Friday, February 28, 2014

L'Oiseau-Lyre SOL 60050: Colin Davis' dynamic Stravinsky




L'Oiseau-Lyre SOL 60050

Stravinsky: Dumbarton Oaks, Danses Concertantes, Concerto in D


Colin Davis, conductor
English Chamber Orchestra

Pressing: 2nd label

Condition: NM-

Stampers:
ZTT-577-2G
ZTT-578-2G

Date first published: 1962


Performance: 10/10

Sound: 9/10

Price range: $25-46, mean of $33 on popsike

Comments:  I've been meaning to write a short review of this album for a couple of months now, ever since I first picked it up at a local record store for $4.99.  This was a shocker ... I had yet to be blown away by a L'Oiseau-Lyre LP, but from the jubilant opening measures of the Danses Concertantes, I was instantly impressed with the incredibly natural sound of the recording, not to mention great dynamic range, and a wide and deep soundstage.  The repertoire might be somewhat less familiar and less recorded, but I found the music highly captivating and thoroughly enjoyable.  This is "neo-classical" Stravinsky, all composed between the years of 1938 and 1946, and quite different in style (though no less colorful or rhythmically interesting) than his more famous ballets such as The Firebird, Petrouchka, and The Rite of Spring.  If you like works like the Pulcinella Suite, I suspect you will enjoy this album.  The English Chamber Orchestra is in excellent form here, lead by a relatively young, pre-knighted Colin Davis.  Tempos in general aren't quite as brisk as Stravinsky's own in his stereo Columbia recordings, but the music nevertheless pulses with energy.  You shouldn't have to break the bank to find yourself a copy, but if you're eager to hear the music before landing the LP, you'll be pleased to know that this album has been reissued by Decca on CD.

Hands down, this is one I will listen to time and time again.  Highly recommended, and my LP of the week!

**My apologies, since I wrote this review in my office, but cover art is to come!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

LP Week with AQL, Special Report: Decca versus London Part 1

The Lyrical Lyrita Series has brought us into the realm of Decca these last weeks as Decca recorded all of these LP’s (stereo) and pressed most of them. And what better place for LP week to weigh in then with the Decca blue bloods (“membership in a royal or socially important family”) and their eccentricities. The blue bloods have had quite a run over the years and the top Decca recently have been selling for as much as $1400, whilst the lowly London blue back can’t seem to even garner $140. Why is there a price difference between these labels when all of the records were pressed in England by Decca? There has been much debate over this market differential and we’ll be exploring this over the coming weeks. 

The most thorough study of this phenomenon was done by Mr. Sedric Harris on Enjoy the Music.com (official Internet partners with The Absolute Sound, Australian Hi-Fi Magazine, CANADA HiFi, Hi-Fi+, HIFICRITIC, HiFi Media, Hi-Fi World, Sound Practices and VALVE Magazine) and it is squarely in support of the superiority of Decca: http://www.enjoythemusic.com/magazine/viewpoint/0102/londondecca.htm
On the other side, some maintain there is no difference, (including our host AQL, who we have gagged with a sock in his mouth this week, as he doesn’t have any Decca vs. London duplicates.) The prodigious Maestro Salvatore of Supreme Recordings has overwhelming evidence that there is no difference:

Of course, both are wrong and we are here to set you straight on LP Week. We’ll put out some initial hypotheses after our first round of Decca versus London comparisons. And in upcoming episodes we will explore the different pressings and hopefully with our viewer’s input come to a definitive understanding. But first a tutorial for those not steeped in reading the Decca tea leaves.

All Decca pretty much look the same, even the ED4 "narrow band"
There are two ways to classify your London LP’s. One we will call the Blue Blood method (popular with British record dealers) and the other is the matrix method. This is the safest and simplest method, but it has it downfalls. It is Decca label driven, but works quite well for the London releases. First we have the tube ED1 pressing and the ED2 pressing. These are identical except that with the ED2, the words "Original Recording By..." are replaced with "Made in England By...". The third label ED3 is identical to the second except that there is no groove in the label (a trench almost at a radius of about 2 inches on the label.)  Then we have the “narrow band” ED4 which is a smaller label with a ridge in the dead wax/lead out and the lettering around the circumference of the label encompasses the band. Of course the Blue Blood method is a little bird brained compared to the matrix method as we’ll see when applying to the London’s.

First off with London the ED2 vs ED1 line does not exist. We do have some very early pancake pressings (also on Decca too) that don’t have a groove in the label, but they are completely distinct from the grooveless ED3. The pancake pressings have no lip when you grab the edge of the record which is not ideal for record changers. Decca used there mono presses to make these when the grooved stereo presses were at capacity. They may have deemed the pancake inferior since it appears mainly with box sets and a few of the London releases, but never with the Decca SXL single LP releases (readers, feel free to correct in the comments and we’ll update this.)


The first label line we cross with London is from FFSS to FFRR with a distinct transition in the CS 6350’s which also marks the end of the blue backs (some records after this have the FFSS label as Decca used up their stock of labels, readers?) Right around this time, the sound also changes from the classic romantic tubey sound to something more modern. All of these are grooved pressings and this means that the ED2 label is no guarantee of the classic and incredible London tube sound. With a Decca ED3 you are guaranteed not to have a tube pressing.

All of these are half speed mastered (as discussed in Lyrical Lyrita Series) until we reach the narrow band label. 

With London, the transition to the ED4 style small label (no narrow band, but the same ridge) is earlier than Decca and coincides with the introduction of the Neumann helium cooled SX-68 cutter head. With Decca the labels stay in the ED3 style label (“wideband”) for a few more years after the change to the first Neumann (readers?), so again the Decca label fails as a sound indicator. Both Decca and London labels are unchanged for the transition to the pristine treble cutting Neumann SX-74 around 1975. And around 1979 Decca closed its British plants, transitioning all production to the Netherlands.

In conclusion the Blue Blood method is actually more effective with the London label than with the Decca label. It is extremely good at determining the rough age of an LP, so onto the Matrix method.

For the Matrix method we must look at the dead wax or lead out area of the vinyl; the end of the record where if one doesn’t pick up the arm a click sounds every time the LP goes around. First orient the record to read the ZAL matrix number (ex. ZAL-8284-3G) which will place the matrix number at 6 o’clock below the label. The last two characters of the matrix are of extreme interest as the letter refers to the engineer and the number of the master lacquer. Here are the engineers:

A = Guy Fletcher
B = Ron Mason
C = Trevor Fletcher
D = Jack Law
E = Stan Goodall
Add caption
F = Cyril Windebank
G = Ted Burkett
K = Tony Hawkins
L = George Bettyes
R = ????
V = Quentin Williams
W = Harry Fisher


     At 9 o’clock we have we have the number of the Metal Mother used to make the Stamper. Lower is better.

At 3 o’clock, the stamper number consists of letters from the word BUCKINGHAM. The first Stamper to be made from the Mother has the letter B, the second U, etc., with combinations indicating even later stampers.





At 12 o’clock, the faint Date code here actually is borrowed from the UK official sales tax code:
RT - from 1959
ET - from 1960
ZT - from 1962
OT - from 1963
MT - from 1965
KT - about 1967 to 1969
JT - about 1969 to 1972
No age codings were used after 1972"

So which of these codes do we care about? The master lacquer number is quite important as this will define the sound from the engineer. We prefer to have the first mother from this lacquer with a ‘1’ at 9 o’clock. An early stamper from a mother is nice, but may not be critical (500 records made per stamper). The Date Code can be very helpful when used with the other numbers (ex. While investigating for this piece I noted none of my London Stereo Treasury records had codes prior to 1967.) Of course the one thing we can’t tell is whether a record in hand is the first or five hundredth off a given stamper.

So now armed with this knowledge we begin the journey of Decca versus London versus Stereo Treasury versus Ace of Diamonds, and we will see if this is purely a tale of matrices.



Decca SXL 6482 vs London CS 6680 Saint-Saens, Symphony No. 3, Organ Symphony, Mehta, Los Angeles Philharmonic OrchestraLondon:
2K/4K
(1/1)
stamper: A/C
JT
(69-72)

small label


Decca:
4W/5W
(2/1)
stamper:
U/B
no date
(73+)
narrow band


This audiophile war horse rates an Honorable Mention in the Supreme Recordings. Very uninteresting sound. Side 1 better on the Decca, but who cares. Two different masterings sound very similar. Salvatore must have had better pressings, but for me this one is "sell, sell, sell!" For sonic reviews of all recordings of this piece except the best one, see http://www.high-endaudio.com/SR-BASIC4.html#Dec . The best is EMI's CFP 40053 PCO, Pretre, Durufule, Organ.  It may not be the ultimate in sound floor, but it is special never the less. Issues of the original LP, ASD 585 ($50+) will also have good bass, but are unlikely to match the CFP's bass for tightness and drive.

Decca SXL 6535 vs London CS 6738 Liszt, The Battle of the Hunds, Mazeppa, Orpheus, Mehta, Los Angeles Philharmonic OrchestraLondon:
4W/2W
(1/1)
stamper: I/U
JT
(69-72)

small label
Decca:
1W/2W
(1/1)
stamper:
BN/N
JT
(69-72)
narrow band
Side 2 of the Decca is way better than the London on side 2. This is interesting as they share the same lacquer and the London has an earlier stamper. The best side though was side 1 of the London. Perhaps the 4W is a better lacquer, but I suspect this is something akin to the Tom Port of Better Records "hot stamper" LP's where he simply charges more for better sounding copies. Side 2 of the London should be better by the numbers, but again perhaps the difference between the sound of the 500th record off a stamper and the first few is a factor. I enjoyed these works and the performances. Servicable sound.


Decca SXL 6535 vs London CS 6738 Liszt, The Battle of the Hunds, Mazeppa, Orpheus, Mehta, Los Angeles Philharmonic OrchestraLondon:
1W/1W
(1/1)
stamper: U/C
JT
(69-72)

small label
Decca:
1W/1W
(1/1)
stamper:
BB/A
JT
(69-72)
narrow band
Here is a case where the London has the early stampers (same lacquer and mother for both).  The London is better here, so perhaps the second stamper off a mother is better than the 11th. This record is a resident of the Salvatore's Honorable Mentions. I would not rate this LP that highly though it is better than the Mehta Saint-Saens above. I enjoyed the music and the performance.


Decca SXL 6000 vs London CS 6322 vs Super Analogue KIJC 9018, Khachaturian, Spartacus, Gayaneh Ballet Suites, Khachaturian, Vienna Philharmonic London:
2E/2E
(1/1)
stamper: C/U
JT
no dates codes, but grooved FFSS puts this as early
Decca:
4W/4W
(4C/1)
stamper:
IA/IK
JT
(69-72)
narrow band
The London Blue Back TAS Super Disc List resident has disappointing congestion with the massed brass. The later Decca helium cooled Neumann SX-68 pressing gives servicable, if undynamic sound in comparison, but still fights congestion some, a good filler. For best sound, go right to the Super Analog ($30 on ebay, versus $20 for the blueback, and $100 for an ED1 Decca.) These Japanese half-speed 300 watt tube pressings were made by a direct connection to the tape machine (tricked out Solid State Tandberg unit). Despite the slight solid state coolness, the Super Analog noise/sound floor obliterates the British. (Listening to more of these soon, as they may outclass all Decca reissues in this area.) Luxuriant, silky sound. In spite of extreme amplifier power and half speed mastering we still have tape congestion.

The score so far is kind of a yawn with no clear winner except for perhaps the Super Analog. I will say that the later Decca covers are superior to the London with better artwork and more substantial clarifoil covers.  The blue bloods may take umbrage when I state that the Decca SXL 2000 artwork is rather boring and the gloss covers flimsy; I'll take the more substantial, early blue back cover any day with its schlocky artwork.

The operating hypothesis moving forward is that all records will sound different.  In some cases, certain pressings of Decca or London may be superior to anything on the other as the records did not come off the press with one for London, one for Decca, etc. In general, I expect a vintage used classical LP from England might be in better shape since the record changer was more prevalent in the USA. 

Be advised, if you already have a loved, great copy of a Decca or London be careful.  You are more likely than not to be disappointed with a second copy because you probably already have a "hot stamper". For now, given the inflated Decca prices (and deflated London prices), please save your dollars and get yourself an FFSS London Blue Back (back cover is light blue).  They are often cheap enough to not bother with a cheap, later filler pressing, and they could be better than the Decca. We still have several more reports to do, so this is our interim advice for your LP dollars.

That is the picture for now, but we will continue this special report with part 2 with a number of vintage blue back comparisons and we'll start exploring some of the ED2 type pressings, including grooved ace of diamonds/stereo treasury and early London FFRR.
 
Well you've again and wasted another week with LP Week, and please remember, those who plug their computer keyboards into hi-fi systems aren't idiots. That would be stereotyping.


Update: Be sure to see our Living Decca SXL Blueback Guide.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Reference Recordings: A New Regular Feature

Miles and I just thought it would be fun to start a regular post on Reference Recordings.  Our idea is to pick a work or two each week and to give our recommendations on what we think are our 1-2 favorite vinyl recordings of these works.  Where there are really exceptional digital versions to consider, we will also include those, since we certainly don't want to exclude any readers who prefer CDs or downloads to LPs, but our main focus will really be on LPs.

What we'd really like to encourage, though, is for readers and followers of Miles to Mozart to chime in with their own recommendations by commenting on these blog posts.  If you have an absolute favorite, or if you'd like to make a comment regarding the recommendations, please feel free to do so!

This week, we have selected Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, as orchestrated by Maurice Ravel.  A long time orchestral showpiece and one of my (and my two and a half year old son's) absolute favorites, there is no paucity of recordings for this work, but I certainly have my favorite(s).

AQL's Recommendations:

1. RCA LIVING STEREO LSC-2201

Fritz Reiner, conductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

This is a classic recording with an outstanding performance and incredible sound.  In fact, it may be the most natural sounding Pictures recording I have ever heard, and I have heard plenty.  While there are no weaknesses in this performance, I just want to mention that the brass -- the legendary CSO brass -- are superb.
Dynamic range is wide.  The hall acoustics are nicely captured.  To my ears, it feels like you are seated a few rows back at Orchestra Hall (now the Chicago Symphony Center).

According to Jonathan Valin's RCA Bible:

"One of JM's original Top 16.  I don't agree with Tom Port on this one, which he thinks is overrated. Although I'd give the nod to the sonics on Power of the Orchestra, the Reiner is still a top disc and as powerful and incisive a performance of this warhorse as can be found on vinyl (save, of course, for Richter's incomparable solo piano version).  Pictures is the Car & Driver road test of stereo recordings -- filled with every color & dynamic nuance that an orchestra is capable of producing (what a superb piece of orchestration by Ravel) -- and for that very reason it has probably been recorded more times in the stereo era than any other orchestral work.  Every instrument gets its say in Pictures (oftimes at the top of its voice) which makes the piece a notorious challenge to record.  All I can say is that Layton & Mohr (who are the ones responsible for this disc) rose to the challenge.  String tone is, for the most part, unusually sweet and ravishing.  Brass & winds are full-bodied and well focused (although not as full-bodied & focused as the Dorati/Mercury version).  Cellos & violas are superb.  Basses, low brass, & timpani are superior -- with good slam and "floor" on tuttis.  Midrange dynamics while not first-rank are still quite fine.  Ambiance is well-reproduced (although the close-miking gives you less of a sense of hall volume than other top RCA's I can think of).  Nit picks: string & wind tone are a bit uneven, occasionally verging on edgy dry brightness; string choir detail is occcasionally slightly congealed; and the recording is miked closely -- so the orchestra is up-front and quite present, although not irritatingly so.  But those nits don't outweigh the virtues of this disc.  Recorded November, 1957 -- with five mikes (according to Michael Gray).  [TP feels that later pressings are superior on this disc, and I agree.  The 7s/8s demo I have is dynamically constricted.]  

Though my recommendation is based on the original RCA stereo shaded dog release, this has had its iterations in the reissue catalog.  I have not heard the Classic Records reissue, but I hear that the new Analogue Productions reissue is worth auditioning.  I am still considering it.  This has also been remastered for CD, SACD, and XRCD.

2. EMI ASD 3645

Riccardo Muti, conductor
Philadelphia Orchestra

This one also has famed audiophile status and may be more famous as a MFSL reissue.  The performance also packs a powerful punch.  This one feels a little more closely miked than the Reiner, but it sports greater dynamic range and superior clarity.  Just listen to the Baba Yaga movement, the first track on side 2, and tell me that that bass drum doesn't have a visceral effect on you.  As a bonus, you also get Stravinsky's Firebird suite.
 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lyrical Lyrita SRCS 34, Holst, Various Works, Imogen Holst Conducting

Lyrical Lyrita Series: 

SRCS 34

Gustav Holst

Lyric Movement for Viola and Small Orchestra, Brook Green Suite for Strings, Nocturne for Strings, Fugal concerto for Flute, Oboe, and Strings, St. Paul's Suite for Strings

Imogen Holst conducting
The English Chamber Orchestra

Pressing: mid-sixties Decca half speed

Condition: EX

Stampers: 2K/2K



Performance:

Keeping things in the family, this disk features the composer’s daughter conducting.

Holst composed the opening piece, the hauntingly beautiful Lyric Movement for Viola, along with the Brook Green Suite in his last 18 months. The emotional warmth of these pieces is largely absent from his earlier music.

“Holst (1874 - 1934) was an introverted, ascetic individual, a fastidious craftsman, and a person with something of an interest in the mystical and transcendent. His artistic outlook was restless, and prompted him to search for and change to new styles several times. This means that there is not much similarity between this delicate, personal music and his famous suite The Planets, though there are moments with the same mystical contemplation found in some parts of the earlier work.

The period during which he wrote The Planets contains his most brilliant and colorful orchestral work, including his most popular music with such pieces as the Japanese Suite, Beni-Mora, the Suites on English Folk Songs, St. Paul's Suite, and the ballet music from The Perfect Fool. There is a nearly ten-year gap between the last-named work and his next orchestral composition.

Holst was unprepared for a sudden burst of fame that occurred in 1920, when his choral/orchestral work The Hymn of Jesus bowled over its first audiences and stimulated the first full public performance of The Planets.

Now the girls' school music teacher who liked nothing better than holidays when he could go write music in his soundproofed music room at St. Paul's School, found himself in demand both as a conductor and composer. He came to resent this fame, and to turn from the lush, colorful style of the music that brought it to him. This progress accelerated when a heart problem compelled him to drop much of his work and move to the countryside. There is a gap in his output in nearly all genres in the mid-1920s.” (Joseph Stevenson, http://www.allmusic.com/composition/lyric-movement-for-viola-amp-chamber-orchestra-h-191-mc0002361174)

Holst composed the Brook Green Suite for Strings for the junior orchestra of St. Paul’s. “The "Prelude" is based on the descending C major scale; in fact the cellos cover it in two octaves! The "Air" sounds as if it was based on English folk song, but most likely it was not; Holst had become so acquainted with folk song during his life that a lot of his created melodies were very similar to them (take for instance the choral piece, This Have I Done For My True Love, which audience members thought was a folk song arrangement when in actuality the melody was Holst's own.) The structure of the "Air" is reminiscent of the counterpoint of The Lyric Movement, full of enharmonic relations and somewhat austere. This is a trait of most of his later works.” Per Imogen, the finale, Dance, borrows from a puppet’s show tune heard while holidaying in Sicily. (http://www.gustavholst.info/compositions/listing.php?work=25)

From her father’s manuscripts, Imogen selected the slow movement from the unfinished arrangement for strings of his Moorside Suite for brass band. This Nocturne for Strings is a fitting end to the late work of Holst on side A.

On Side B, “The Fugal Concerto is just that, "fugal," but not a fugue. But the reference to Bach is not left at that; the slow movement is a witty parergon to the slow movement passacaglia of the Bach’s Fifth keyboard concerto, particularly in its oboe arrangement as the sinfonia to Cantata 156.” (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Sept06/Holst_SRCD209_SRCD223.htm#ixzz2tie0DeAC)

Finishing side B, each of the ever popular St. Paul's Suite’s “four movements is a treasure of its own, although the first movement, a Jig, has the strongest effect.” (Andrew R. Barnard, Amazon Review)
Here is a well done rendition of the finale, ‘The Dargason’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQevo7M4gm8

Sound:
And what sonic splendors has the Decca team provided us under Lyrita founder Mr. Itter’s auspices? (The Decca team is unknown, so we assume Kenneth Wilkinson.) Well, to begin, SRCS 34 is only the fourth stereo release which means it is early and the original pressing would allegedly be a half-speed mastered solid state affair. Yet the cutter head used was primitive compared to the later Neumann SX-68 and SX-74 with its pristinely cut, perfectly transduced high frequencies beyond 20,000 Hz. My copy does not have a flip back cover, but my pressing is a 2K stamper matrix which to my ears is not the work of the later above Helium cooled Neumann’s. And life is not so simple to say that the Neumann setups were completely superior as the electronics of the cutting amps would have evolved also, with the general trend away from discrete transistors to integrated circuits and more cost efficient manufacturing. (I’ll stay away from the early half speed Decca/London tube pressings which were not Lyrita and which command big dollars and do sound best generally, despite the inferiority of the cutting heads.) Well for this LP, this early pressing exhibits the best sound I’ve heard from a Decca type pressing of this era (I am including the Decca/London catalog).

We do not have the incredibly pristine extended treble presentation of some of the later Decca pressed Lyritas, but we do have much of this lyricism and this lyrical purity extends down more into the midrange. This lyrical Lyrita purity is a wonderous sound of sublime perfection extending down from the Heavens of the highs. I’ve never heard the likes of this sound from a Decca/London release (or anything else for that matter). The pristine lyricism is here and one wonders what a later pressing, either Decca or Nimbus might offer. The sound quality works extremely well with the works on this release with the St. Paul’s Suite standing out in my mind, but I was somewhat distracted while listening to much of the rest by some highly interesting posts on our site.

This record does get an Honorable Mention in the Supreme Recordings hierarchy and I can see why as the sound floor performance is not top class (though remarkable compared to similar aged Decca/London releases). Bass and dynamics are good, but certainly not great. I do believe this reviewer's system and perhaps the Maestro Salvatore’s system to a greater extent do miss some of the splendors that my good friend the Quadophile’s system can do with these LP's (Basis, Lyra Delos setup with a couple of very interesting preamp combinations and a wonderfully matched amp for the Quads.) My own system is resolving bass and sonic definition better than the quads with a more extended treble presentation, but the Quadophile still achieves better sound overall. I just heard this LP via Quads, but will revisit with side B this time. I certainly would bump it up a notch to the maestro’s Basic List.

I’ll be throwing on some recently acquired Supreme Recordings accolades Decca/London LP's to see if some of these match this lyrical presentation. These typically have a slightly ‘recordy’ sound that did intrude some on the LP under review particular when presenting copious amounts of treble energy. This treble distortion and the ‘recordy’ sound may not be one in the same as the Neumann cuts on Decca or Lyrita rarely distort, though the ‘recordy’ sound persists on the Decca/London LP's (thankfully not to Lyrita, so far in this journey).

A very nice LP sonically, but I have heard better Lyritas. These are special performances with Imogen at the helm of rarely recorded and very stimulating Holst works. A sonic gem for its time which leaves one wondering what the auspices of Mr. Itter entailed.


Performance: 5/5                                                                                    Sound: 4.5+/5



Monday, February 17, 2014

Lyrical Lyrita Series


Before we get into some sonic histrionics of this storied British Label and its British Artists, let’s get into some history. Hopefully, the following will reveal some clues as to what makes Lyrita unique. Please feel free to comment with contributions and we will update this post.

In October 1959, Lyrita began mail order subscription of Lyrita Recorded Edition. Founder Richard Itter, businessman and record collector, was determined to make quality recordings. Itter produced, engineered, edited, and recorded these early Recorded Edition releases in the music room of his own country home. Pianist Margaret Kitchin recalls recording Michael Tippett's Fantasy Sonata with the composer lying on the floor during takes.  At the lunch Itter's mother had cooked, "Michael talked a lot," Kitchin remembered, adding "Michael spoke French quite badly." Clearly Itter was intimately involved early on with all of the Lyrita recordings.

By the early 60s, Itter had expanded his efforts, contracting Decca for orchestral recordings and preferring the services of legendary recording engineer Kenneth Wilkinson, a "wizard with mikes - nothing sounded artificial - his subtle technique was fabulous". In reality, a host of Decca engineers were used and we’ll try to make note of them in our reviews by referring to the recent excellent CD releases with their engineering notes. Lyrita issued the monaural RCS series, and stereophonic SRCS series beginning at SRCS.31.

Phil Rees Record Buying Guide states, "Despite what has been said in some sources about Lyrita pressings, I have never heard any bad sounding Lyrita, regardless of pressing. The earliest were pressed by Decca and were, in my view, the best. Then came Nimbus pressings. Finally there were a number of different pressing sources including EMI.

The basic rule is that the lower the SRCS number the more likely it is to be a Decca pressing. Conversely, with the higher SRCS numbers it is increasingly unlikely to be a Decca pressing. Beyond SRCS116 most were never pressed by Decca at all, but were pressed by Numbus. So it can confidently be said that there is either a Decca or a Numbus pressing for every Lyrita.

The Decca pressings are easily recognised by the fact that the engraving on the vinyl carries a stamper number in the standard Decca SXL typeface, and is of the form ZLY-nnnn-na, e.g. ZY-5069-G2. This engraving will be found on the vinyl on both sides of the record.

Nimbus pressings are also readily identified (though more care is needed): Somewhere on the vinyl you will find engraved the word "NIMBUS" on top of the word "ENGLAND", but this engraving is very small.

The pressings after this have 'hand written' scrawl on the vinyl and are easiest identified by the negative fact that they have neither Decca nor NIMBUS engravings."


We will comment on the pressings and recordings as we go through our Lyrical Lyrita Series. Unfortunately, little is known of the history of Mr. Itter’s involvement in the Decca recording process. I suspect he was there offering encouragement and input for many of the recordings. Perhaps he stayed hands off, unlike Decca which did have some requirements/standards in the recording process, but I suspect he was quite involved in some choices which would account for the unique Lyrita sound.

And with our history complete, we move onto some sonic histrionics. Lyrita has always been a label with an elusive sound quality. By that I mean, one where others say it is great, but it never quite seems so great on one’s own system. Mr. Salvatore of Supreme Recordings fame admits that it might be consistently the best label, but only the best Lyrita’s are in the third tier basic list:


ALWYN/BUSH/BERKELEY/MACONCHY-LYRITA SRCS 57
ARNOLD-ENGLISH, SCOTTISH AND CORNISH DANCES-LYRITA SRCS 109
HOLST-JAPANESE SUITE/BLISS-MELEE FANTASQUE-LYRITA SRCS 50

None make the Supreme Recordings Divinity or Demi-God list.

Lyritas have been elusive for me until some recent noise/sound floor improvement, but that still only got me to the point where I thought Salvatore had them classified correctly. They had a decent sound floor, but they clearly were not great. My ears were opened a few months ago on a friend’s quad system. Here were the lyrical Lyrita highs with a truly unique sound quality that one could call fast.

At the same time I also brought over some recently acquired basic list Decca recordings. Why do I mention this? Because all Lyrita releases were recorded by Decca engineers and most of the LPs were pressed by Decca in their original incarnations. And what of those Decca recordings? On my system they seem fine, but with a bit of a “recordy” sound (like an old LP, as in a bad one). On the Quads, they might be even less remarkable and so once again we are back to the elusive Lyrita and the question of why do they sound so different from Decca?


I’ve been playing Lyrita’s recently as I’ve made system improvements, but the lyrical Lyrita of the Quad’s still eluded my grasp. Twice this last week I’ve taken over Lyrita’s and Decca to the Quadophile’s system to further explore the situation. There all Lyritas were awesome. The Decca Lyrita pressings played favored the highs slightly less than the Nimbus or EMI pressings, but were still Lyrical extending this feeling into the midrange. Finally this weekend, something changed in my system (I believe a retuning of some speaker levels with the right midrange L-pad moving up 3 dB). Now, the Lyritas appear to be eminently lyrical on my own system which has spurred the commencement of this Lyrical Lyrita Series of reviews (40 releases on hand.)

At this point, clearly to my ears, Lyrita is underrated in the Supreme Recordings. I’ll be listening back and forth on both systems as much as I can in order to decipher what might be the key parameters and attributes required for a system to speak Lyrita. At this point, the hypotheses are:
1.  Low sound floor – important, but perhaps not the key sonic requirement
2.  Fast transducers – planar speakers like Quads seem to do well, but still at best only part of the picture.
3.  Flat in room bass response – I measured the bass response of the Quads at the listening position and the flatness of the bass response was scary. Good luck achieving this with dynamic subwoofers and speakers; you’ll need a lot of bass traps ($).
4.  Bass definition – really the whole spectrum cannot have any tube flabbiness or the clarity will be smeared. I suspect this is the least critical factor, but may be where my system has closed the gap the most.


It will be fascinating chasing down the elusive Lyrita sound in the upcoming series and hopefully this will be of help in maximizing our reader’s enjoyment of this fine label.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

LP Week with AQL, Special Report; The Top Dogs

This week on LP Week we have a special report.  Of course the Top Dogs are EMI, but every dog has its day and so must the Shaded Dog.  We'll discuss the top six shaded dogs for the past 90 days (LSC or LDS, aka Soria Series).  We are all one big happy family, so Blue Bloods with their Blue Backs need not feel left out as four of these records were actually recorded by Decca. The chamber music ghouls will be howling at the exclusion of the rarity driven and pricey DANIEL SHAFRAN - Schubert Arpeggione Sonata - Living Stereo Shaded Dog LSC-2553, but it likely does not offer the sonic splendors of the following.   On with the show and our esteemed host and Musicweb's AQL:


FANTASTICALLY RARE! LSC 6065 ROYAL BALLET ORIGINAL RCA DISKS Dec-18 10:46 $1,885.00 MW: Trees don't grow to the sky, but in this case they do despite some very nice reissues.  I've seen the original pressing go for $5000 recently.  A Salvatore Divinity in its Classic Reissue; http://www.high-endaudio.com/SR-DIVINITY.html Unfortunately, the maestro does not indicate a preferred pressing from Classic.  There may be 5 different ones.  My original solid state Grundman pressing is nice, but bass control and noise floor are not good, so not at the top of my LP heap.

AQL: I've owned an original copy myself and while it wasn't the cleanest copy, it was a decent VG. With mold on the cover, I was still able to part with it for $285.  It's a nice recording, but in my humble opinion, it's way overpriced.  The performances are very nice -- Ansermet always had a way with ballet.  I now have the VICS, which doesn't match the full glory of the originals, but it suits me fine for $10.  Also available now on CD and can be easily purchased as an Australian Decca Eloquence reissue.

RCA LIVING STEREO SHADED DOG SD ORIG LSC 2449 GOUNOD FAUST BIZET CARMEN 1S/1S Dec-29 18:27 $405.00 MW:  I've got the original, first Grundman, and the 1st 45 rpm Grundman Classic Reissue (tubes).  I need to compare!

AQL: A Living Stereo that I've never owned but have had the pleasure of hearing.  I have owned the VICS, which also sells for decent money, and that had pleasing sonics though may have been a touch darker and warmer overall.  I'll leave it to MW to review this one and make the comparison with the reissue. 

KONDRASHIN / Khachaturian Masquerade/ RCA Living Stereo SD LSC-2398 1S/1S TAS LP Feb-04 21:32 $359.00 MW: I've got the original and the first Grundman, so a comparison is in order.

AQL: One of my favorite LSCs, and you can find my review on this site.  I paid $20 for mine, so I'm amazed that the 1S/1S sold for this much.  Some sucker definitely overpaid, and some seller cashed in here.  Price aside, an outstanding album.  

ALEXANDER GIBSON / Witches' Brew / RCA Living Stereo SD LSC-2225 TAS LP Jan-14 04:58 $350.00 MW: Just the first Classic Bernie Grundman pressing. I've got about 500 Shaded Dogs, but I've not listened to most in quite some time.

AQL: Another fine LSC, and one of the more famous ones for certain.  Almost always sells for a lot of money.  I also owned an original 1S/1S that I was very generously given for free by a close friend and fellow collector.  Great dynamics, wide soundstage, and fun music ... what more could you ask for?  This is also now available as a Decca Eloquence CD reissue.



Fistoulari Ballet Music RCA Living Stereo LSC 2400 1S/1S Shaded Dog SD TAS Feb-01 17:36 $305.00 MW: Just the first Grundman.  Its worth noting that the Decca recorded LSC feature European orchestras which did not sell well in the USA.

AQL: Yet another one of my favorite LSCs, and one of the few Fistoulari recordings on RCA (recorded by Decca, of course).  There's a similarly titled Columbia SAX with Karajan, but this one packs more punch.  Got my 1S/1S for $45 at a bookstore in Louisiana in 2004 and have never looked back. 

RCA LIVING STEREO LSC 1806- ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA- REINER 1S/1S NM- Jan-24 15:34 $258.88 MW:  I've got the original, first Grundman, and the 1st 45 rpm Grundman Classic Reissue (tubes).  I need to compare!

AQL:  Can't say that I've owned this one, but it's on my wish list.  The very first in the RCA Living Stereo classical catalog and perhaps one of the best known performances of Also Sprach among audiophiles.  Reissued on SACD by Sony for $11.99. 

MW: Despite my vast collection, our host actually is much more familiar with the most exclusive shaded dogs as he owns them.

AQL:  While I used to own most of the RCA catalog, I've dwindled my collection down to about 15 of my favorites.  I sold several on Ebay myself to pave way for the Columbia SAXes and EMI ASDs last year, but I remember most of them quite well.  I'll encourage Meles to post his own thoughts on the RCAs and reissues that he owns.

Here ends another week of LP Week.  If your LP money seems to be hair today and gone tomorrow, next week we'll try to make it grow back by giving the bald facts on how to get your LP investments toupee.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

LP Week with AQL ... an inside look at a few of this week's highest grossing Ebay classical LP auctions

SAX 2307 UK B/S LEONID KOGAN - BRAHMS VIOLIN CONCERTO - KYRILL KONDRASHIN 01/29/2014 $1,813.00 Leonid Kogan strikes again with another one of his rare Columbia SAX recordings.  Grab a Kogan for less than $1000 and it's almost considered a bargain. Unless you've got the cash to burn, my advice would be to look for the Concert Classics SXLP pressing or the EMI Testament reissue, but even that may be out of print now. For SAX addicts only.

JOHANNA MARTZY SONATAS & PARTITAS 1 BELVEDERE SIGNED BY MARTZY'S DAUGHTER ! 01/27/2014 $1,484.00 A collector's find, but I suspect that the autograph played a role here, but seriously, the daughter's autograph? Overpriced.
UK Columbia 33CX 1287 JOHANNA MARTZY Violin Bach Sonatas 3/4 - SUPERB NEARMINT 01/26/2014 $2,224.00 The seller cashed in here. Average price is about $1100, though the highest payment for this was $4500. This makes the ERC reissue look like a bargain.

PAGANINI: CAPRICES FOR VIOLIN/RABIN/ORIGINAL CAPITOL STEREO/RARE/NEAR MINT+ 01/26/2014 $1,195.95 Another successful seller. This one has typically run for less than $1000.

KURT LEIMER SXL 2100 !!!! Very Rare !!!! Near Mint- !!!! 01/25/2014 $1,580.00 Certainly a rarity. This is the first time I've seen this one surface and there are only 12 listings on Popsike. The most this has sold for was over $3000.