Monday, August 5, 2013

Columbia SAX 2508 Nathan Milstein's Beethoven Concerto ... Columbia's Second Take on a Favorite

SAX 2508

Beethoven Violin Concerto

Nathan Milstein, violin
Eric Leinsdorf, conductor
Philharmonic Orchestra

Pressing: ER2

Condition: EX

S1 35783-A7
S2 35783-A5

Performance:  9/10

Sound:  7/10

Price range: $30-1137, mean $309
Comments:  Essentially all of Nathan Milstein's recordings released by EMI/Columbia on the SAX series are among the most collectable albums in this series.  They were all released in the US on the Angel label, and despite the high prices paid for the SAX equivalents, these Angel albums never sell for very much.  Case in point ... I once tried to sell two Milstein Angel stereo recordings in near mint condition on Ebay starting at $4.99 a piece, and not one person bid on either of them.  Just look at the price range on this album.  Naturally, the $1137 was for a blue/silver first pressing which is very rare.  I snatched up a semi-circle second label, which I felt would certainly suffice.  It's a beautiful sounding record with one of my favorite performances of the Beethoven violin concerto.  (David Oistrakh also recorded one of my favorite performances of this concerto for EMI/Columbia with Andre Cluytens and the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra ... this review coming up.)  I am not sure if this second pressing is any inferior to the blue/silver first, but I did want to make one observation.  Notice the different stamper numbers; there is no YAX.  If I am correct, those are Angel stampers, because the US release of this album was none other than Angel 35783, the same number on the stampers.  A quick look at the last blue/silver pressing of this album to sell on Ebay shows that its stampers also contained the number 35783, so I don't think that the second pressing had any different stampers than the originals.  Could it be that these UK pressings were essentially made from the same masters as the US pressings?  And if that is the case, would the UK pressings actually sound any better than the US?  I have not done the side by side, but just think if there was no difference.  You'd be paying hundreds to thousands of dollars for a record which might just be equivalent to a $1-5 Angel copy.  Now, I'm not saying that this is the case, since it's not just about all about the stampers and masters.  The quality of the vinyl, for instance, used to produce the SAX records was likely better than that used to produce the Angels, and that could have an impact on the sound quality of the record.  In any case, this would be an experiment I'd like to try sometime, if I find a copy of the Angel release of this same record.  Until then, you might want to hold off on blowing a huge wad of dough on this record, unless you absolutely have to have Milstein's UK pressings.   



  1. This would be one where going for the semi-circle might be in order. Perfect copies might go for as much as $150. Outside of Angel, there are no other pressings I can detect. This LP is actually fairly common as evidenced by the presence of the reissue pressing. It speaks highly that it commands such a high price and the quality of sound accounts for much of the premium.

    The Kogan commands higher prices (much rarer) and the fact that EMI chose to reissue it indicates some preference. Here are the available pressings:
    SAXF 162, CS 2132 - Connoisseur Society, VIC-28088 Japan, CVD 850, CFP 139 $10000

    The classics for pleasure issue (CFP 139) can be had for fairly cheap and would have excellent sound, though I would expect the midrange to be a bit reserved which would not favor the violin.

    The Milstein is late enough in the Blue and Silver series that one wonders when and how the sound transitioned in the later SAX LP's. Did it change exactly with the label? I doubt it. My research on Popsike shows a different transition between the labels then what I've read on other sites. I show SAX 2526 & 27 only in semi-circle, then semi-circles predominate starting at SAX 2532 with SAX 2535 and 2538 in blue and silver.

    At some point in here the presumption is that EMI went to a discrete transistor based mastering rig. Youngrok Lee's site shows recording dates for the master tapes:

    SAX 2540 shows recording dates as late as January 1965. SAX 2503 shows May 1963 for the master tape. One would presume from this that the transition period took place in 1964 between the two labels. For most classical labels the Golden tube age was ending in 1963. For example, the Decca SXL2000 series (courtesy Mr. Lee's site) ends with recording dates in 1961. The early SXL6000 series is considered to still be tube, but would have ended in 1963 at the latest (Here, the end of the blue backs of the London sister label mark the transition away from tubes much better.) It may be with both the ASD and SAX series that the transition started before the label change.

    Knowing the recording dates helps since at least you can be sure the master tape was tube based. This Milstein recording was June 1960. It appears to have been cut in late 1963, so is the Blue and Silver LP a tube cutting job?

    1. Thanks for your detailed comments and observations!

      As you suggest, maybe I should get in the habit of listing the recording date on my blog entries if I can find them. That would be informative.

      I honestly don't know the details of the transition, except that it wasn't a completely clean transition. There is an album prior to the end of blue/silver which was only released as a semi-circle. Here's a clip from one of my blog posts back in February of this year:

      "I believe that the last SAX album issued as a T/S pressing was SAX 2538, which is Handel's Dettingen Te Deum, conducted by Wolfgang Gonnenwein. Following this is SAX 2539, which is Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in Bohemian Carnival, only issued as a SC. INTERESTINGLY, though, SAX 2537 -- Klemperer conducting Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique -- was only released as a red SC, so despite the fact that 2538 was the last T/S, there is NO T/S to my knowledge of SAX 2537."

      I'd love to find the Kogans, but I won't pay the top dollar Rolls Royce prices for them. That's just insane and pure inflation, mostly on the part of Asian collectors (according to UK dealer sources I know). I have Kogan's SAX recording of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto in semi-circle which I bought about 10 years ago for 75 GBP from a UK dealer. The blue/silver of that record is currently selling on for 2000 GBP. That's even more than the price of the Kogen and Gilels duo violin sonatas SAX album!

    2. Mr. Lee seems to be the repository for recording information and pictures of all the albums!

      That Kogan Tchaik is very pricey even in the semi-circle ($225 I estimate). CFP 40083 available for cheapskates like myself.

      You might listen to some of your pressings in this range. I'd expect the bloom and magic of the Blue and Silver to be gone once transistors got into the mix. My concert classic reissues of this material do sound warmer (in fact, my Ogdon Tchaik PC1 Philharmonia on ASD542(semi) is quite warm), but I do not hear the same soundstage and depth. These issues have heavier bass which almost truncates some of the depth.

      I listened last night heavily and there is no doubt about it. The SAX blue and silver are very special. My gold and cream Hiawatha(ASD 467) did very well against its B&W pressing (side 2) and given the pricing on this I'd go for the G&C. I will probably try to snag second and third pressings of this album. Its worthy of consideration for top ten ASD bargains. The only thing I see much cheaper are the Gilbert and Sullivan double LP sets.

    3. Lee's website is a huge resource, indeed. I'm not trying to compete but rather fill in some of the gaps. He does not have a resource for the ASDs, so I will do my best to cover those ... at least the ones I own! I don't have anywhere near all of them but do have some of the more interesting ones.

  2. I'll add that Milstein on Capitol is something to keep an eye out for when hunting on and off ebay. My Milstein Masterpieces (pitty it seems to have been cleaned with a dirt cloth and is quite noisy from microabrasions) sounds extremely nice with great violin sound. It does not have the depth of an emi or blue and silver magic, but it does have a large dose of tube magic. Anything Milstein Capitol, snap up. Snap up any early Capitol if cheap enough.

    Oh great classical blogger, do you know anything about UK pressings of Columbia, Capitol, and other American labels? (RCA SB's too!) What of French LP's? Harmonia Mundi is well known. I am intrigued by many of the recordings licensed to Nonesuch early on from France. Would there not have been a French version? A lot of Vanguard/Vox was reissued by Acoustic Sounds. Any notable European pressings?

  3. You're absolutely right about the Milstein Capitol recordings. They are really nice ... and some of them are quite valuable. The stereo recordings are pretty valuable, as are some of the mono recital albums. I'm a big fan of Milstein -- he played with such a beautiful tone and with a warmth that you wouldn't hear with someone like Heifetz.

    I have been wondering myself about the UK pressings of US albums. I have never done a side by side comparison (the UK pressings are pretty rare around here compared to the US), but I would imagine that the production quality is pretty good on the other side of the Atlantic, so the UK records probably sound close to the US equivalents. I never really ventured to explore these pressings, because the US ones are so good. The RCA Living Stereo series, which I haven't begun to blog on yet, is one of the best sounding classical audiophile record series. Especially the ones from the Golden Age 1958-1963. While I am enamored by the EMI and British Columbia records, I don't think they sound quite as good as the best RCAs, and there were many. (I'm trying to compile a list of my personal favorites) Mercuries are also great in their US incarnation, but these are more hit or miss, in my opinion. Some Mercuries sound downright horrid. Others, e.g. SR 90313, are outstanding. The variation was greater among Mercuries, in my opinion, than among RCAs. I'd be curious to compare the surfaces of a US Mercury vs a UK Mercury. Could the UK pressing sound cleaner with less tape hiss?

    I believe Philips released several US albums (especially from Mercury) on its label. With regards to French labels, the one that fascinates me is Ducretet-Thomson, which was affiliated with Decca. Most of the recordings are in mono and feature a lineup of French musicians. Some of those are also really valuable. I can't say I know much about French labels otherwise. On that note, I don't own any Vanguard/Vox recordings anymore. The only one I ever owned was a violin album with Aaron Rosand on Vox.