Monday, February 23, 2015

SAX 2422: Richter-Haaser's very respectable Emperor Concerto

SAX 2422

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 "Emperor", Rondo in C, Op. 51, No. 1

Hans Richter-Haaser, piano
Istvan Kertesz, conductor
Philharmonia Orchestra

Pressing: UK, ER2 semi-circle

Condition: EX

Stampers:
YAX 627-7, 628-9

Date first published: 1961

Performance: 9/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $20-153 (mean $58 on popsike.com)

Comments: After Meles' recent discussion of the Beethoven piano concertos, I thought I'd reexamine one of my more enjoyable recordings of the "Emperor" concerto, in particular, the one with German pianist Hans Richter-Haaser with Istvan Kertesz conducting the Philharmonia.  There are no fewer than three recordings of the "Emperor" concerto on the Columbia SAX label: 1) Emil Gilels SAX 2252, the very first SAX I reviewed on this blog, 2) Claudio Arrau SAX 2297, and 3) this one.  I have not had the pleasure of hearing the Arrau, but you have already read my thoughts on the Gilels.  I like the Richter-Haaser a lot.  He gives what I would call a robust performance.  I love the tone he produces on the piano, which is well reproduced on record, and his technique is solid.  The piano is also well balanced with the orchestra.  My second pressing of this LP offers nice, tubey warm sound without much discernible treble roll-off.  The soundstage is deeper than wide, and I did tend to find the soundstage to be a bit on the constricted side, though it didn't significantly impair my listening experience.  You just feel like you are sitting mid-way back in the concert hall.  As an added bonus, you get a solo work, the Rondo in C, as sort of an encore.  It is a charming follow-up to the large scale concerto.  

You should be able to find this album without too much difficulty, and as you can see from the price range, it's not that high up there for a SAX.  If you can find the semi-circle second pressing for cheap, spring for it.  I think it lacks very little of what would be heard on the blue/silver pressing. 




Saturday, February 21, 2015

SAX 2484: Maazel conducts Pictures at an Exhibition ... so close to being a winner

SAX 2484

Moussorgksy-Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition
Debussy: Prelude a L'apres-midi d'un Faune

Lorin Maazel, conductor
Philharmonia Orchestra

Pressing: UK, ED1 blue/silver

Condition: NM

Stampers: YAX 953-4, 954-2

Date first published: 1963

Performance: 8/10

Sound: 8/10

Price range: $26-137 (mean $66)

Comments: This album is so close to being a winner, it's a disappointment that anything should detract from it being an audiophile's ideal find.  Lorin Maazel conducts the Philharmonia in another one of his rare recordings for the Columbia SAX series (also see SAX 2467).  The album pairs Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun with the orchestral powerhouse work, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.  The Debussy is given a lush performance with gorgeous sound.  My expectations were raised for the rest of the record after this piece.  Think quiet vinyl surface with a black background, combined with wide soundstaging, excellent imaging, and clarity.  Pictures, which is one of my favorite orchestral works, period, had so much potential to be an outstanding recording but unfortunately fell short in the first movement.  I don't know if the orchestra overloaded the mikes or what, but as soon as the brass start playing loudly, there is distortion.  It's not subtle.  The strange thing is that after the first movement, that's pretty much the end of the distortion.  The rest of the work and record sounds fantastic.  Dynamics are impressive, all the characteristics that I mentioned with the Debussy are present, and thank goodness, there is heft to the bass, which is really critical to making a work like Pictures visceral.  I have a few small reservations about the performance.  The Hut on Fowl's Legs, referring to the house of Baba Yaga, lacks the terrifying energy of Reiner (RCA), Szell (Epic or UK Columbia), and Muti (EMI).  Maazel also chooses to take his time in The Great Gate of Kiev, which at first sounds grandiose but then tends to drag a bit.  There's also a hint of distortion at the climactic end, but it's far less discrete and more forgivable than it is in the opening Promenade.  Honestly, if it weren't for these misgivings I have with the record, it would be a real winner.  Sonically, it is mostly very impressive, and if you can get over the transient distortion, it's well worth picking up.  I have never seen this released as a semi-circle pressing, but I believe that there is an SXLP reissue. 


Friday, February 20, 2015

Brahms Piano Concerto Nos. 1 and 2; The Top LPs


Well this pretty much sums it up after the dirth of sonic quality in the Beethoven Concertos:
"Szell makes a brief escape from the clutches of Columbia's engineers. It's all here. This is the penultimate rendition of this gripping concerto." from reviewer Paul on Amazon. But not so fast Paul, the Fleisher/Szell has some flesh on the bone on the Epic Gold Stereorama.  Proponents will point out this was recorded before Severence Hall's remodel and if you really want to get crazy you can have SAX (2526), but this is more for the completist SAX lovers than anything (only available in the challenged EMI Columbia second pressing). I have the Epic on the recording above and it still is sonically challenged. SAX crazed collectors may also want the formidable coupling of Arrau/Guilini on the Blue and Silver pressing (2387).  Cheapskates can wait on the likely formidable Classics for Pleasure Reissue (CFP 40028) which is currently being held hostage by at least six greedy British sellers on ebay for $25 or more for just an excellent copy (no sales of it in last three months). This pressing is highly recommended over the SAX seconds. Moving on we have Gilels/Jochum on DG which is a well respected performance, but sonically not in the money. Katchen/Monteux on Decca SXL 2172 will catch your wallet on fire, unfortunately the playing does not.
I have the Graffman Shaded Dog and just don't bother. Completely off the radar, is the Concert Classic SXLP 20010 with Gimpel/Kempe with the Berlin seems quite respectable in its digital version and Kempe is quite the Brahms conductor. The Classic reissue of Rubinstein in stereo for the first time on LSC-1831 is well worth snagging for a respected performance with top notch sound. Pressed by Bernie Grundmann with his all tube rig (no early Grundman Classic solid state pressing available) the sound is good and dynamic if a bit diffuse. It probably more than noses out the Speakers Corner reissue of the great Curzon/Szell SXL for sound. And if your are into high def digital than this recording is the winner. Overall the Curzon Decca SXL is a great one to have and given the prices of the NM Blueback pictured above, it might be worth springing for an excellent SXL Curzon, The Decca Jubilee (also London Jubilee, Enterprise etc.) is quite fine. This dutch pressing has improved noise floor and is quite sublime. Its kept me acquiring the budget Blueback to date. The winner here is easily Curzon/Szell. Sonically, perhaps not a true juggernaut, but add in the performance and we have a winner.
UPDATE 3/8/2015:
Columbia's reissue of the Epic Fleisher/Szell, Odyssey Y31273, circa 1972, really gets the job done. It is not an audiophile pressing with great noise floor, but it never fails to communicate an awesome performance. The Cleveland Orchestra is amazing (LSO/Curzon/Szell not even close). For me, the quest will be to find the best possible pressing of this performance. The Jubilee pressing is still nice with a great sound floor, but the Dutch pressing (much like the Mercury Golden Imports) lacks something in the dynamics department. Cleveland even on the Odyssey simply over powers and has an electricity that I don't think was ever there with Curzon/LSO.



-London 411579 Clifford CURZON piano BRAHMS Piano Cto #1 SZELL 1985
-BRAHMS PIANO CONCERTO No. 1 GIMPEL / KEMPE, BPO  . HMV SXLP 20010
-RCA VICS-1109 Stereo LP Brahms - Piano Concerto No 1, Gary Graffman, Munch
- RCA LIVING STEREO LSC 1831 BRAHMS Piano Concerto No.1 RUBINSTEIN Classic Records
- DECCA SXL 6023 Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 CURZON Szell LSO
- SAX 2526 Orig 1st BRAHMS piano concerto no. 1 LEON FLEISHER - SZELL Cleveland
-DG 2530 258 BRAHMS PIANO CTO #1 GILELS JOCHUM
-Decca SXL2172 - Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 1 - KATCHEN - MONTEUX

Well as we flip down the highest price sold on ebay it's a SAX spectacular, but we most wait for the SAX. Critically, the Gilels/Reiner on Living Stereo LSC-2219 appears to be the king and its not even close. Unfortunately despite this, Valin sends this recording straight to sonic hell in his RCA Living Stereo Bible summing up succinctly, "Recorded (badly) in 1958." No bass on the LSC which really kills the sound, so we are screwed once again. Two of the great interpreters of the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto have perished; Richter-Hasser literarly collapsed in rehearsals, dying shortly thereafter, and Gina Bachauer died of a heart attack the afternoon she was to play it. Talk about screwed. Luckily, Richter-Haaser left behind an amazing performance on Columbia SAX 2328 with Karajan at the helm and I expect the Blue and Silver sound is outstanding. The Angel is not too bad and that makes this a great contender. Gina Bachauer with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the London Symphony Orchestra perform to 35mm Mercury Living Presence tape (4th movement). Arrau/Giulini enter the fray on SAX 2466 adding to the SAX count (and grab this on CFP 40034 rather than settle for the sloppy second pressing). Completists, don't forget to over pay for your rare Fleisher/Szell SAX (only a second pressing.)
The Epic sound is anything but and the noteworthy performance is not the equal of his Brahms 1. Not to be forgotten is Decca with Katchen and Backhaus accounting for the two most expensive stereo Brahms 2 LPs on popsike. Katchen's performance takes a back seat to Richter-Haaser, but the sonics of this SXL 2000 series seem formidable (digital). I doubt they make up for the performance gap and the above capture of the Haaser on Angel would indicate the SAX may be a sonic triumph. Hold everything, the Backhaus/Bohm is excellent despite not being golden age Decca. The Decca SXL may be slightly earlier though the time to ship overseas may account for the difference (Oct 67 versus Feb 68). The London can be had for under $10 or the nearly identical Decca for as much as $240 with the pretty FFSS Decca label (completists rejoice!) On the reissue front, I am currently in hot pursuit of a nice dutch pressed Decca Jubilee and will report back (the London cover looks quite familiar so I may have that in house for comparison.) Please buy these before the Decca to ensure you like the performance (the Decca is not worth 20 times the price.) Hasser has my vote, but with no reissues the price of admission is high. Backhaus I'd rate second in performance and the London and Jubilee look very promising for those on a budget. I'll report back. The Arrau on SAX is third for performance and you might just snag a Blue and Silver cheap enough to forget the CFP reissue. Katchen might have the best sound, but the performance is not to my taste. Try your luck with the London Blueback.

UPDATE 3/8/2015:
The Backhaus Jubilee arrived and it delivers again with great piano sound, but again the Dutch pressing has it drawbacks in the dynamics department. Overall, this is sonically more compelling than the above Brahms 1 Szell/Curzon Jubilee. I have the Giulini/Arrau on a German Odeon which never fails to sound like anti-sceptic solid state sound (which I why we generally ignore the German EMI pressings). The great suprise was the Gelber/Kempe/RPO EMI recording reissued on the American label Connoisseur Society CSQ 2088 (Q stands for Quadrophonic), originally released on Concert Classics SXDW 3030 with the first piano concerto. Gelber gives a very Van Cliburn-esque performance with all the youth and vigor that Backhaus lacks. The Sterling Sound pressing (intitials PR?) is quite effective with good midrange presence. This was recorded in 1973 and I'm not confident that the original Concert Classic double LP would best this. "In fact, this is a Brahms Second that can stand tall and proud in the forest of majestic redwoods, among which I count Emanuel Ax?s electrifying performance with Haitink and the Boston SO, Emil Gilels's classic recording with Reiner and the Chicago SO, and a recording almost exactly contemporaneous with Gelber's made by Cécile Ousset with Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1974." (Jerry Dubins, http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=120094). At the moment I favor the Gelber simply due to its dynamic clout in performance and sound (distortion freaks be warned that it is recorded aggressively.) Both the Gelber and Jubilee Backhaus are sonic bargains.

-Columbia SAX2328 - Brahms - Piano Concerto No.2 - RICHTER-HASSER - KARAJAN
--SAX 2466 Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 / Arrau / Giulini B/S Philharmonia
-FLEISHER PLAY BRAHMS PIANO CONCERTO NO 2 CO SZELL EMI COLUMBIA SAX 2534 S/C
-Brahms: Second Piano Concerto Bachauer/LSO Mercury SR-90301
-DECCA SXL 6322 WBG ED2 *WILHELM BACKHAUS KARL BOHM* BRAHMS PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2
-SXL 2236 BRAHMS PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2 - KATCHEN / LSO / FERENCSIK
-RCA VICS-1026 1s1s Plum Nm BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2 - GILELS / REINER CHICAGO
-SXL 2236 BRAHMS PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2 - KATCHEN / LSO / FERENCSIK
- DECCA SXL 6322 WBG 1st ED2 BRAHMS Piano Concerto No.2 BACKHAUS/BOHM



Beethoven; not your Forte?, Piano Concerto's on LP

I've postulated before on this site that Brahms and Beethoven require a taut, defined sound to bring out the drive in the music. Living Stereo Shaded Dogs need not apply, and ditto for Mercury Living Presence. Decca/London is not much better. It seems that His Master's Voice ASD and Columbia SAX (both EMI) had the knack for putting out some good Brahms and Beethoven. So what does this all mean? Well, I for one am not aware of definitive great sounding LP performances so today I am exploring the possibilities and proposing some candidates.

CS 6099 Beethoven, Piano Concerto 1, Backhaus, Schmidt-Issertedt, VPO. The Decca SXL jams piano concerto 2 on the same album, so it is hopeless; the London sounds better.(The 10" Decca SWL 8008 has just the PC). I have this LP and the sound is quite good and it just works very well as a whole, however the piano is not spotlighted which might bother some. Forget Katchen on Decca, it has distortion issues that are evident on the digital copies too and my RECUT pressing from Sweden. Other contenders I've not heard:
-ASD 294 ED1 W/G STEREO UK BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO 1 SOLOMON MENGES
-SCX 3567 Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.1 Leon Fleisher/Szell/NM (EMI release of Epic)
-Deutsche Grammophon ‎– 415 682-1, Beethoven* - Martha Argerich, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Philharmonia Orchestra - Klavierkonzerte Nos. 1 & 2 (from 1986, digital, great performance of both)
-Michelangeli Giulini Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1 Ed1 DGG Stereo Live '79
-DGG 138 636 SLPM Beethoven Piano Concerto No 1 Andor Foldes Red Stereo 1960
-CFP 40232 JOHN LILL Beethoven Piano Con 1 SNO Gibson
-Bishop (Kovacevich): Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 - Philips 6500 179

I'd stay away from the Menges on ASD. The Fleisher on SCX looks very, very interesting, but Epic is known for a dry sound. I'd snag the Lill or Bishop (Kovacevich) for sound quality and I've heard the Philips does have a good noise floor for those who value such sonic attributes. I really like the Backhaus and it is a respected performance with a unique and very nice Blueback tube sound.


After listening to Fleisher Szell, I must say I find the first piano concerto quite respectable, but I suspect some hints of breakup and dryness will be unbearable. Fortunately, piano concerto 2 seems much freer of these distortions and the performance is amazing. I enjoyed the Brendel (also PC1) with Haitink which has nice weight and different playing. I heard hints of breakup. The Vox Box of Brendel might be very nice at the right price. For the best sound the Bishop again has nice sound and a better performance this time. The Kempff on DG looks interesting and they do sell, but I am not for sure that the Stereo LP is truly stereo or a top performance (Kempff known for Beethoven cycle in early 50s, i.e. mono). The cover to the right is the winner and I hope the EMI Columbia pressing of this Epic recording has decent sound. These came out in about 1965 which is after the Blue and Silver sound of the Columbia SAX. If the SCX were pressed by another EMI division the sound might really be something, otherwise the original Epic on the gold stereorama label might do. The SCX is a bit of a bargain given Columbia SAX prices, apparently the completists haven't discovered SCX. US Columbia bought Epic and even has a Fleischer Beethoven box set. They would have released Fleischer under CBS and Fontana labels in Europe which would make for some interesting pressings. The Beethoven Piano Concerto 2 list in nor particular order:
-SAX 2346 BLUE SILVER Claudio Arrau Beethoven Piano Concerto 2 1960
-SCX 3541 (1ST Ed.) BEETHOVEN: PIANO CONCERTOS No. 2 & 4 – FLEISHER & SZELL
-WILHELM KEMPFF / Beethoven Piano Concerto No.2 & 4 / DGG Red Stereo SLPM 138 775
-Vox VSPS 17 BEETHOVEN 5 piano concerti, rondo, choral, fantasy, sonatas BRENDEL, MEHTA
-Philips 6767-002 (5LP): Brendel/Haitink, Beethoven 5 Piano Ctos.
-Beethoven Piano Concerto Nos.2&4 Stephen Bishop Colin Davis 1975 Philips 6500975
-BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO 2 HASKIL MARKEVITCH PHILIPS HI-FI STEREO HI FI 835040AY

Not excited about the Arrau above on SAX. The Haskil just above is insanely rare. Probably the most tubey of the lot would be the Kempff on early DG.

I was a bit surprised by my reactions to the various recordings of Beethoven's third piano concerto. The much revered Fleisher/Szell did not do it for me and I suspect the recording has subtle sonic issues. The SCX does not appear to garner high prices, so snag one for cheap, but for overall sound and performance the market shows quite a few better options. The Barenboim Klemperer sounds like Otto is trying to excrete a marble statue in the opening and has a bit of harshness to the sound. It is a respected performance and I have the ASD of this, but my recollection was disappointment in comparison to the fifth. The digital Backhaus 3rd on youtube reveals some troubling sonic artifacts and I do not care for the performance. Arrau is definitely good with Haitink (1964 Philips), but despite nice bass weight I suspect this one is a sonic loser on LP. Kovacevich (under the name Steven Bishop) was quite likable on Philips and may have a sound floor advantage. The steal in this bunch may be Solomon on the 10" BSD as it has a nice performance and tube sound (the completists are probably ignorant of this one as it is not a gold and cream ASD, just a BSD and I have one with Holst's Beni Mora that is quite fine.) Solomon performs the seldom heard cadenza by Clara Schumann. The Katchen on Decca is decent (I have the London). The Perahia Haitink set is on LP, digital unfortunately and on CD is one of the best Beethoven Complete Concertos. The early Annie Fischer on DG (pictured left) does quite well and is one of the top performances of this piece. Based on reputation, I'd have to give it the nod by a nose over the Solomon for top tube sound honors. A lot of people just like Annie Fischer, and I'm one of them. Noise floor afficionados may also like Richter/Muti on EMI ASD in addition to the Bishop mentioned above.
 -ANNIE FISCHER PLAYS BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO NO 3 & MOZART RONDO DG 138 087
-Perahia Haitink Beethoven 5 Piano Concertos CBS Ed1 Stereo Digital '88
-DGG SLPM 138 776 *RED STEREO *WILHELM KEMPFF* BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO NO. 3
-Glenn Gould/Bernstein BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No.3 - Columbia MS 6096 Six-Eye
-SOLOMON PLAYS BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO NO 3 PO MENGES EMI BSD 751
-BEETHOVEN Richter Muti Piano Concerto No3 C Mnr Vinyl LP EMI HMV ASD3543
-Columbia SCX 3572 Beethoven Piano Concerto 3, Fleisher, Szell, Cleveland
-WILHELM BACKHAUS "BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO NO 3" LONDON DECCA WBG BB CS 6094
-Philips 6500 315 LP NM Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 3, Stephen Bishop
-Beethoven - Piano Concerto No.3 - Richter-Haaser / Columbia SAX 2543 STEREO
-Beethoven-Piano Concerto No. 3-Lp Vinyl Record-Philips-6570 104-Arrau-Haitink
-BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No 3 BENEDETTI MICHELANGELI GIULINI DGG 423 230-1 1987

You'd have to pay me to listen to the Richter-Haaser SAX as it did not come out in a blue and silver (leave the completists to this one). The Gould/Bernstein does not get a lot of love. Nor does Brendel, but once again I like the Brendel third.

"The Fourth Concerto can lay claim to being the most profound of the five, and Leon Fleisher provides an interpretation which has never been equaled. The playing of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell is absolutely superb, and the 1959 recording, now on Sony, still sounds well. This remains one of the greatest piano concerto recordings ever made." Amazonian reviewer Alexander Leach. Unfortunately, sonically this may not be a great recording, but as it was the pick of the litter for its coupling with the second well you might just grab it (or you might not as that is a lot of music on one LP.) Many like the Gilels Ludwig and I have the 10" Blue and Silver SBO 2752. Don't buy it, it is not any good. If you want this on LP, run don't walk and buy the Concert Classic SXLP 30086 which throws in the Oistrakh Mozart Violin Concerto 3 as a great bonus (also avail-able on the rarer Regal SREG 1090). Not a fan of the Bishop on this one. Brendel is just down right bizarre. Kempff is a master, but the later recording in stereo just does not have it like his earlier material, though Mr. Leach does recommend it. I really like this 1939 Kempff performance. A friend has the London Blueback CS 6054 and I really like it. It very much has the flavor of Mr. Kempff's great 1939 performance with excellent FFSS sonics. The Decca came out earlier and might even be better, but you'll pay. The Backhaus and Kempff are much more lyrical than the Fleisher. The Backhaus is a great LP and performance that may just be the best of both worlds.

-WILHELM KEMPFF / Beethoven Piano Concerto No.2 & 4 / DGG Red Stereo SLPM 138 775
-SAX 2403 B/s orig 1st BEETHOVEN piano concerto no. 4 RICHTER-HAASER KERTESZ PO
- LONDON BLUE BACK BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO No.4 BACKHAUS SCHMIDT-ISSERSTEDT CS 6054

I'll add that the SAX 2403 is a dubious purchase and is much better sampled on Classics for Pleasure CFP 155. Richer-Haaser seems to have been passed by. Noise freaks run for the hills I don't have a recommendation for you.

Once again, your reviewer has been tortured by the sonic mediocrity that abounds with the famous Emperor Concerto (the 5th). One and Four were easy choices especially with the very attainable Blueback Backhaus pressings. Two suffers from a lack of true sonic greatness, but perhaps the Bishop is the save bet. Enough choices abound with the Third. And, absolutely no sonic recommendations on maestro Salvatore's Supreme Recordings for any of these concerti. If you are going high def digital, Serkin on Telarc seems a great choice according to John J. Puccio on his Classical Candor blog, "The audio, which Telarc recorded digitally in 1981 at Symphony Hall, Boston, and which LIM remastered in 2011 and released in 2012, is big and bold to match the performance. LIM’s 32-bit Ultra High Definition processing results in a beautifully natural piano sound and a dynamic orchestral support, making an almost ideal combination of instrumental sonics. We also hear a touch of ambient hall bloom, helping the piano appear rich and resonant, and there’s good clarity throughout without being in any way bright, hard, or edgy. In short, this LIM product is the best-sounding Beethoven Fifth Piano Concerto I have ever heard, and a brief comparison to over half a dozen other recordings of the piece I had on hand confirmed this impression."

Not sure if I can swallow a Telarc LP, so let's methodically weed through the competition. SAX 2252 with Gilels/Ludwig; I own the second pressing and it is a poor sounding recording. Van Cliburn's Shaded Dog with Reiner on LSC-2562 is another great performance, but the sound is not great. Perhaps if one weed through enough copies you might find something decent, but be prepared for disappointment and no SB British pressing either. Fleischer/Szell is certainly different and great, but the piano is a bit brittle on this recording and the bass a bit light, but just great. Fontana 877800 EZ (Dutch Pressing) of the Fleisher would be an interesting pressing and I've got the Epic. The Kempff is well regarded and the tube sound of the DGG Red Stereo Tulip might be great and it's definitely one of the top priced copies on the used market. EMI Columbia put out two other Blue and Silver Emporers, with Richter-Haaser on SAX 2422 and Arrau on SAX 2297. The Haaser will cost you more unless you go for a second pressing (don't!). The sound and performance online is quite interesting. Have some SAX with Arrua if Richter-Haaser is not available; its supposed to be a great performance and the Blue & Silver is common enough for prices not to get out hand. Curzon/Knappertsbusch sounds like it was recorded in Knappertsbusch's younger days. Glenn Gould well is just not right. Katchen isn't catching...  Serkin sinks back. Backhaus isn't back. Brendel bores. Zechlin needs hecklin' (for the sound). Michelangeli, the Legend, eludes the studio once again, but not Youtube and I must say a must have for the unique and amazing performance. RCA badly garbles Rubinstein (again.) Barenboin/Klemperer put on a huge performance, with huge sound, and a huge piano (EMI ASD 2500) along with a great Allegro. Beautifully balanced, if not the most nuanced interpretation, but I'm not in love with the Rondo. Looking for a little more fire, then the youthful Gelber on Concert Classics SXLP 20104 may deliver a jolt of electricity, including "Grand Prix des Audiophiles" sound according to the French magazine Diapason. And last, but not least is Stephen Bishop (Kovacevich). A sonic winner it is hoped for the sound floor lovers, perhaps not the best performance, but one that will grow on the listener and keep them coming back. A Penguin Guide Rosette disc and Bishop gets a Miles to Mozart Rosette for his complete Beethoven Concertos, Colin Davis conducting. Klemperer gets a prize for his Emporer with Barenboim, and is forgiven for Colonel Clink.

- DGG RED STEREO TULIP ED1 - BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO 5 - KEMPFF - LEITNER
- COLUMBIA - SAX 2422 - BEETHOVEN - PIANO CONCERTO NO. 5 - RICHTER HAASER
-Columbia SAX2297 - Beethoven - Piano Concerto 5 - Claudio ARRAU - Alceo GALLIERA
-SXL 2002 : WBg : Beethoven : Piano Concerto No. 5 : Curzon : Hans Knappertsbusch
- SXL 6109 Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 etc. / Katchen
- ASHKENAZY, SOLTI - DECCA SXL 6655 - BEETHOVEN - PIANO CONCERTO N.5
-ZECHLIN, Kurt SANDERLING Dirigent, BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto 5 ETERNA STEREO
-Gilels Ludwig Beethoven Piano Concerto No.5 British Ed1 Columbia SAX 2252
-Decca SXL2179 - Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 5 - BACKHAUS - SCHMIDT-ISSERSTEDT
-DGG 2531385 BENEDETTI MICHELANGELI BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTO 5 GIULINI
-Telarc DIGITAL - Rudolf Serkin - Piano - SEALED LP - BEETHOVEN - Concerto No. 5
-SB 6598 Beethoven Piano Concerto 5 Rubinstein Leinsdorf 1964
-BEETHOVEN. Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat C) major, Op. 73, "Emperor" Alfred Brendel (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink. Philips 9500 243
-STEREO LP COLUMBIA MS6888 BEETHOVEN EMPEROR CONCERTO STOKOWSKI GLENN GOULD PIANO
-RCA SHADED DOG Beethoven VAN CLIBURN Concerto #5 Emperor REINER LSC-2562
-SXLP 20104 - BEETHOVEN - Emporer Concerto GELBER - New PO







Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hunting London Bluebacks

While hunting for Bluebacks on ebay, I am writing this article. The first thing I did was go into ebay and search out Decca in records for sold auctions descending order. The first classical release was Decca SXL6035 - Bruch - Scottish Fantasia - Hindemith VC - David OISTRAKH for $1150 and I promptly skipped this as I already have the Blueback. Next up was the bizarre DECCA SXL 6426 SCHUBERT SONATA FOR CELLO & PIANO 1969 at $1130. I investigated this and the London which was released one month later. The London sells for $30. It is the same LP. Given the later nature of this recording one presumes this is being collected for the performance, but clearly not the case. It appears the rather moronic Decca completists know this is a good album and they want the ED3 Decca FFSS label which is identical to the ED1 FFSS label (almost), never mind the 1969 pressing will sound totally different. See our Decca/London Pressing Guide. The top selling Decca copies are 1W/3W. The London is 1W/1W and can be had for $50 or so. I see evidence of the London release also existing with a high density plastic sleeve (opaque) which would imply an ED5 pressing with the Neumann SX-74 and its pristine treble. I just sniped a sealed copy for $17 from Israel for fun that ends later today.
Finally, I got to something of real interest, the Ricci SXL 2155 pictured above at $1000. Philip Stuart's Complete Decca Classical discography shows the London version (CS6134 to the left) actually coming out first in December 1959 with the Decca SXL following in March 1960, a seeming advantage for the London as it should have the first stampers. I then started poking around popsike and ebay for matrix numbers. 2E/2D for $1000 and a 1E/1E for $1000. In ebay most of the CS6134s were 2E/2D, so one would think they might be superior to the Decca 2E/2D since they were released first. The 1E/1E is very interesting since one would think it is earlier, yet it is not appearing on the London CS6134. Onto popsike... Well all of the Decca and London are 2E/2D. The seller with the 1E/1E rating appeared to be a new seller, so it seems very likely that they did not bother to put in the correct matrix information. Not many of the London CS 6134 up so I decided to move on (I have both the original LSC and Classic Records Living Stereo Lalo so I'll live).
Dvorak 9, Kertesz VPO, SXL 2289 at $1000: I've got the STS (not so great) and the Japanese Super Analogue (quite nice), so a brief scan for the London on this and unfortunately it may be more rare and only NM copy in the last three months for $167. Interesingly, Scott Wheeler, a Forum Resident at Steve Hoffman Music Forums, claims the Super Analogue blows away any Decca pressing and the Speakers Corner reissue which is on Maestro Salvatore's Basic list (Salvatore makes no mention of the Super Analogue.) Our Living Decca Blueback Guide has more pressing information. I think I will sit tight with Super Analogue which I coughed up $72 for over 20 years ago. My conclusion is that this release is overpriced due to rarity. I see EMI's ASD 380 with Kempe selling for $300. I'd like to have Concert Classic SXLP30110 of this which should have a excellent sound. The Karajan reissue EMI, ASD 2863, is excellent, but may be a bit bass light on some systems (reissue of EMI Columbia SAX 2275). Enough with Dvorak and I'll add I would  not hesitate to get the Speakers Corner reissue. It is getting hard to get, but can be had for the MSRP of $35.

SXL 2026 Campoli violin pieces is next and I'll refer you to my comments in the guide from a few days ago (see #4). The London is not for sale, but an excellent copy of CS 6047, CAMPOLI Mendelssohn Bruch, London Phil, Boult, just sold for $30 which is a great price. Onward!

MOZART - LE NOZZE DI FIGARO - DECCA SXL 2087/90 at $900 (Kleiber); I've got my eyeballs on the London version of this opera set which sells for much less. We also have Gui's verion on EMI ASD and Giulini's Figaro on EMI Columbia SAX. I've got the RCA living stereo, but would like to find an earlier pressing with the clasp, "treasure box". I don't love the sound of mine and so wish for an earlier pressing. Leinsdorf's Figaro is well liked on Amazon. The Guilini can be had on the later EMI SLS in possibly better sound for very cheap. The Gui Figaro can be had on a very rare Regal reissue of the original gold and cream ASD. The Regal may be rarer, but goes for less, but is no bargain. Hopefully, I'll be able to snag the Blueback with Kleiber.

ANSERMET - FALLA - El Amor Brujo - DECCA SXL 2260; $900. I recently got STS 15014 of this which is quite respectable. I missed out an excellent copy of the London Blueback of this in a Buy it Now for $20. That was a real deal.

ARGENTA - ESPANA - DECCA SXL 2020, $888. I've got an adequate Speakers Corner of this along with several of the London CS 6006. This one I am letting go for now until I more closely evaluate my current inventory....

DECCA SXL 6036 ED 1 BORODIN SHOSTAKOVICH QUARTETS, $868. This is very late in the Blueback era and I am pretty sure I have the STS of this. The London Blueback CS 6338 is quite rare also. I'm not losing any sleep over this one, so time to move on.

ANSERMET BERGANZA FALLA 3 CORNERED HAT UK DECCA SXL 2296, $870. Well the Ace of Daimonds (SDD 321) of this can go for $45. It appears the London CS 6224 Blueback is the value play, but it will cost more. Salvatore has the Speakers Corner reissue in basic list. And I may have misspoken on the availability of Speakers Corner for some of the above items because a site in Germany (named SpeakersCorner) was listing these as in stock (doubtful.) I just snagged a Mint copy off discogs for $30. I've not been overly impressed by the Speakers Corner Reissue I have, but this will be my first one that is higher up on the Supreme Recordings (see our references at bottom of page.) I do actually have two of these including the Prokofiev Symphony 6 (SXL 6777) and the above SXL 2020.
This is an interesting one; BACKHAUS PLAYS BRAHMS PIANO RECITAL DECCA SXL 2222, $825. The Blueback version is pictured to the left and is much earlier (September 58 versus July 1960.) Now, I could believe the later pressing might be better, but ideally it would be even later than SXL 2222. So, let's see what the matrices reveal. Quoting one seller; "(It always amazes me that those flimsy 60's Decca sleeves survived more than a few years,let alone 50 years!)"  British dealer don't generally reveal matrix information so onto Popsike for SXL 2222. 1E/1E, 10E/2E, 1E/1E, 1E/1E, 1E/1E. Now for CS 6021; 2E/10E, 1E/1E, 10E/2E on ebay. Popsike; 3 1E/1E and then they want me to join again ($18 for 6 months.). The pattern is clear enough (outside of one dyslexic dealer) 1E/1E is original and 10E/2E is likely later. Unfortunately dealers never cough up the most detailed information as detailed in our guide link above. It would be very interesting to see the date code (sales tax code) at 12 o'clock on these labels. In theory the 1E/1E would have a faint RT for 1959, and possibly ET for 1960. The 10E/2E is likely later. All in all, I would expect the earlier Londons with 1E/1E to be superior to the Decca from two years later with the same matrix (mother stamper). Once again we have strong evidence that the Decca completists do not care about the sound of the LP since the London has the same artwork and two copies went in the $20 to $30 range recently. $888 for a flimsy cover with inferior sound does not make a lot of sense.


Keeping things to the Backhaus, now can you beat CS 6141 for a cover? (pictured right) The staid flimsy Decca cover is just another photo of the revered Backhaus. Here we have some fine Golden Era cover art that stimulates the mind. SXL 2214 comes in at $685. CS 6141?: $60 for NM. Hmmmm. The London came out in May 1960, but might have been pressed even earlier as the records were made in the UK and shipped to the US to get their American covers. The SXL came out in June, but I doubt these two were pressed at the same time. Onto the matrices. Seller Analog Paradise seems a bit biased towards London; "London Blue Back (BB) story: Starting in the 1950’s the Decca Record Company in London started releasing LP’s simultaneously in the US on the London Records label and in the UK on the Decca Record label due to trademark issues with the US Decca Record label.  In order to do simultaneous releases with UK pressings, Decca was forced to press the London BB LP’s first in order to be able to ship them by boat to NY for release at the same time in the UK.  As such, the London pressings are in fact the earliest pressings and often have the 1X stamper designation.  While the 1st stamper is not always the best sounding, it often is and has always been sought out by collector’s looking for the earliest pressings.
In cases where a BB pressing and the Decca SXL equivalent are pressed using the same stamper, the two pressings are indistinguishable from each other assuming both are in the same condition.  In cases where the stampers are different you can have one or the other (BB/SXL) of the pressings sounding better because of the variations in cutting another set of metal parts.  Bottom line is that London BB pressings are from the same plant that pressed SXL pressings and are often earlier pressings.  SXL pressings have always been more desirable because of their relative scarcity having only been issued in the UK.  London BB pressings often equal or better their SXL counterparts and are less expensive to own.... This is an incredible experience for your stereo rig:  The great Wilhelm Backhaus performs Mozart Piano Concerto conducted by Karl Bohm in this great and rightly heralded album. " 1D/2D from Analog Paradise for $60. Another 1D/2D.  SXL 2214; 1D/2D. Without Popsike I can't be definitive, but this is a fairly rare LP and all early ones are likely 1D/2D. The SXL cover was actually made in April of 1960, so these LPs might have come out of the plant around the same time. I've always wanted this LP as my Stereo Treasury copy STS 15061 hints at greatness (matrix 4L/5L, UU, tax code kt=1967-1969). I just discovered a very competitive pressing in the Japanese Super Analogue. It is very tempting to buy, but given the shipping from Japan I need to wait and wait for the price to drop. It appears a number have come up in the last year and have been selling for $30 plus shipping. The Super Analogue will have a superior noise floor and should be on JVC vinyl from Japan (the best). It is a very tempting option for the right price and if the Blueback is eluding one's grasp. I am slightly reserved about Super Analogue. They are cut with a 300 watt tube cutter amp with a very direct signal path, but their use of a very nice solid state Tandberg deck for the tape has its pluses and minuses. The plus is a better noise floor, but the negative is they don't have the slam of a Speakers Corner reissue nor do they go to the highest level of beguiling tube magic sound. They will be better than the stereo treasury I would expect. I caught some positive review of a Backhaus HammerKlavier mono Super Analogue so I suspect they can do piano quite well and I doubt dynamics would be an issue for these pieces so a very, very appealing option.

Its time to stop, but I can't help but throw in some quickies! SXL 6088 Decca WB/G ED1 Mozart/I & D Oistrakh/Kondrashin, $684; two Oistrakhs, but this is out of the money for true Blueback tube sound most likely (I smell completists wanting anything with the Decca FFSS label). I tried to buy an original London pressing of this, but got hosed by the seller and ended up with ED4 label and sound. Way overpriced.

RICCI - RECITAL - BARTOK - STRAVINSKY - HINDEMITH - DECCA SXL 2240, $678; likely rare. FFSS can be had for much less, but it is rare also. STS 15153 will not compare, but gets you the music in passable sound.

WAGNER * DIE WALKÛRE # KNAPPERTSBUSCH - DECCA SXL 2074 - 5 **, $661 - if you really want this get the London. The completist see SXL and must have this double LP. London collectors see the OSA and opera and won't bid much for this one. Get the whole Die Walkure on RCA Soria. It is awesome.

REINER - BRAHMS - DVORAK - DECCA SXL 2249 WBG, more completist insanity here at $650. The London is very mediocre. Reiner was the conductor here and therefore I expect this did not sell well and is fairly rare.

MAAG - MENDELSSOHN - - SYMPHONY No.3 - DECCA SXL 2246 WBG , $638. Well I had a beat copy with duct tape on the cover that I thought had potential. I finally got a London and its decent, but no where near $638 decent. The Elusive Disc has the ORG double LP 45rpm of this on sale for $40 which Aqlam has and likes and I just bought (hope springs eternal).

DECCA SXL 2019 WBG BLUE BACK UK ED1 1958! VIVALDI FOUR SEASONS MUNCHINGER, $572. I doubt this is all that good and the London has not impressed me in the least. Super Analogue LONDON/DAM-KING (DOR-0172) 1990 might be interesting. Jubilee JB63 might be really something.

And the theme continues as I look through the rest. Please make a brief comment if you found this article helpful, otherwise I may not throw any collecting diaries. Happy hunting!





Sunday, February 15, 2015

Columbia SAX 2350: Klemperer conducts Brahms Symphony No. 4

Columbia SAX 2350


Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor

Otto Klemperer, conductor
Phiharmonia Orchestra

Pressing: UK, semi-circle ER2

Condition: EX

Stampers: YAX 269-4, 270-1


Date first published: 

Performance: 10/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $27-350 (mean $87 on popsike.com)

Comments: Like Klemperer's Beethoven cycle, his Brahms cycle is also monumental and considered to be one of the finest on record among those of Szell, Wand, Levine, Jochum, and Dohnanyi. They were all originally released in stereo on the UK Columbia label and then reissued on EMI. The blue and silver first pressings of each of the four symphonies typically sells for good money on the online markets, though semi-circle pressings can be had without burning a hole in the wallet. So how is the sound quality? Though I was not impressed with the semi-circle label pressings of Klemperer's Beethoven symphonies, I found the Brahms to be an improvement.  Don't expect the finest in transparency, openness, dynamics, or soundstage width, but if you can put those aside and focus on the music, there is much to be enjoyed here.  Make sure you find a clean copy.  The "cavernous" sound that I heard on SAX 2260 was replaced by a more natural sound with a more expansive soundstage, though the presentation is still more laid-back.  Orchestral textures, particularly winds, are nice and clear, and dynamics were much improved.  I would love to be able to do an A/B comparison between these SAXes and the later EMI reissues (e.g. EMI SLS 804) to see which pressings offer the finest sonic account of these performances.


Columbia SAX 2260: Klemperer conducts Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony

Columbia SAX 2260


Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 "Pastoral"

Otto Klemperer, conductor
Philharmonia Orchestra

Pressing: UK, ER2 semi-circle

Condition: NM

Stampers: YAX 39-10, 40-10


Date first published: 1958 

Performance: 10/10

Sound: 6/10

Price range: $19-411 (mean $55 on popsike.com)

Comments: There is not much more to say about Otto Klemperer's reference recordings of the nine Beethoven symphonies with the Philharmonia Orchestra for the UK Columbia label.  These have withstood the test of time and, though not every one may like Klemperer's interpretations or generally slower tempos (just juxtapose them to any of the more modern cycles by Gunter Wand, Riccardo Chailly, Paavo Jarvi, or Daniel Barenboim) they will always be considered one of the finest Beethoven cycles to ever have been recorded.  This Pastoral is no exception, though if I had to pick an analog era Pastoral to hang my hat on, it would probably be the Bruno Walter recording with the Columbia Symphony for US Columbia.  I will reserve my comments for the sonic attributes of this record.  I'm not sure if it's a pressing issue (mine is, as you can see from the photo, a semi-circle second pressing), but I was not bowled over by the sound on this one.  The orchestra sounds rather distant, enclosed in what is a relatively narrow but deep soundstage.  There is a lack of openness to the sound, which I might describe as cavernous.  Dynamic range is also somewhat constricted, and there is not much in the bass department.  I've heard better on the more recent digital remaster.  Is it possible that the blue and silver first pressing could offer an improvement?  I'm not sure.  My colleague Meles happens to own the EMI SLS boxed set of the complete Klemperer Beethoven symphony recordings with the postage stamp labels.  Perhaps he could give his thoughts on how the Pastoral in this set sounds on his system.


Riverside RLP 1129: Everybody Digs Bill Evans

Riverside RLP 1129

Everybody Digs Bill Evans

Bill Evans, piano
Sam Jones, bass
Philly Joe Jones, drums


Pressing: US stereo, black label with reel-to-reel and microphone, deep groove, Bill Grauer Productions Inc.

Condition: VG+

Stampers: N/A

Date first published: 1958

Performance: 10/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $33-320 (mean $93 on popsike.com)

Comments: When I originally started this blog in 2012, I had intended to discuss not just classical but also jazz recordings (hence the title, MILES [Davis] to Mozart).  As it turned out, I started off with classical, had a couple diversions covering jazz, but for the most part focused heavily on classical.  This year one of my goals is to change that and to begin to review some of the jazz albums in my collection.  There are a good number of jazz collecting resources on the web (check out London Jazz Collector, for example) that cover topics such as pressings, labels, etc., and I would encourage you to check some of these out.  Many of them were not available when I first started collecting jazz and would have made a big difference in my ability to distinguish original pressings and cheap reissues.  The Blue Note label, for instance, has so many intricacies to its pressings hierarchy that new collectors must really be aware of differences in pressings so as to not get tricked by sellers on E-bay.  Don't be fooled by prices ... I've been tricked into paying more money for what was touted as an original pressing but ended up being a Liberty era reissue.

This album from jazz pianist Bill Evans is one of my all time favorite jazz records.  I have been listening to it on CD since 1998 when I was a senior in college and only in the last month acquired my first vinyl copies.  This is my "original" pressing.  I also have the Analogue Productions two LP, 45 rpm audiophile pressing.  Both are fabulous, though I'll be commenting on the original pressing.  This recording was made before Bill Evans was to form his legendary trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian but we can already hear elements of Bill Evans unique style ... beautiful melodic lines, rich chord voicings, use of space, lyricism ... and he can swing.  The tunes on this album vary the gamut in terms of tempo and mood.  The opening track, Minority, starts things off up-tempo, but we quickly slow things down and enter into a more introspective zone with Young and Foolish and Lucky to Be Me, both of which receive hauntingly beautiful interpretations.  Night and Day and Tenderly ramp things up a bit and swing.  The tune that gave me a chill the first time I heard it and continues to mesmerize me to this day was Peace Piece, a 6:37 solo piano improvisation that is built on a minimal chord progression but may be one of the most powerful jazz piano solos ever put on record.

I've had mixed impressions about Riverside recordings.  They never had the quietest surfaces, and some of them have more hiss than others.  The general recommendation is to avoid early Riverside stereo LPs and to stick with mono.  Bill Evans' mono recordings seem to fetch a lot more than the stereo, particularly the ones on which the trio included Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, but I actually prefer to listen to them in stereo.  This is a prime example.  Yes, there is hard separation of the instruments, but that is how I'd like to hear them spaced.  Bill Evans' piano was never given a phenomenal recorded sound by Riverside, but it's pretty decent on this album.  Bass and drums are also quite well reproduced and contribute to the very pleasing sonics of the original stereo recording.  The Analogue Productions reissue does improve on the sound floor and gives the piano a bit more of an organic sound and the bass more body.  In either case, the vinyl copies hands down beat the standard digital.  I haven't heard the Analogue Productions SACDs, though, which are probably a lot better than the Fantasy/OJC CDs.

One last observation:  has anybody else noticed that the photo on the bottom of the back cover is incorrectly labeled?  The guy on the left is most definitely not Bill Evans. 








Saturday, February 14, 2015

Columbia SAX 2379: Karajan's Sibelius 2nd

Columbia SAX 2379

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43


Herbert von Karajan, conductor

Philharmonia Orchestra

Pressing: UK, ER2


Condition: NM

Stampers: YAX 573-6, 574-4


Date first published: 1961


Performance: 7/10


Sound: 6/10


Price range: $23-235 (mean $70 on popsike.com)



Comments: UK Columbia released two recordings of the Sibelius 2nd Symphony, the first one with Paul Kletzki and the Philharmonia (SAX 2280), previously reviewed on this blog, and this one with Herbert von Karajan with the same orchestra.  I surmise that Karajan's was the more popular one, since the Kletzki seems to be the rarer find and had only one run (I have only seen blue and silver first pressings on the market) whereas the Karajan was reissued multiple times and is available in blue/silver, red semi-circle, and postage stamp labels.  I was able to snag the second pressing for a reasonable price a couple of years ago, though I'd love to hear a blue/silver for comparison.  I wasn't thrilled with this one, that's for certain.  The presentation is a little bit distant, not uncommon for so many of these UK Columbia orchestral releases, yielding somewhat of a cavernous sound that is warm but perhaps slightly rolled off in the treble.  Though dynamics are quite good, orchestral textures can be slightly muddy, and there is an overall lack of clarity on the recording.  Loud orchestral tuttis are plagued with some noticeable distortion.  I found myself preferring the Kletzki recording, which is far from being sonically perfect but seemed to offer more in terms of clarity.  Now it's entirely possible that this is a pressing issue, and that a first blue/silver pressing could improve on these quibbles.  I'll have to wait and see if I can ever find one for a decent price.  I wonder if my colleague Meles has this LP and can also comment.  


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Philips 6500 531: Szeryng performs Beethoven Violin Concerto

Philips 6500 531

Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D

Henryk Szeryng, violin
Bernard Haitink, conductor
Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Pressing: UK, red/silver label


Condition: NM

Stampers: AA 6500 531 2Y 2 1974 670 14 7 03

Date first published: 

Performance: 7/10

Sound: 8/10

Price range: $24-29 (mean $26 on popsike.com)

Comments: This is regal sounding Beethoven. Szeryng, who plays with his characteristic sweet tone, takes a more relaxed approach compared to other perhaps more invigorating performances by the likes of Heifetz (RCA), Milstein (UK Columbia), or Kogan (UK Columbia).  Perhaps think of Oistrakh's stereo UK Columbia recording but with extra smoothness. Actually, I found the third Rondo movement to be just a little too smooth.  The Philips recorded sound is quite excellent with clarity, full dynamic range to the orchestra, and a nice wide and deep soundstage.  Szeryng's violin takes center stage but is well balanced relative to the Concertgebouw.  A nice record, but I prefer my Beethoven with a little more zeal. 


Bargain Bin Find: Philips 88 083 DY: Maazel conducts Handel

Philips 88 083 DY

Handel: Wassermusik-Suite, Feuerwerksmusik

Lorin Maazel, conductor
RSO Berlin

Pressing: German

Condition: EX

Stampers: AA 88083 2Y X 670 11

Date first published: 1966

Performance: 7/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: N/A

Comments: I found this LP for about $2 at a local record shop within the last year.  This is the German pressing of Philips SAL 3583 (re-released in the 1970s as 6850 009), but I can't imagine that this pressing is lacking at all in comparison to its UK or Dutch counterparts.  It's a decent "big band" performance of these two Handel warhorses, with tempos that are relatively swift and orchestral playing by the RSO Berlin that is pretty polished. I still found myself marginally preferring Szell's recording with the LSO (not the original ED1 Decca but the later ED2 or narrow band) and Malcolm Sargent's with the RPO, but this one is still enjoyable and worth a listen, especially if you really like this repertoire.  The recording quality is respectable, coming from Philips, with a full orchestral sound presented with clarity and a nicely captured hall ambience.



RCA Living Stereo LSC-2313: Solti's Glorious Venice


RCA Living Stereo LSC-2313

Venice

VerdiLa Traviata: Preludes to Acts I and III
RossiniSemiramide: Overture
OffenbachThe Tales of Hoffmann: Barcarolle
RossiniL'Italiana in Algeri: Overture
PonchielliLa Gioconda: Dance of the Hours

Georg Solti, conductor
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Pressing: US, shaded dog

Condition: VG++

Stampers: 9S/1S

Date first published: 1959

Performance: 5/5

Sound: 4.5/5

Price range: $26-406 (mean $111 on popsike.com)

Comments:  One of the very fine RCA records to be recorded by Decca engineer Kenneth Wilkinson and a top notch Living Stereo.  It seems that every classical record label at this time was releasing some form of "ballet music for the opera" record, and this was one of them (and one of the better ones, too).  RCA would later release LSC-2400 which also boasted outstanding sonic attributes.  This one comes in a special gatefold cover with an internal booklet describing Venice and the music contained on the LP with beautiful classic photos of the city, making for a very nice album presentation.  The music, unlike Karajan's Operatic Intermezzi recording on UK Columbia, is not boring and has a nice variety of more lyrical (e.g. Offenbach's Barcarolle) and more dynamic works (e.g. Rossini's Semiramide Overture).  Dynamics are some of the best of a Living Stereo, and the orchestral balance and hall ambience are excellent.  It may be hard to get a very clean copy for cheap ... this one tends to attract higher prices on E-bay.  I found my copy at a classical record show in Chicago about 10 years ago for $10.  Not bad, given its condition.

Valin's comments in the RCA Bible are insightful:

"#7 on CBK's Top RCA list.  Decca's most ravishing string tone and superior dynamics.  Not as dense in texture as some of the great RCA's, although it is very detailed and transparent and well, if somewhat cavernously, "staged."  Badly overmodulated on tuttis on every pressing I've heard, especially on the Rossini.  GJC reports that the ol' Kingsway bass resonance murks up Decca's own version too, so it's an engineering problem not a mastering one.  (In spite of the bass problems, GJC loves this record, especially for the indisputably beautiful string tone in Act One of Traviata.)  For stereo buffs, there is another little treat on this particular disc.  About a minute or so into the last band on side one, you can clearly hear the famous Underground subway rumbling beneath Kingsway Hall.  This Underground, the Aldrich-Holborn line, was a constant nightmare to Decca engineers.  (When Decca first began recording at Kingsway, they also had to contend with the noise of a tram which ran alongside the Underground.  Luckily the tram was eventually phased out.)  Ironically the branch of the Underground which ran beneath the Kingsway only had the two stops, Aldrich and Holborn.  Ray Minshull told me that Decca tried to have the train rerouted and even explored the possibility of equipping it with rubber wheels (a la the Paris Metro), but the costs were prohibitive.  The only thing that made the rumble halfway livable was the fact that a large theatrical costumier, who supplied costumes to all the theaters in London, kept his shop in Kingsway's ground floor.  The multitude of costumes damped some of the rumble, although Decca mastering engineers applied what they called "the Kingsway filter" to each and every tape made in Kingsway -- a subsonic filter designed to restrict very low frequency modulation due to the Underground's rumblings and grumblings.  Even at that Ray Minshull claims that the Underground and, of course, once the costumier went out of business the hall became unusable [Minshull Interview, 2/16/930."

Incidentally, this was reissued by Classic Records, though I have not had the opportunity to hear this for comparison.



RCA Living Stereo LSC-2271: Henriot-Schweitzer plays Ravel and D'Indy

RCA Living Stereo LSC-2271

Ravel: Concerto in G
D'Indy: Symphony on a French Mountain Air

Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer, piano
Charles Munch, conductor
Boston Symphony


Pressing: US, shaded dog

Condition: EX

Stampers: 5S/5S

Date first published: 1959

Performance: 8/10

Sound: 7/10


Price range: $24-71 (mean $42 on popsike.com)

Comments: Although this isn't my reference recording for the Ravel Piano Concerto, it does boast a very fine performance by French pianist Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer and fine sonics.  In addition, we get a beautiful performance of the less oft recorded Symphony on a French Mountain Air by Vincent d'Indy.  If you aren't familiar with this work, I would urge you to give it a listen.  The piano is, in my opinion, well balanced with the orchestra and has a relatively natural tone (it seems to be quite challenging to faithfully capture the sound of a piano).  As might be expected of a Living Stereo, bass depth leaves a little something to be desired, but dynamics are overall very good on the record with no perceptible distortion on my system.  Fortunately, you won't have to break the bank to get a decent copy.  I picked mine up on the flea-bay for less than $20.

Jonathan Valin in the RCA Bible comments:

"The 'Orthophonic' mono of this is wonderful.  Of course I'm a push-over for the Ravel Concerto and the D'Indy Symphony on a Mountain Air on side two.  But I don't think I'm letting my enthusiasm for the music color my enthusiasm for this mono's sound.  Staging is, of course, impossible to appraise.  But there is nothing questionable about the diaphanous sound of the strings, or the wonderful tone and focus on Henriot-Schweitzer's (Mrs. Munch's*) piano, or the excellent, dynamic bass (which has 'floor' and clarity).  Alas, the stereo is not quite as good as the mono.  Although it maintains most of the beauty of the strings, it is cooler in ambiance with less 'floor' in the bass and drier, edgier overall sonics.  The piano is a shade edgier, too.  Transparency is superb, however, as are midband dynamics.  Recorded March 24, 1958.  (Although this performance is quite good, I prefer the Casadesus/Ormandy D'Indy on Columbia and, among many others, Katchen does an excellent Ravel on Decca.)"

Rather interesting to hear that the mono may be sonically more pleasing than the stereo.  I haven't been able to make this comparison.

*I have not been able to confirm this statement about Henriot-Schweitzer being married to Charles Munch.  The French wikipedia entry states that Munch was her uncle by marriage.