Thursday, March 20, 2014

Columbia SAX 2556: Another Reference Recording

Columbia SAX 2556
Moussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Stravinsky: Firebird Suite

George Szell, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra

Pressing: Semi-circle (1st)

Condition: NM

Stampers:
BC 1290 A-1A
BC 1290 B-1A

Date first published: 1963

Performance: 10/10

Sound: 8/10

Price range: $41-337, mean $125 on popsike

Comments: After having given Fritz Reiner's RCA recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti's EMI recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra my recommendation as reference recordings, I have to add this one to the list as well. Szell's account of Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is outstanding in all regards. Performance-wise, it is second to none. The Cleveland Orchestra is in top form here, and all sections - strings, winds, brass, percussion - contribute equally to the excellence of this recording. The sound quality on the SAX is also top notch. Though the surfaces aren't quite as silent as on the other two, the clarity, wide dynamic range, and very respectable treble and bass extension (though neither the Reiner nor the Szell have reign over the Muti in this regard) put this LP in a similar league. The presentation is more immediate than the Reiner, more similar to the Muti. Like the Muti, the Pictures is nicely rounded out with Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.

I have yet to get my hands on the US Epic release (BC 1290), but that would be a worthy comparison. I would wager that the quality is similar, but I'd have to do the A/B test to know for certain. Judging from the price that this SAX goes for on the auction market, the Epic, with the same exact cover art, certainly would be the economical way to go.

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