Saturday, August 17, 2013

Columbia SAX 2470-2

SAX 2470-2

Mozart: The "Haydn" Quartets

The Juilliard String Quartet:
Robert Mann, violin
Isidore Cohen, violin
Raphael Hillyer, viola
Claus Adams, cello

Pressing: ED1

Condition: EX+

BC 1246A-1
BC 1246B-2
BC 1247A-1
BC 1247B-2
BC 1248A-1
BC 1248B-2

Performance: 9/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $53-510, mean $285 on popsike

Comments:  I believe that the Juilliard String Quartet recorded Mozart's six "Haydn" Quartets at least twice, once in the early 1960s for Epic and then again with a different musician lineup for CBS in the mid 1970s.  Robert Mann (violin) and Raphael Hillyer (viola) played in both sets; Isidore Cohen (violin) and Claus Adam (cello) were replaced by Earl Carlyss (violin) and Joel Krosnick (cello) in the 1970s set [actually, Claus Adams is listed as the cellist for Quartets #18 and 19 of the second set].  This 3 LP Columbia SAX set consisted of the UK pressings of the Epic recordings issued by EMI/Columbia.  It is both relatively rare and quite expensive, as you can see from the popsike listing.  If you're yearning for a copy, Classical Vinyl in the UK has it on sale now for 320 GBP.

I have listened to both sets from the Juilliard, and in all honesty, it's hard for me to pick a clear winner.  Both are excellent, in my opinion.  The Epic set opens with the cheerful Quartet #14 in G major.  One of my first impressions was how tight the ensemble was; the quartet truly plays as a single organic entity.  Intonation is predominantly spot on.  Perhaps these observations come as no surprise, since these recordings were made following a series of international tours in Europe and Asia that the Juilliard Quartet made as "cultural ambassadors", so I think they had a lot of opportunities to find their groove.  The Adagio opening to Quartet #19 "Dissonant" is played with such beauty; I love the way the Juilliard has such control of their dynamics as they play those rising crescendos.  This very solemn but dramatic introduction paves the way for the Allegro which the Juilliard conveys with such joy and energy.  "The Hunt" is also given an excellent performance, and I especially enjoyed listening to the final movement in which the Juilliard Quartet turns up the heat.

The sound quality here is very good with a nice analog warmth and clarity to it.  Sitting in the sweet spot between my speakers, I was able to appreciate the spatial separation of instruments.

Notice that all the matrix numbers are the same ones used for U.S. Epic stampers (at least for the first pressing of the Epic equivalent).  This leads me to believe that these were not remastered by Columbia and were rather just pressed in the U.K.  I have done an A/B testing of the Columbia vs the Epic pressing of the same album (the photos of this album are shown below) and have to say that I do not hear any significant sonic difference.  Keep in mind, this is with a late, blue label Epic pressing.  Look at the price differential.  These Epic records can be had for a few dollars a pop.  Each of the Columbia issues sell for $100 or more.  This might be a prime example of how rarity trumps sound quality.  If you're going for this as a hard-core collector, that's one thing.  If you're going for the music, I think you'll be more than satisfied to get the US Epic releases.  While the later CBS set is available in digital as a budget boxed set from Sony, I have yet to see the entire Epic set released on CD. 

I've included scanned images of the booklet that is included in the boxed set for your reading pleasure.



  1. It still amazes me that it appears that Columbia used the EPIC mothers and did not master their own LP! Did you look in the dead wax of the Epic? I have BC 1241, Mozart Clarinet, Strauss Horn 1, and it has the subnumber XSB-56559. This is a gold label and equivalent to SAX 2536 ($75). I paid 95 cents.

    In any event, even if not the same at least the sound is close which is really the whole point. An Epic Gold label would sound better than a blue. I find Epic barely passable with a dried up tube sound. No bloom. Some control to the sound, but not in the league of EMI. An unmagical sound in every way. Sterile, clinical, but perhaps faithful to the music in some way. I've not listened to this LP, but this is my impression from the Brahms 1 with Szell on Epic. (To these ears the Classic for Pleasure Kempe Brahms 1 reissue of the $1000 ASD blows away Szell in performance and sound.)

    Verify back with what you've seen on the stampers. My earlier epic do not have the BC xxxx code in the dead wax. If these truly do match in the dead wax then it seems the second pressing is the one to have. You save money or perhaps you get one actually mastered by Columbia!

    1. Ditto -- my Epic does not have the BC stampers, which I bet were reserved for the gold label. Mine has XSB numbers like yours. I'm not sure exactly how to interpret that. I guess Epic used different mothers for their later pressings?

  2. I've got lots of gold label. Its XSB. That means they are not the same stampers. I think columbia used the BC number because they did not have a sub-number of their own, since it was not their recording. Take a look at the typeset. Is it EMI/Columbia style letters or Epic font style letters.

    1. It's in the Epic font letters. I know it's not the same stamper as the first pressing Epic, but I"m telling you, it still sounds very good! Many of my Epics are blue labels (I do have some golds, too), and some of the blues are not bad. They aren't outstanding by a wide margin, but they seem to be not too far off from some of the SAXes reissues. Case in point, the Szell conducting Mendelssohn's Italian symphony. I have both the SAX and the Epic blue. They sound almost the same, and the SAX has BC stampers.

    2. Another case in point. A Szell SAX of Haydn's Oxford symphony and Mozart's Haffner sold on ebay last night for $295. I was actually eyeing it for less than that but wasn't going to go too crazy. I have the Epic gold which has the Oxford paired with Schubert's Unfinished. Same exact front over with Schubert in the title rather than Mozart. I got mine for $10. I made sure to listen to it last night before bidding. The Haydn sounded pretty good for an Epic. I don't care too much for Schubert's Unfinished, so I didn't sample that one again.

    3. The same typeset as EPIC. Perhaps Epic made the plates for Columbia and sent them over. I trust ears first and if they are that close they'd have to be done by Epic.

      You know what this means? The semi-circle pressings of Szell are probably identical to the Blue and Silver. For Epic stuff, I'd get the semi-circle and save the money.

      You know what else this means? Epic probably cut these around the time Columbia released them in the mid-sixties. They are probably not tube pressings which would explain why your later Epic pressing sounds the same. A Gold Epic would sound different as it is a tube pressing probably.

      I love this kind of stuff.

    4. That Haydyn Oxford epic gold label might be better than the SAX.

    5. Except that I asked the seller what the stampers/matrix numbers were on the Haydn.

      YAX, not BC.

      Yup, it was repressed by Columbia, so it's legit. It might even sound better.

      The other really expensive SAX of Szell conducting Beethoven's 7th and Wagner ... I think that has YAX stampers, too. Perhaps that's why these are more valuable, because they aren't simply Epic stampers but actually remastered or repressed by EMI. Wish I could speak with someone at the company who could confirm!

    6. Sounds like I need to cruise popsike and note which are Epic stampers. Ah the fun.