Friday, July 31, 2015

Classic Records Reissue: RCA Living Stereo LSC-2449 ... the rebirth of a legend

RCA Living Stereo LSC-2449 (Classic Records)

Gounod: Faust Ballet Music
Bizet: Carmen Suite

Alexander Gibson, conductor
Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden

Pressing: US, Classic Records 33 rpm 180g reissue

Condition: NM

Date first published: 

Stampers: N/A

Performance: 10/10

Sound: 10/10

Price range: $34-320 (mean $117) on popsike.com (stats include both 33 and 45 rpm reissues)

Comments:  I am going to start by quoting Jonathan Valin's text, because his words very eloquently detail the sonic substance of this recording in its original shaded dog pressing:

"Widely regarded as one of the great RCA's, JB feels this celebrated disc is not as good as LSC 2225. Whether it's the equal of Witches' Brew or not -- and I guess ultimately I agree with JB -- this is still a fine recording.  What does it sound like?  Well, imagine a richer, more neutral sounding Walthamstow recording, then add a deep ground swell bass to what is already pretty tight low end and lightening strike dynamics and you may get the idea.  No, this record does not have the full gold of Kingsway Hall; as a result strings are a bit drier and less voluptuous than I've heard them sound on other Deccas.  On the other hand this disc does not have the often boomy bass of Kingsway.  In fact it is slightly leaner, and (thankfully) clearer and deeper than your often boomy Kingsway strum.  Transparency is superb.  Ditto on imaging (which is very 3-dimensional).  High end extension is simply outstanding - as good as the Facade, which is pretty damn good.  A large cymbal is struck toward the beginning of the Funeral March of a Marionette, and I swear to you you can actually hear the flex of the metal as the ringing redounds across the instrument's surface.  This is a remarkably realistic effect that I have ever heard on any other RCA -- in fact, I've never heard it this clearly on any other record.  *But what sets this fine record apart in my mind is not the high end or the bass extension (which is deep), it is the incredible dynamic surge of the tuttis, where for once you almost feel as if you're getting the full weight of a symphony orchestra in your living room.  I own no other RCA that exceeds this disc in this one  quality.  #6 on CBK's Top RCA list.  (Contrary to CBK's assertion that there is just one pressing of this disc -- a 1s/1s -- I have a 6s side two)."  Grading: 10++/NR/Very good to excellent.

While I have not had the pleasure or privilege of hearing the original (this is a call out to you, Meles and ejeden, who have both owned or still own this album, to comment and share insight), I'd like to think that the Classic Records 33rpm 180g reissue takes me pretty close to the aural bliss of this audiophile legend.  This has long been considered one of the rarest, if not THE rarest, Living Stereo release, and as you can see from above, it also boasts one of the most impressive sound profiles of any classical recording.  The reissue is dynamic as hell (no pun or allusion to the cover intended) with expansive soundstaging, extended highs and lows, and amazing imaging.  What the reissue may also improve on the original is its sound/noise floor.  The vinyl on this pressing is dead quiet, enabling a wealth of detail to emerge from a black background.  I imagine that the original shaded dog must have a least some degree of low-level hiss, but I could be wrong.  It's too bad that this is out of print, though used, near mint copies show up pretty frequently on E-bay.  I'm curious to hear if anyone has heard the 4 LP, 45 rpm Classic Records reissue.  The plum VICS reissue, which I used to own, is also pretty impressive.


London Blueback CS 6118: Solti's 1956 Tchaikovsky 2nd

London CS 6118

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 17 (Little Russian)

Georg Solti, conductor
L'Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris

Pressing: UK, ED1

Condition: NM-

Date first published: 

Stampers: ZAL-3162-2M, ZAL-3163-1M

Performance: 8/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $28-148 (mean $61) on popsike.com

Comments: Here is another Decca/London album that was only released as a London (no SXL).  Recorded in 1956, this is pretty early stereo (though judging by its catalog number, Decca must've decided to hold on to it for a while before releasing it), which might explain why the soundstage is rather narrow and center-focused.  It's not quite mono, but it lacks expansiveness.  That being said, the sound on my pressing is very clear and undistorted with a good amount of low level detail.  Dynamic range is somewhat restricted, so you will have to dial up the volume to get a decent listening level.  Solti and the PCO take things pretty swiftly, particularly in the outer movements, imbuing the work with a youthful energy.  All in all, an enjoyable Blueback, though I prefer the performance and richer and fuller sound of Giulini and the Philharmonia on Columbia SAX 2416, which I have yet to review on this blog.

Interestingly, while this is listed in Moon and Gray's FFSS, there is no performance/sound grade for the LP.  This has been digitally remastered as part of the Decca Legends series and combined with the tracks from Solti's Romantic Russia album.



RCA Living Stereo LSC-2330: At home with the Festival Quartet

RCA Living Stereo LSC-2330

Brahms: Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 60

Festival Quartet:
Szymon Goldberg, violin
William Primrose, viola
Nikolai Graudan, cello
Victor Babin, piano

Pressing: US, Indianapolis, shaded dog

Condition: VG++

Date first published: 1964

Stampers: 2S/1S


Performance: 10/10

Sound: 8/10

Price range: $29-155 (mean $56) on popsike.com

Comments: If you are searching for a recording of Brahms' third Piano Quartet that essentially puts you at home in your listening room with the ensemble before you, look no further.  I've not always found the chamber recordings made for RCA to be particularly extraordinary from the sonic standpoint, but this one is worth mentioning.  The Festival Quartet made a handful of recordings for RCA, including all three Brahms' Piano Quartets (reviews of the other two LSC-2473, LSC-2517 upcoming), the Faure Piano Quartet (LSC-2735, late RCA but not Dynagroove), and the Schubert Trout Quintet (LSC-2147, one of the rarest RCAs).  There is also a compilation album with the Beethoven and Schumann Piano Quartets as well (LSC-6068).  Without restating what I've quoted from Valin's book below, I will say that the performance is top notch and the sound, while not the finest chamber recording I've heard on vinyl, very nicely reproduces the artists' musical interplay.  Instrumental separation is distinct, yielding clear, well-imaged strings across the soundstage and the piano slightly in the rear, all well-balanced.  The acoustic is a little on the drier side, which makes it sound more like the artists are in your room rather than in a performance hall -- more intimate.

Other of my favorite performances of this work include those of Rubinstein and the Guarneri Quartet (RCA) and the Beaux Arts Trio with Walter Trampler on viola (Philips).

Here's what Valin has to say about this in the RCA Bible:

"Brahms was in extremis when he began work on this most passionate of his quartets, hopelessly in love with Clara Schumann, the wife of Robert Schumann, Brahms' great friend and champion.  Although he rewrote most of the piece twelve years later, under different and less extreme circumstances, he left the Andante - his declaration of love for Clara - untouched, and it remains, in spite of the torment expressed elsewhere in this great work, profoundly touching.  Sonically this is very near to the best, which is to say, most realistic, sounding chamber recording RCA made.  Phenomenal inner detail on strings, superb balance and lifelike presence on all instruments (the piano is wonderfully well integrated into the grouping).  Plus the ensemble here, and this is true of all the Festival Quartet recordings, is simply terrific.  One of the great RCA's."  Rating: Excellent.



RCA Living Stereo LSC-2097: Rare and Respectable Brahms from Munch and the BSO


RCA Living Stereo LSC-2097

Brahms: Symphony No. 1

Charles Munch, conductor
Boston Symphony Orchestra

Pressing: US, Indianapolis, shaded dog

Condition: VG+

Date first published: 1959

Stampers: 1S/1S

Performance: 9/10

Sound: 8/10

Price range: $14-124 (mean $66) on popsike.com

Comments: I was a bit surprised at how good this relatively early Living Stereo release sounded.  Although Munch is not usually the first name people think of when they list their favorite Brahms symphony recordings, that should not discount the value of this performance.  After giving this album a serious listen, I have to say that it's now one of the greats in my book, both musically and sonically.  It's got a very respectable dynamic range.  Like many original Living Stereo classical releases, it may be just a little bass-shy (see differing opinion below), but that's forgivable in the grand scheme of things. The clarity of orchestral textures is definitely laudable, as is the wide and expansive soundstage.  I particularly liked the rich sound of the strings.

According to Jonathan Valin in the RCA Bible:

"Wonderful string tone & texture, powerful deep bass, and surprisingly good orchestral staging for such an early three-track. Good performance too. Munch has a way with Brahms; and I am not alone in thinking that, along with the Walter/Columbia, Karajan/DG & Klemperer/EMI, this is one of the better Firsts in stereo and certainly the best-sounding of the lot. Highly recommended. (ML notes, amusingly, that Munch is spelled "Munich" on the spine of the jacket!)."  Rated 10/NR/Excellent.




Mercury SR 90211: Vive la March!

Mercury Living Presence SR 90211

Vive la Marche!

Paul Paray, conductor
Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Pressing: US, colorback, dark maroon label


Condition: NM-

Date first published:

Stampers: FR1/FR1

Performance: 10/10

Sound: 9/10

Price range: $25-126 (mean $46) on popsike.com


Comments: An album full of marches might not be your daily cup of tea, but this one will give your hi-fi system a workout.  Another glorious recording from Paul Paray, the Detroit Symphony, and the team of Wilma Cozart, Harold Lawrence, and C.R. Fine at Mercury.  I've said it before: I'm a big fan of Paray's interpretations of French orchestral music.  On this album, he takes relatively brisk tempos that give these marches plenty of momentum and excitement.  Much like the previously discussed SR 90279, this recording can be praised for its powerful dynamics coupled with a natural orchestral balance.  In contrast to the dry string sound (violins in particular) of some of the more mediocre Mercury releases, strings here sound richer and more resonant.  Woodwinds and brass and clear and well imaged, and percussion can really slam.  Soundstage width and depth are both excellent here.  Highly recommended.

Mercury SR 90279: Dorati and the LSO rock the Tchaikovsky 4th

Mercury Living Presence SR 90279

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4

Antal Dorati, conductor
London Symphony Orchestra

Pressing: US, colorback, dark maroon label

Condition: NM-

Date first published: 

Stampers: RFR-1/RFR-1

Performance: 10/10

Sound: 9/10

Price range: $25-172 (mean $54) on popsike.com

Comments: This highly enjoyable record has all the elements that make for a great sounding Mercury recording. First, the performance is about as dramatic and fiery as it gets without the conductor and orchestra losing their control.  I have always liked Dorati's Tchaikovsky cycle, but this is the first time I have heard his 4th on vinyl.  Secondly, this album is dynamic as all get out and the orchestra really packs a punch, especially in the first and fourth movements, without much of a trace of any distortion.  Thirdly, soundstaging is excellent.  This is not one of those -- as I call it -- "up close and personal" Mercury recordings in which you feel like you are sitting on the conductor's shoulders.  You can really hear and appreciate the acoustics of the hall here, which happens to be Wembley Town Hall on the outskirts of London.  Fourthly, treble and bass extension on this recording are exemplary of Mercury's best, while overall orchestral balance is very well preserved.  I have not gotten my hands on a red stereo tulips label German first pressing of the Mravinsky performance with the Leningrad Philharmonic, but until then, this one has got to be one of my vinyl references for this symphony.  Okay, yes, there is that typical low-level Mercury tape hiss (which is why I gave this a 9 and not a 10), but I really only noticed it when listening through closed-back headphones.  In spite of the hiss, you can still hear a great amount of detail, which also makes this a fantastic Mercury.  Just listen to the third movement with the clear, crisp, and resonant string pizzicato and you'll understand.

One question that I would really like to answer objectively is if there is any sonic difference between the US pressed Mercuries and their UK counterparts.  I believe that EMI pressed those overseas, but could that possibly translate into quieter surfaces and an improved sound floor?  I have not seen a discussion online that answers this question.  Folks, it's time for a new experiment and exploration ...




Thursday, July 30, 2015

Decca or London: Puccini's La Boheme

Decca SXL 2170/1 (Nov59)

London OSA 1208 (Jan60)

Puccini: La Boheme

Orchestra Di Santa Cecilia, Serafin


Tebaldi, Bergonzi, Corena, Bastianini


Date first published: 1959


Performance: 10/10


Sound: 9+/10


Popsike: Decca SXL $25-193 (mean $63) 

London OSA too low to show


Before we explore matrices and sound, let’s just get it out there that this is a great Boheme. Most point to Beecham with the RCA Victor Orchestra, while some prefer the later Decca with Pavarotti/Freni. This recording critically might not be in the running, but some serious critics consider this the best (Christopher Fifield) and it is extremely well liked with its all Italian cast. In the Golden Age stereo arena I suspect it betters the RCA with Anna Moffo (sonically too) and the 1963 SAN Angel (EMI) with Mirella Freni. My LSC with Moffo is a third pressing and just is not competitive in any manner, though I’d gladly snag a Shaded Dog pressing. I am not extremely familiar with early pressing SAN sound, but what I have makes me financially skeptical.


Sonically, audiofiles love to hear and talk about players breathing and pages of notes ruffling in the background of their recordings because it really lets them know how well their system is conveying space, depth, etc. Well look no further than opera audiofools where you get something like a surround sound movie track with performers  stepping across the stage (some singing), bells ringing, swords clinging, etc.

The very strong sonic picture exemplifies early Decca tube sound at its near best. Spatial cues are delivered wonderfully with a real sense of Blueback magic in fine high frequencies and textures. Voices are extremely well done without some of the normal Decca shrillness and forwardness in the vocals (though to be fair Tebaldi had the power of two Sopranos.)


(For your matrix primer try Decca Blue Bloods and Matrix Reloaded)
Cat# Title Side 1 Side 2 Side 3 Side 4
SXL2170-1 Puccini 4D-1-ET-U 1D-2&1-ET-A 1D-1-ET-K 2E-2&1-ET-UI
OSA1208 La Boheme 4D-14&1-BC 1D-2&1-ET-H 2M-2&1-ET-U 2E-2&1-ET-BK

Decca label nearly identical, except of course it says Decca!
And so which is better the Decca or the London. Well on side 1 it’s the Decca by a bit, but detail is not outstanding. Looking at the stamper numbers above for sides 2, 3, and 4 this U (2nd) stamper is a little too good to be true and was likely reused for this LP run (which turns out not to be a bad choice; read on.) On sides 2, 3, and 4 the London squashes the Decca like a grape. The treble extension and detail are lessened on the Decca (an 8 for sonics). This is even quite apparent listening to the brief sword fight 1/3rd through side 3 where the Decca was remastered by a different engineer (1D) and is very good, but does not have the spaciousness of the earlier mastering.  So, lo and behold, the London has the better mother and stamper numbers in this contest and wins easily.

Columbia SAX 2401: Arrau's Chopin Sonata No. 3

Columbia SAX 2401

Chopin: Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Fantaisie in F Minor

Claudio Arrau, piano

Pressing: UK, ED1, blue/silver

Condition: EX

Date first published: 1961

Stampers:
YAX 681-5
YAX 682-6

Performance: 7/10

Sound: 6/10

Price range: $31-187 (mean $81) on popsike.com

Comments: This SAX shows up relatively rarely on the auction market (six auctions last year and only one so far this year), though it's not exactly what I would call one of the more sought after titles in the catalog. Arrau is not my go-to guy for Chopin, and from what I have read, people either love or hate his Chopin.  The sound of the piano leans towards the warmer side and can sound occasionally a bit dark and murky.  Combined with a distant presentation, the recording almost sounds as if it were mono.  No sonic distortion on this copy.







Columbia SAX 2506: Szell conducts Schumann, Part 3

Columbia SAX 2506

Schumann: "Rhenish" Symphony, Manfred Overture

George Szell, conductor
The Cleveland Orchestra

Pressing: UK, ED1, blue/silver


Condition: NM

Date first published: 1959

Stampers:
YAX 954-1

YAX 955-2

Performance: 10/10

Sound: 7/10


Price range: $54-431 (mean $151) on popsike.com

Comments: The UK issue of US Epic BC 1130 with the added Manfred Overture, which was originally paired with the first symphony on Epic BC 1039.  The YAX matrix numbers would suggest that EMI remastered these recordings, which theoretically could have translated into an improvement in sound, though I suspect that the tapes they had to work with may not have been the best.  The SAX boasts a higher quality of vinyl and quieter surfaces.  Aside from this, I couldn't detect any major sonic differences between the two (though one could argue that the sound floor was improved on the SAX ... my ears couldn't make out a difference).  The performance is a solid one (in my humble opinion, Szell's Schumann cycle is one of the best).  It's just too bad that Szell couldn't have originally recorded this or any of his other recordings for EMI or Decca, who probably could've produced a better sounding record in the end.  Get this one if you absolutely have to have the SAX.  I opted to keep the Epic, which was a bargain.    


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SAX 2397: Klemperer conducts Schubert's "Great" Symphony


Columbia SAX 2397

Schubert: Symphony in C Major "The Great"

Otto Klemperer, conductor
Philharmonia Orchestra


Pressing: UK, ED1, blue/silver

Condition: EX

Date first published: 1961

Stampers:
YAX 691-3
YAX 692-6

Performance: 9/10

Sound: 7/10


Price range: $29-211 (mean $86) on popsike.com

Comments:  Another great recording of the Schubert "Great" C Major Symphony.  Klemperer and the Philharmonia give a majestic performance. The sound on this album is warm and tubey with good dynamic range, better clarity, and relatively less distortion than many of the Columbia SAX albums recently reviewed on this blog.  There is occasionally a certain brightness, particularly with the brass, that can sound a little harsh at times.  As far as overall combination of performance and sound quality is concerned, I may still side with Istvan Kertesz and the VPO on Decca/London, but this one is definitely worth checking out.  Semi-circle and magic notes pressings are available, though I'm unable to comment on their sound quality.

SAX 2587: Klemperer's Mozart Overtures

Columbia SAX 2587
Mozart Overtures

Otto Klemperer, conductor
Philharmonia Orchestra

Pressing: semi-circle (1st, with factory sticker)

Condition: NM
 
Stampers:
YAX 1222-36
YAX 1223-36
 
Date first published: 1965

Performance: 9/10

Sound: 8/10

Price Range: $30-49 on popsike


Comments:  It's hard to find a solid analog recording devoted to Mozart overtures.  Colin Davis had an EMI green/gold release (CSD 1406) that pops up every once in a while on Ebay, but I haven't had the chance to hear it.  Szell threw in overtures with his symphony recordings.  This might be the only analog era recording of only Mozart overtures that I own.  It's a really nice recording with clear, undistorted sound and a decent range of dynamics (it's Mozart, not Stravinsky).  I have always admired Klemperer's way with maintaining clarity of wind textures without sacrificing overall orchestral balance, and these performances are no exception.  Tempos may not be the fastest you've heard but they are still fleet and convincing, and the New Philharmonia delivers.  Not an expensive recording to find, but one to relish.

This program was reissued in EMI's Klemperer conducts Mozart boxed set.  The sound on that is also quite fine (I think Meles would prefer it), with very quiet surfaces and perhaps a "cleaner" sound.

EMI HMV ASD 461: Another Kempe Brahms rarity

EMI HMV ASD 461

Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor

Rudolf Kempe, conductor
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Pressing: UK, ED1, white/gold


Condition: NM

Date first published: 1962

Stampers: 
2YEA 543-5
2YEA 544-2

Performance: 8/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $45-426 (mean $227) on popsike.com

Comments: Another Kempe Brahms rarity.  This one might be my favorite, mainly because this is my favorite of the four symphonies.  Very decent tube sound on this recording.  While there is nothing spectacular to recall with either interpretation or sound quality (I think I'd still go with Klemperer or Szell on Columbia SAX), it is still an enjoyable listen, and there were no obvious defects to my pressing that I can report.  Presentation somewhat distant, giving more of a middle-of-the-hall seating.  I know there is a World Record Club reissue out there.  Anybody heard that and can comment?

World Record Club
ST932

Stampers: 
2YEA 543-5 (2-A)
2YEA 544-2 (1-A)

Performance: 10/10

Sound: 9/10

Here we have the World Record Club (WRC) reissue with the same matrix/stampers. Ralph J. Steinberg on Amazon in a review titled an Unsung Giant, states "Rudolf Kempe was, in my opinion, the greatest conductor of German music in the years following the death of Furtwangler. Although more reserved in his music making, he also shared with Furtwangler a tempo fluidity that never impaired the structure of the work at hand, on the contrary, it emphasized it." Amazon Hall of Fame Reviewer Michael Brad Richman states the CD was "captured in brilliant golden-age stereo sound. ....(and) illustrates Kempe as a top-tier Brahmsian." I've never taken to the Brahms 4 until this LP. This and Kempe's Brahms 1 are not to be missed. I just love this World Record Club LP and its got the same cover!( WRC update by Meles)

EMI HMV ASD 260: Sargent's Sibelius Symphony #1

EMI HMV ASD 260

Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor

Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor
BBC Symphony Orchestra

Pressing: UK, ED1, white/gold

Condition: EX

Date first published: 1958

Stampers:
2YEA 73-6
2YEA 74-3

Performance: 7/10

Sound: 5/10

Price range: $25-153 (mean $52) on popsike.com

Comments: Hard to know if it's because of a stamper issue or what, but I was not a fan of this pressing.  The sound was pretty horrid overall, with plenty of distortion throughout much of the recording.  String tone was rather harsh and grainy.  I'd be interested to know if anyone else's experience has been similar.  I am pretty sure this was released as a semi-circle label pressing as well, and it would be interesting to compare.  Sadly, another ASD, with seemingly good potential, to pass on.


EMI HMV ASD 617: Kubelik's Disappointing Mozart Symphonies

EMI HMV ASD 617

Mozart: Symphony No. 35 in D, K. 385 "Haffner", Symphony No. 41 in C, K. 551 "Jupiter"

Rafael Kubelik, conductor
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Pressing: UK, ED1, semi-circle 1st

Condition: NM

Date first published: 1965

Stampers:
2YVH 25-7
2YVH 26-5


Performance: 6/10

Sound: 6/10

Price range: $61-214 (mean $123) on popsike.com

Comments: I hate to break it to you, but this is a rare record and it's a sonic disappointment.  Being a huge fan of Mozart symphonies and Kubelik, I had a lot of hopes for this album.  The sound is nothing to write home about.  Overall, there is an unnatural brightness and murkiness to the sound, not to mention that the acoustic is unflatteringly dry. I found the performances to be rather uninspired and would much rather rely on Szell, Bohm, or Klemperer to give these symphonies (or any of Mozart's symphonies for that matter) their due.  I bought this record to audition it, almost certain that I would keep it, and sold it within a month.  Unless you're a Kubelik EMI completist, pass this one by.  Life's too short to waste on lifeless Mozart.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Bargain Bin: A Chopin Recital by Benno Moiseiwitsch

Regal SREG 1084

A Chopin Recital

Benno Moiseiwitsch, piano

Pressing: UK

Condition: NM-

Date first published: 1959

Stampers: 2YEA 270-6, 2YEA 271-9G

Performance: 9/10

Sound: 8/10

Purchase price: $7

Comments: I was fortunate to stumble upon this record while browsing the racks at Orpheus Performing Arts in Boston.  You just don't see many of these Regal releases in the U.S., and after all of Meles' talk about Regals, it wasn't a hard decision to pick this up for the very reasonable price of $7.  It's a lovely album of Chopin piano works performed by the Ukrainian-born British pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963).  The program consists of two Ballades (No. 3 and No. 4), two Scherzos (No. 2 and No. 4), two Nocturnes (No. 12 and No. 18), and the Fantaisie-Impromptu.  Although I generally go for Rubinstein, Argerich, Horowitz, Cziffra, or Francois when it comes to analog Chopin, this album is something of a hidden gem.  Moiseiwitsch plays both brilliantly and lyrically with a relaxed confidence.  Some very minor surface hiss aside, the piano is recorded in warm and full-bodied sound, and the acoustic is ever so slightly on the drier side.  This is an intimate recital.  Turn up the volume and it feels a little like Moiseiwitsch is right there in the living room with you.  



Monday, July 27, 2015

Matrix Reloaded

I'd asked our favorite commenter Tin Ear to send over some matrix info on Decca opera boxes a few months ago to compare with the Londons. In the meantime I also acquired six ED1 Decca SXL opera boxes to add to the load. I'd been ruing the task of responding to this until an epiphany hit me in the last few days, what better way to settle this dispute then with Opera boxes! Here, we have usually three LPs instead of 1 all put out of the factory at the same time. That is a lot of data points for a single recording and no guarantees that all six sides will be top notch vinyl. So I got home late last night, and in less than two hours got all the raw data (including Tin Ear's) into a spreadsheet for easy review.

In the quest to settle the debate of Decca SXL versus London Blueback, we've endeavored to explain Matrix numbers before; LP Week with AQL, Special Report: Decca versus London Part 1  So if Decca Matrixes are Greek to you check it out with the pictures. We are due for a part 2 in which more of the Golden Age early stereo Decca and Londons would be compared. Vinyl1 on Audiokarma has a nice RCA thread where I dragged him into the mud on this; I am going to play all my RCA Living Stereo LPs... He states:
"This is an interesting topic.

Most of the people who say there is a big difference are experienced collectors who have held in their hands, bought, sold, played, and listened carefully to hundreds of copies of early Deccas and Londons. They will say there is a different look, a different feel, and a different sound.

I took out an played the Krips Tchaikosky 5th, Decca SLX 2109, London CS 6095. Both are the 2D/2E lacquer, so they are identical masterings, with side 1 cut by Jack Law and side 2 cut by Stan Goodall. What I hear is deeper bass and better dynamics on the Decca copy, particularly in the horns and percussion, along with greater transparency. Both records are in excellent condition, and play without any surface noise.

Why? Who knows? But Ted Lewis was notorious for his passion for cutting costs, and viewed the American market as unsophisticated and willing to pay a premium for anything marked 'Made in England'."
(By the way, I think one example of this cost cutting was to only have the US covers made in America, so luckily the London vinyl was made in England at the same factory as Decca and shipped over in similar liners.)

I can say that the "different look, a different feel" statement above is nonsense. With the opera boxes, both Decca SXL and London OSA have black labels with the FFSS logo. They are extemely similar. I expect collectors claiming this are responding to the color of the regular label on London (red) vs Decca (black). This does surely create a different look and then the feel comes in.

Update 7/28/15: Just added Nutcracker Suite to table.

I am making no listening notes on these awesome LPs as yet and just want to get this data on the site for perusal. Key at bottom of table:


Cat# Title Side 1 Side 2 Side 3 Side 4 Side 5 Side 6
SET201-3 Strauss 4E 2E 2E 1E 1E 2E
OSA1319 Fledermaus 4E-1-ET-H 2E-1-ET-M 2E-2&1-ET-M 2E-1-ET-U 1E-1-ET-C 2E-2&B-ET-I
SXL2170-1 Puccini 4D 1D 2M 2E
SXL2170-1 La Boheme 4D-1-ET-U 1D-2&1-ET-A 1D-1-ET-K 2E-2&1-ET-UI
OSA1208 4D-14&1-BC 1D-2&1-ET-H 2M-2&1-ET-U 2E-2&1-ET-BK
SXL2167-9 Verdi 4E 2E 3E 3E 2E 3E
OSA1313 Aida 4E-8&1-ET-BH 2E-2&B-ET-BM 2E-1-ET-G 3E-1-ET-N 3E-2B-ET-H 3E-1-ET-G
SXL2150-2 Britten 6E 6E 6E 9E 5E 5E
OSA1305 Peter Grimes 1E-2&1-ET-BU 2E-2&1-ET-I 3D-3&2&B-ET-M 2E-2&B-ET-I 2E-1-ET-K 2E-1-ET-I
SXL2101-3 Wagner 3E 2E 3E 3E 3E 2E
OSA1309 Rheingold 1E-1-RT-BG 1E-9&2&B-ET-CA 1E-2&B-RT-I 1E-1-RT-BC 1E-1-ET-UM 1E-2&B-RT-BU
OSA1309 1E-4&1-ET-UA 1E-C&2&B-ET-KB 1E-2B-ET-BN 1E-1-ET-UU 1E-1-ET-CB 1E-1-ET-M
SXL2031-2 Wagner 1E 3K 1E 1E
OSA1203 Walkure3&2 1E-3&1-ET-UN 3K-1-RT-C 1E-3&1-RT-UG 1E-2&G-ET-UH
SXL2129-1 Verdi 3E 1E 1E 1K 1K 1E
SXL2129-1 Trovatore 3E-8&1-ET-A 1E-2&1-RT-BG 1E-1&4-ET-UG 1K-4&1-RT-UG 1K-1&3-ET/RT-UU 1E-8&C-ET-CC
OSA1304 3E-8&1-ET-BK 1E-2&1-ET-UA 1E-G&1-ET-UH 1K-4&1-RT-UG 2E-1-ET-BB 1E-8&C-ET-CK
SXL2253-5 Mascagni 2E-2&1-ET-C 2E-3&B-ET-K 1E-2&1-ET-I
OSA1213 Cav Rusticana 2E-1-ET-U 2E-3&B-ET-U 1E-1-ET-C
SWL8010 Tchaikovsky
CS6097BB Nutcracker 1E-1-ET-BG 1E-1-ET/JT-G
GrooveWB Suites 1E-4&1-JT-CI 1E-2&1-KT-UM














(For the above Mascagni, the later Decca pressings has six sides with three being for Pagliacci. The OSA is just two LPs, with the fourth side being artist highlights.)

KEY:
ex. 2E-2&1-ET-C
Here 2E is the Zal matrix number that is typically mentioned by dealers (atypical for UK dealers)
2&1 is the number of the metal mother which no one really understands
ET is the tax code which may tell the year an LP was made or recorded
C is the stamper number as in BUCKINGHAM, so the third stamper from the mother

The Zal matrix is very telling as to the sound of an LP. This corresponds to the one metal master made from a lacquer cutting. All issues with the same matrix number will sound very similar as the only possible differences are physical differences in the LP records due to the rest of the process (and playback,etc. for used/older LPs).

Sometimes up to a handful of metal mothers might be made from the metal master (Zal matrix), I'd assume 2&1 is the second one made and it easily could have been the only one used if the first was defective. The metal mothers looks like the lacquer which looks like the LP except much softer.

From these metal mothers, dozens of stampers can be made as designated with the BUCKINGHAM codes (ex. UU would be the 22, so really B is digit 1, U is 2, etc. with M being 0 or 10.)

Of course from a given stamper 1000 records might have been made and unless you have some kind of audiophile jacket with a record/serial number you don't know if you've got the first or thousandth LP made off of a stamper. One would presume some deteriation with later stampers and metal mothers. Decca was a very high quality operation so the presumption is that they knew how to get the most out of this process for their customers.

Now to really get down in the weeds. Take a look at the Trovatore and note that is has several different tax codes on the various sides. On the side with the '/' it has and ET with an R to the front of the E and another T after the ET. The earlier tax codes does seem to correspond with earlier stamper numbers. Overall the numbers are very close except for side 5 where we have different mastering engineers at the helm. Philips Stuart's excellent Decca Classical PDF on Charm shows the London came out earlier in Nov58 vs. Jun59 for the SXL. I'd assume that both of my records are not the earliest stampers (perhaps Tin Ear will let us know if his stampers are much better.)

For the Mascagni its no surprise the London has the earlier stampers since it came out in Nov60 vs Feb61 for the SXL. For La Boheme the tables are turned with the SXL out in Nov59 vs. Jan60 for the Blueback. Most of the other LPs where we don't have all the data from Tin Ear have almost identical matrix numbers and should sound close to each other.

With Peter Grimes SXL, despite coming out two months earlier in Oct59, has much later matrix numbers which will definitely sound different since they are from a different metal master. I expect with Britten being a British composer, that this is one of many LP sets made for the UK market. I had the pleasure of seeing this live last summer in Chautauqua, New York.

Update 7/28/2015:
I actually listened to the Nutcracker Suite that was added last night. My grooved white back copy (WB) on side 1 is really "faded" and while one unfamiliar with a better pressing might think it ok, it really loses it in the upper frequencies. Wiki states some of Nutcracker instrumention is the following:
Percussion:
....triangle, tambourine, castanets, tam-tam, glockenspiel, and "toy instruments" (rattle, trumpet, drum, cuckoo, quail, cymbals, and rifle)
Keyboard
celesta

All this is quite wonderous sounding on the Blueback, but really gone on the WB. By the codes on side 1 the difference is 17th stamper off first metal mother vs the WB with 35th stamper off the fourth metal mother(?)!! I wonder if we stamper numbering quite this high on true Deccas? Side 2 of my BB is not nearly as impressive as side 1 and so the WB is competitive with the 19th stamper of the 2nd mother. If I heard this kind of difference between all Decca vs London, then 10 times the prices sounds about right. The JT and KT tax codes date these to production in 1967-1972. I am surprised to see the JT at all since this is 1969-72 and grooved London/Decca should not exist, let alone bluebacks(?????). On the Blueback the JT next to the KT is really faded, so could be OT or even MT which would make more sense putting that into the 1963 or 1965. Sounds like I could find a better Blueback or even the Decca.

In conclusion, I've not sonically done any comparisons, but I will say the quite a few of these are excellent sounding, at least a 9 out of 10 or more.