Sunday, August 31, 2014

Deutsche Grammophon 2530 343: Karl Bohm conducts Haydn

Deutsche Grammophon 2530 343

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 88 and 89

Karl Bohm, conductor
Wiener Philharmoniker

Pressing: German, 1970s

Condition: NM

Date first published: 1975?

Stampers: N/A

Performance: 9/10

Sound: 8/10

Price range: Less than $10

Comments: This is big band Haydn in the best sense.  Yes, maybe it doesn't have the super lean textures and driving fast tempos of today's historically-informed performances, but Bohm's Haydn is incredibly musical and enjoyable to hear.  I've heard it described as noble, and that might be a fitting description for these performances.  Though we have a full orchestra here, you never got the feeling that things sound too thick.  The Vienna Philharmonic play this music beautifully.  The recording is natural, clear, and dynamic with a nice hall acoustic.  I recommend this highly.   

Incidentally, this recording is available on CD or digital download, in case the LP proves to be elusive (though my last check on Ebay shows several available copies at very affordable prices).  My advice is to spring for the LP.  Though I have nothing against CDs, I've heard this CD, and it doesn't have quite the magic of the LP.  Your move.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Weekend Round-up of London Stereo Treasury and Decca Ace of Diamond Releases

On this unofficial last weekend of summer, I thought I'd spend a little time sharing my thoughts on a number of releases in the London Stereo Treasury Series (STS), otherwise known as the Decca Ace of Diamonds (SDD) series on the other side of the pond. These were the budget reissues of the coveted London/Decca series and to this day can be found at very low prices, typically under $5 per LP. While they don't have the same nice covers as the originals, they are not to be discounted. I don't care what the negative rumors are; some of these sound really fabulous and can be even better sounding than the original FFSS releases. Yes, I might get myself into trouble by saying it, but these are my own observations, and I am sticking by them.  Let's go through a few of these:

Let's begin with this one: SDD 159: Mendelssohn -- A Midsummer Night's Dream Incidental Music (Peter Maag, London Symphony). I don't think I need to remind most of our readers which coveted London/Decca this represents (CS 6001, SXL 2060), but suffice it to say that this recording is one of the most treasured items in that catalog. Originals easily sell in the hundreds of dollars. How does the SDD fare? First off, if you look at the record label to the left, you'll see that this is the earliest of the Ace of Diamonds labels. You can tell by the deep groove that runs around the label and by the printed words FULL FREQUENCY RANGE RECORDING at the top. Stampers on my pressing were ZAL 3559-6D/3560-5E. First thing I noticed when the needle touched down was how quiet the surface was. I have not had the pleasure of hearing the original yet (my colleague Miles may be able to comment), but there were a lot of good things to hear on this album. To be honest, I found the strings in the first movement to sound a little bit nasal and was about to write off the album when I heard the rest of the record and ... wow. What an incredibly natural and balanced sound, not to mention great dynamics and a really involving performance. Maag knew how to do his Mendelssohn, and this is one of the two testaments to that (the other being his recording of the Scotch symphony on London/Decca). I will wager to say that this Ace of Diamonds sounds very similar and probably even comparable to the original. Because of the rarity of the original, this SDD may sell for a little more than most (I got a near mint copy in the UK for about $20). It is definitely worth it, especially if you are pinching pennies and can't afford the original.

Next up is SDD 104: Beethoven -- Symphony No. 4, Coriolan Overture (Ernest Ansermet, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande), stampers ZAL 4236-4E/4237-6E. Ansermet is not a conductor you typically think of as being a great Beethoven interpreter, but nevertheless he released his own cycle of the nine symphonies on London/Decca. This one is CS 6070/SXL 2116. In the last few months, I've come to really like Beethoven's 4th and as soon as the tempo gets going in the first movement, you can tell that this is going to be worth the price of admission. The fourth movement is one of the more exciting ones I've heard, too, and the Coriolan packs a punch. The bass may not be quite as powerful as on some of the golden age EMI recordings, but you can certainly feel the timpani here. I once owned the Blueback but don't remember it sounding anywhere near as good as this one. There is absolutely no distortion on this one, and the treble sounds far more natural than on many of those Bluebacks. Outstanding. 

From Beethoven's 4th, we move to the 5th:  SDD 105: Beethoven -- Symphony No. 5; Egmont Overture (Ernest Ansermet, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande), stampers 4075-4L/4076-5L, equivalent to CS 6037/SXL 2003. I wish I could say that London/Decca was on a roll with this one, but I can't. This release is plagued by more tape hiss, boosted treble, weak bass, and muddiness all around and sounds far less natural than SDD 104. The brass in the glorious fourth movement of the 5th symphony were so shrill I had to turn down the volume to avoid irritating my ears. Probably an accurate representation of the Blueback, which I was never impressed by either. Move on, please.

This Ace of Diamonds release, SDD 124: Liszt -- Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Julius Katchen, Ataulfo Argenta, London Philharmonic Orchestra), stampers 3523-4E/3524-4E, is the equivalent of CS 6033/SXL 2097. The presentation overall is a bit more laid back on this recording and one can appreciate some of the hall acoustics. Oddly enough, though, on a number of occasions when the brass play loudly, the sound hits you square in your face. It's almost uncomfortable. As in the last album, treble sounds boosted, and an overall sense of naturalness is lacking. There is also some minor distortion in loud passages, most notably at the conclusion of the first concerto. I would say that this reissue loses little if anything to the original Blueback that I once owned, and for a few dollars, might be worth exploring.

So that's it for this weekend's roundup. Stay tuned for future posts on more budget buys of the classical LP world.    

Thursday, August 28, 2014

VOX SVBX 5100: Faure Complete Chamber Music


Gabriel Faure Chamber Music (Complete)

String Quartet Op. 121 in E minor
Piano Quartets Op. 15 in C minor, Op. 45 in G minor
Piano Quintets Op. 89 in D minor, Op. 115 in C minor
Trio for Violin, Cello & Piano, Op. 120 in D minor

Jacqueline Eymar, piano

Gunter Kehr, violin
Bernhard Braunholz, cello
Erich Sichermann, viola
Werner Neuhaus, 2nd violin
Loewenguth Quartet

Pressing: US, purple label

Condition: NM

Date first published: ? (1960s) 

Stampers: N/A

Performance: 8/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $27 on popsike

Comments: I had read a number of rumors on the internet that this 1960s Vox boxed set of the complete chamber music of Gabriel Faure was something special.  Performances and sound quality were reportedly excellent.  Word on the street is that these recordings were engineered by the legendary pair of Aubort and Nickrenz, though I haven't been able to confirm this with any printed information inside the 3 LP set.  So, I decided to see for myself if this was all just hype and managed to land a NM copy from Irvington Music (located in Oregon).

My verdict: the rumors are somewhat true, though I wouldn't necessarily give this set legendary status.  There is some very fine and expressive playing on these records, comparable to the some of the best modern performances out there (i.e. Domus, Trio Wanderer, etc), and the sound is pretty good, leaning perhaps slightly towards the warm side.  The record surfaces are quiet, allowing more musical detail to be heard.  As far as chamber music recordings go, I have to admit that I have heard better and personally prefer the clarity and naturalness of Philips recordings of the 1970s (i.e. Quartetto Italiano, Beaux Arts Trio), but as far as complete sets of Faure chamber works, this may be the analog recording to get, and it shouldn't cost you an arm and leg.

For some reason, I was lead to believe that this boxed set was a rarity, but, on the contrary, I've seen several copies surface on Ebay, so one just has to keep an eye out for it.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Deutsche Grammophon SLPM 138 714: David and Igor Oistrakh play Bach, Beethoven, and Vivaldi

Deutsche Grammophon SLPM 138 714

Bach: Concerto for 2 Violins and String Orchestra, BMV 1043
Beethoven: Romance for Violin and Orchestra in G major, Op. 40; Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F major, Op. 50
Vivaldi: Concerto grosso in A minor, Op. 3, No. 8

David Oistrakh, violin
Igor Oistrakh, violin
Sir Eugene Goossens, conductor
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Pressing: German, 1970s non-tulip

Condition: NM

Date first published: 1964

Stampers: N/A

Performance: 8/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $24-242 (mean $57) on popsike

Comments: The performances on this recording are wonderful.  The father-son duo of David and Igor Oistrakh play two popular Baroque "double" concertos for two violins and string orchestra, and father David takes the solo spotlight in Beethoven's two Romances for violin and orchestra.  The Bach double has plenty of energy, and the slow movement is especially lyrical in the hands of the Oistrakhs.  I found the Vivaldi to have a little less verve than I would've liked, particularly in the third movement, which drags in tempo when compared to the recording of the same work by I Musici (Philips 6768 307).  The Beethoven Romances are lovely; David Oistrakh produces a characteristically warm, singing tone with his instrument.

There are no shortage of recordings of the Bach double.  I've historically favored the 1970s EMI recording with Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Daniel Barenboim conducting the English Chamber Orchestra (ASD 2783) for the rich, more romantic tone of the violinist, but I've come to appreciate and enjoy the swifter tempos and lighter textures of some of the more recent historically-informed performances (e.g. Rachel Podger and Bojan Cicic, Petra Mullejans and Gottfried von der Goltz on period instruments; Julia Fischer and Alexander Sitkovetsky on modern instruments).  Though not as widely performed as the Bach, the Vivaldi nevertheless has its share of recordings, my favorite being the one by I Musici on Philips.

As you can see in the photo above, I have a later 1970s German pressing, so I can't comment on the sound quality of the original "blue tulips" pressing.  In spite of the near mint visual appearance of the record, the sound was still plagued by heavier than expected surface noise and intermittent pops and tics.  I can't quite explain it, but I have experienced this problem with a number of other Deutsche Grammophon recordings.  Fortunately, the noise didn't detract too greatly from the music. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

RCA Living Stereo LSC-2237: Byron Janis' First Rach 3

RCA Living Stereo LSC-2237

Rachmaninoff: Concerto No. 3

Byron Janis, piano
Charles Munch, conductor
Boston Symphony Orchestra

Pressing: US, shaded dog

Condition: EX

Date first published: 1958

Stampers: 1S/1S

Performance: 9/10

Sound: 8/10

Price range: $27-250 (mean $74)

Comments: The American pianist Byron Janis made two studio recordings of Rachmaninov's third piano concerto. The more famous one is his recording on the Mercury Living Presence label in the early 1960s with Antal Dorati conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. That LP has developed legendary status over the years, having been named to the TAS list.  I've owned that record in the past, and frankly speaking, I've not been as blown away by the sound as others claim to have been.  The performance, on the other hand, is worth the price of admission.  This RCA Living Stereo recording actually preceded the Mercury one by a few years but has never received the same status.  One reason perhaps is its rarity.  This is not a Living Stereo that you see very often, and to my knowledge, it had one pressing with the stampers 1S/1S*.  The performance is no less dynamic or exciting as the Mercury, and I dare say that I might actually prefer the sound of the RCA.  As with most of the Living Stereo albums, the bass extension is not particularly deep, but it's forgivable.

In Jonathan Valin's RCA Bible, this album is given a wide range of ratings, from 10++ to fair to very good.  Valin writes:

"Although it is not quite as well recorded as the Merc, it is close and a better performance than the Dorati/Janis, to boot.  GJC agrees.  This is one of my favorite RCA's.  The concerto is delightful, and the playing -- especially in the last movement -- is joyous and sprightly.  The sound is superior -- not spectacular but naturally balanced, convincingly dynamic and alive.  This disc does not have world-beating low end of tremendous sock; but the midband and high end are luminous, very detailed, transparent and lifelike.  (Sid Marks dismissed this disc cavalierly for its lack of low end weight.  But this is not a record to be passed over -- trust me.)  Recorded in 1957."

*The copy displayed on this post is incidentally my second.  The first I bought about 10 years ago from Beckham's Books in New Orleans for $40 and sold last year on E-bay.  This one I picked up this past weekend for $5.99.

You will find a digitally remastered version of this album, complete with LP facsimile sleeve, in Sony's box set of Byron Janis' complete RCA recordings.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Philips Hi-Fi Stereo 835 085 AY Sawallisch conducts Haydn symphonies

Philips Hi-Fi Stereo 835 085 AY

Haydn: Symphony No. 94 in G major "Surprise", Symphony No. 100 in G major "Military"

Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor

Wiener Symphoniker

Pressing: Dutch, plum 1st

Condition: NM

Date first published: 1961


AA 835085 1Y 3 670114
AA 835085 1Y 3 67012

Performance: 8/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $26-48 (mean $35) on

Here's one you don't see surface too often on the collector's markets but can be obtained at "reasonable" prices.  The German conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch, who just passed away at the age of 89 in 2013, made a number of early recordings for Philips in the early 1960s, including recordings of standard symphonic repertoire by Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and this recording of two of Haydn's "London" symphonies.  As could be expected for the time, this is "big band" Haydn, played with full orchestra.  On this LP, Sawallisch conducts the Vienna Symphony, not to be confused with the Vienna Philharmonic.  The performances are enjoyable, swift and energetic, though after listening, I was left still preferring the more captivating recordings of Sir Colin Davis (Philips) or Leonard Bernstein (CBS).  The sound is clear, perhaps a little dry, and dynamics are quite decent though not what I would call exemplary.  Though not an essential addition to your collection, If you like Haydn's London Symphonies like I do, consider picking this one up.