Tuesday, February 10, 2015

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

RCA Living Stereo LSC-2313


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.

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