It gives a great feel for a potential LP.

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    1. You know, I had a white dog of that LSC and sold it. It was nice but didn't stun me enough to hang on to it. I should probably give Harold another chance. I also don't have the Menuhin. If you land it, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Some of the Menuhin is okay. Some I am sadly not impressed with the sound quality of his ASDs.

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    2. No Menuhin for me on this one. I did not care for the performance.

      I imagine with Menuhin they sold so well that there may have been some tired stampers used on the originals (ditto for Beecham on this). The reissues on 2nd and 3rd label would be safer in this regard. Bath Festival would have been a different recording site. His Paganini with the RPO is quite nice.

      I'll play mine again some time and report back on LSC Harold in Italy. It was in heavy rotation before my many, many changes in the last 7 months, so it would be interesting to hear how it fares with the transformed system. I listen sooner if you had a quote from the Bible. Hint, hint.

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    3. I'll check the Bible and get back to you. It's at my office right now. Happy to post Mr. Valin's thoughts!

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    4. I'd imagined you scanned it to text. Maybe some juicy highlights would do well enough.

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    5. That was my intention. I scanned the first 30 pages, but I have another 130 to go ...

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    6. The LSC Berlioz Harold in Italy was nice with great midrange. Perhaps this record zigs where my system zags, but the bass and highs get the job done. I definitely love the performance. I don't believe this was a well rated record by Jon Mitchell so the Bible of interest.

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