Beethoven: Symphony No. 7
Leonard Bernstein, conductor
New York Philharmonic
Pressing: Dutch, Plum label with Hi-Fi Stereo logo
Date first published: 1959 (US)
AA 835 524 1Y = 12 // 670 11C
AA 835 524 2Y = 1 // 670 11C
Price range: $20-70, mean $42 on popsike
Comments: This is my first review of an early Philips Hi-Fi Stereo album. Interestingly, as you can see on the rear cover, the record has two catalog numbers, one is 835 524 AY (which I believe is the Dutch Philips number) and SABL 139 (which I believe is the UK number). This record is the European issue of the U.S. Columbia six-eye recording MS 6112, released in 1959. As I have looked over the early Philips stereo catalog, I've noticed that many of the albums are indeed European issues of existing U.S. Columbia recordings. Not surprising, perhaps, considering that Philips was the European distributor for U.S. Columbia at that time. Seeing that there is a significant price differential between the Philips issues and the corresponding U.S. Columbia records, I've long been interested to know if the Philips issues were sonically superior or if there was much a difference between the pressings. Unfortunately, I don't have the Columbia six-eye of this record in review, but I will do my best to comment on what I heard on this Philips release.
My overall impression here: frankly, I was not impressed. Bernstein gives us a decent enough interpretation of the Beethoven 7th symphony -- one of favorites of the nine -- though I have heard more impassioned or more disciplined vinyl performances by the likes of George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra (Columbia/Epic), Antal Dorati with the London Symphony Orchestra (Mercury), Fritz Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (RCA), and Georg Solti with the Vienna Philharmonic (Decca). In my opinion, the second movement is one of the most beautiful symphonic movements ever composed, but here I was left unmoved (just listen and compare with Dorati's recording with the LSO or Kleiber's with the VPO). The tempos of the third and fourth movements were a bit slow for my liking (though not as slow as Klemperer with the Philharmonia). The Philips surface is noticeably quiet, which may be its chief selling point. Sound stage is pretty wide, though you don't get to really appreciate much in terms of hall acoustics. Dynamic range was okay though not great, just as one might expect from an early U.S. Columbia stereo recording, and the entire album suffered from moderate distortion and lack of clarity in all loud passages of music. That was my major disappointment. Though I haven't been able to compare this with the original Columbia six-eye LP, I cross-checked this with the digital remaster (Leonard Bernstein's The Symphony Edition on Sony Classical), which was free of distortion. Treble is bright, bass is somewhat shy on the LP.
So my first sound experiment with early Philips Hi-Fi Stereo was underwhelming. Again, this may very well be due to the fact that this album was not recorded by Philips engineers to begin with. I have a couple of Philips-engineered, Philips-pressed Hi-Fi Stereo albums coming up and will report back with my observations.
Below is a digitized version of the Columbia 6-eye recording from youtube. Not sure if any sound editing was done to it, but I think it sounds pretty similar to the Philips.