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.    

16 comments:

  1. Original cs6001 mid summer is amazing. Not heard the Beethoven but I may have them. The bruch Scottish vc piece with mend vc 1 on sts can be very nice with the right pressing, a carpet of bass. Sts and ace only superior from my experience when original bad. Strauss Also Spracht for example.

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  2. Yes, I would agree. The STS and SDDs seem to be superior to the originals for the early London/Deccas that were pressed prior to the use of the newer cutters. The Bruch Scottish Fantasy with the Mendelssohn VC is on the lineup for a future post, but I'll jump ahead and say that I'm with you on that one. The STS rocks.

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  3. Quick comments: Zarathustra original SXL was feeble: this had a 1963 recut (have a test pressing) - re-used for early SDD175 pressings (8E/5E): the best transfer I have is a 1973 double album release on AoD - DDS501 - but the stampers (10W/7W) could well exist on slightly earlier SDD177 pressings.

    SDD124 (Liszt) has an earlier stamper for side 1 (3E).

    When/if you eventually run-out of Mega$$$'s - you may find it worthwhuile to investigate the 'World Of' (SPA) series: 2 recommendable are SPA87 (Dvorak 9/VPO-Kertesz) - the 1970 stampers are 8W/6W - and SPA202 (Bohemian Rhapsody:Israel PO-Kertesz - 1972 stampers are 2G/2G.
    Those earlier releases seem only marginally inferior to original releases - later in the series they can appear 'smoothed'.

    There's little overall 'superiority' with SDD110 (Mendelssohn/Bruch) 4E/1E compared to the 1975 Eclipse reprint (7W/6W).

    I found your Sargent/Sibelius ASD comments quite confusing as EMI never used the original semi-labels after 1969-odd - and side 2 only had a single recut by c.1976 upon re-issue as CFP40247 (-12/-2) - the original stampers (I only have a c.1964 semi/black background) were -3/-1.

    I see Anthony Salvatore has just given you a link!

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    1. Many thanks for your comments, as always!

      For the record, I have never had Mega$$$ -- only a foolish inclination to explore the world of Columbia SAX and EMI ASD recordings. I paid dearly for this and only now am beginning to recoup this investment as I gradually sell off the more valuable albums. I have come to realize that they were nice to own for a while but are not worth enough enjoyment to hang on to them for a long time, especially when reissues can produce as good if not better sound quality!

      With regards to the Sargent/Sibelius, I will have to defer to Miles to comment, since that was his post.

      Thanks for informing us about the Salvatore link! I had no idea that was the case but confirmed your finding today on his website. For us, this is quite an honor to be recognized on such a popular web site, and we thank Mr. Salvatore for the link.

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    2. Tin Ear. Yes the Sargent Sibelius does appear to reuse the same mother stamper for side 2. I'll have to retract the odd comment. I was loopy from comparing font sizes and the very short code on side 2 had me convinced that these were all latter pressings with the smaller font size. Thanks for the correction.

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    3. The Zarathrusta Tin Ear mentions was the recording used for the movie 2001. The original LP is horrid sounding. My STS is 8E/5E and listenable. The DDS looks like the Invitation to a Concert Series which appears to be double LPs with a single conductor. Those look to be somewhat rare and a lot of fun, but reasonably priced.

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    4. Tin Ear. Don't listen to Mega$$$ Aqlam. Just tell him about some great LP he should have and he'll probably buy it. I think he could be onto something if he gets the Mega$$$ records for a reasonable price. He might recoup his money later when he tires and wants some other Mega$$$ LP. I have to be careful as I never sell (...yet.... I keep saying.)

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    5. Oh come-on: this is 'your' blog: not mine!!!
      I'm currently having mucho fun listening (at last) to a lot of Decca-mastered Vox Turnabout's: better-recorded than Decca's own stuff! - but Mr Lam won't likely be interested in (mostly) Baroquery Crockery - and the Orchestra's also 'play better' (IMO) - though draw the line @ the wretched Dallas SO..

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    6. Actually, Miles is mistaken. My days of buying higher ticket records are over. I'm a budget shopper now.

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    7. And Tin Ear, I actually love some of those Voxes (Skrowaczewski's recordings are among my favorite ... and to be reviewed) and love baroque music, too! I went through a special baroque music phase when I was about 11 or 12.

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    8. I think there's a superiority with the Decca-mastered material compared to Vox US - but won't give 'recommendations'.

      A note on the 1992 'Reference Mastercut' RM1001 Ravel/Skrowaczewski HQ180 album states the QSVBX VoxBox set derived from 15ips 4channel Dolby - passed-through a Sansui decoder - then to a cutting master.
      RM1001 (et seq) used only the 2 front channels - but sounds worse (less spacious) than the 1975 French EMI mastered 3LP set (marked as 'stereo')....

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    9. I've got loads of Vox and do like the Turnabout stuff. Decca pressings would be nice, but I am not sure that they would be completely superior to the American pressings. Time for the Tin Ear to join the sight and post on Vox.

      I had always wanted RM1001. Now I don't. Thanks Tin Ear. So is the French EMI better than the EMI Ravel efforts? I am thinking of the Classic for Pleasure reissues of Ravel.

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    10. I'll have to say that the Skrowaczewski 4 LP box set on Vox of the Ravel Orchestral Works is hands down the finest sounding collection of these works on vinyl. I have the Cluytens EMI Testament reissue, which I do like a great deal, but it doesn't quite have the naturalness or dynamics of the Vox (which also costs far less). Another one I'd recommend is the box set with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on DG from the 1970s. This one is not to be underestimated and can easily be purchased for cheap (got mine last year for $3.99 for 4 LPs). For me, it comes right in second for best sounding Ravel sets. While I have Martinon's EMI recordings on CD, I haven't had the chance to listen to the vinyl to be able to comment.

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  4. ...oops - that should be Arthur Salvatore....'imprinted' on Mohr/Salvatore Boston sleeve-notes..
    ..also a typo for the 2nd SDD175

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  5. I have got a lot of deception with ace of diamond record (Beethoven's fifth...) and precisely "le nozze di Figaro" with E Kleiber . I got it on three records and I never managed to listen to the end of the opera, harsh sound ,coarse voices... Recently I got it on London osa 1402 grooved, ffss,on four records,and it was the typically decca sound, a bit bright bright at the beginning but a little vta mod on the arm and I got shrill...till the end.

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    1. Yes, it is disappointing that several of these London/Deccas don't have the best sound at times, yet some still fetch high prices on the market. Having been disappointed like you, we were hoping through posts on this blog to try to help collectors navigate through this and inform them as to which records -- in our humble opinion, of course -- were worthy of their reputation. Thank you for your comment!

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