Saturday, December 17, 2016

Living Stereo: The Remastered Collector's Edition ... finally, the rarities released!

Now here is a boxed set that I have been anticipating for a while!  I realize that we focus most of our posts on vinyl recordings, but from time to time, I like to cover some CD releases, particularly those of analog recordings that have never before been issued in digital format.

Many of the heavy hitter recordings in the RCA Living Stereo catalog have been remastered and reissued in digital format (CD, XRCD, SACD) over the years.  Two Living Stereo box sets (each with 60 CDs) have been previously released.  Most of these albums have been the "sonic highlights" of the RCA catalog, the titles that generally appeal to most classical audiophiles.  However, for the longest time, some of the rarer titles in the Living Stereo series went neglected.  Well, at last, someone has decided to give justice to these precious recordings.

At the end of October of this year, Sony Classical released a third boxed set:  Living Stereo: The Remastered Collector's Edition. This is another set of 60 CDs, remastered in 24-bit/192 kHz, each one a mini-replica of the original LP (with no additional tracks).  Supposedly, 48 of these 60 have never been previously issued in digital format.  Now I read a complaint or two on the Amazon website about how the recordings in this boxed set were the "scraps" of the RCA catalog.  I could hardly disagree more.  Just because we don't have Heifetz, Rubinstein, Reiner, Munch, and Monteux does not mean that these recordings are of any less caliber.  What really drew my eyes to this set were the rare chamber music and solo instrumental recordings of the RCA Living Stereo catalog that have been very hard to find on vinyl.  While I won't be able to discuss my thoughts on every CD in this set, I thought I might share with you some of the highlights.  As examples (in no particular order):

  • The recordings of the Festival Quartet, which consisted of violinist Szymon Goldberg, violist William Primrose, cellist Nikolai Graundan, and pianist Victor Babin.  I reviewed one of the original LPs (LSC-2330) back in July 2015.  In my humble opinion, these are rare gems in the RCA catalog and beautiful chamber performances.  I still own the three Brahms Piano Quartet albums (LSC-2330, LSC-2473, LSC-2517) and have previously owned the Faure Piano Quartet album (LSC-2735), but the one that has eluded me has been the Schubert Trout Quintet recording (LSC-2147).  That one is extremely hard to find and almost always fetches a high price on the auction market.  Well, those of us who are interested can finally listen to most of these on CD!  This boxed set gives us LSC-2147, LSC-2330, LSC-2473, LSC-2517, and LSC-6068; LSC-2735 is sadly not included. Listening to the Schubert Trout Quintet, I noticed some light analog hiss, but the performance was wonderful, and the sound was intimate and well-balanced.  I wish I could provide you with a comparison with the original vinyl, but maybe someday I will, if I ever land a copy of the LP.  LSC-2330 on CD sounded remarkably close to the original LP; the latter had perhaps just the slightest touch of extra warmth, but otherwise I found it difficult to find noticeable differences between the two.  My reactions were relatively similar for LSC-2473 and LSC-2517, and in the case of LSC-2517, I actually found myself enjoying the sound of the CD more than the original LP.  
  • LSC-2456: Lalo: Symphonie Espagnole (Szeryng/Hendl/CSO).  Whoever called this recording one of the "scraps" of the RCA catalog needs to have his or her head examined.  This has long been considered an audiophile favorite and has been reissued on vinyl by Classic Records; it will also be reissued by Analogue Productions (hopefully in 2017) as part of its RCA/Decca series.  In comparison with the original Shaded Dog, the CD fares decently and captures the essence of the performance, but there is more fullness and body to the tone of Szeryng's violin on the LP.  Szeryng is also given a more forward presentation on the LP.  Nevertheless, this is a certainly a welcome digital reissue.
  • LSC-2421: Henryk Szeryng in Recital (Szeryng/Reiner).  Definitely one of the main reasons I wanted this set.  The Shaded Dog sells for a mean of $234 (highest price $1115!) and is super hard to acquire.  Since I will probably never own a copy, I am more than happy to be able to listen to this recording on CD.  Yes, there is some slight analog tape hiss, but it does not detract from the power and beauty of Szeryng's performance.  It's a virtuosic program:  tracks include Vitali's Chaconne in G minor, Tartini's The Devil's Trill (transcribed by Kreisler) and Variations on a Theme by Corelli (transcribed by Francescatti), Gluck's Melodie (transcribed by Kreisler), Kreisler's Allegretto in the style of Boccherini, Schumann's Prophetic Bird (transcribed by Heifetz), Halftter-Heifetz's Danza de la Gitana, and Wienawski's Scherzo-Tarantelle.
  • LSC-2646: Liliane Garnier Recital (Garnier/Globenski). Ahh, another rare gem!  I believe this was released in Canada, which may be why we don't see it surface often.  Ebay prices have been around $175 for the Shaded Dog.  Liliane Garnier, a French-born violinist who moved to Canada, gives a commanding performance of works such as Wienawski's Polonaise Brilliante, Beethoven's Romance in F major, Paganini's Caprice No. 20, and Ravel's Tzigane, among others.  Garnier's violin is beautifully captured on this recording.  I wonder how the Shaded Dog sounds! 
  • LSC-2250: Encores by Kogan (Kogan/Mitnik). Here's a Shaded Dog that never saw the light of day.  I'm not sure what the story is behind this, but this was apparently issued on vinyl only in mono (LM-2250), and the mono sells for upwards of $50 on Ebay.  Of course, it seems that any Leonid Kogan recording sells for nothing short of a small fortune.  I don't believe that this recording is new to CD.  It's a charming album that mixes some oft-played (Debussy's Clair de Lune, Kreisler's Caprice Viennois) with some less commonly performed (Shostakovich's Four Preludes, Prokofieff's Masques [from "Romeo and Juliet"], Glazunoff's Entr'acte [from "Raymonda"]) works. 
  • LSC-2553: Shostakovich: Cello Sonata; Schubert: "Arpeggione" Sonata (Shafran/Pecherskaya).  This Daniel Shafran recording is another RCA rarity.  The Shaded Dog has a mean auction price of just about $300.  I sold my copy a few years ago and am very pleased to now have it on CD.  It sounds like an intimate recital in your living room, with Shafran on the right and Pecherskaya at the piano on the left.  Both the Shostakovich and Schubert works are given lovely performances
  • LSC-2373: Presenting Jaime Laredo (Laredo/Sokoloff). This is violinst Jaime Laredo's debut RCA recording after having won First Prize at the 1959 Queen Elizabeth of Belgium International Music Competition.  I've never owned this in stereo on vinyl, so I was very interested in hearing the CD.  The sound is clear and immediate, the performance highly enjoyable.  I especially liked the Berceuse and Jota from Falla's Suite Populaire Espagnole, Wienawski's Scherzo-Tarantelle, and Bach's Air on a G String.

Okay, those are just a handful of some of the highlights in this set.  I haven't even begun to mention the Juilliard String Quartet recordings of Debussy and Ravel (LSC-2413), Schubert (LSC-2378), and Beethoven (LSC-2626, LSC-2632), or Piatigorsky's cello recital (LSC-2293), or the piano duo albums of Vronsky and Babin (LSC-2417, LSC-2648), or the solo piano albums of Andre Tschaikowsky (LSC-2354, LSC-2360), or Howard Mitchell's recording of the Shostakovich 5th Symphony with the National Symphony Orchestra (LSC-2261).  My bottom line:  this boxed set was worth the purchase for me, and I look forward to discovering the other albums within. 

Here's another plus:  in contrast with the CD sleeves in the prior two RCA Living Stereo boxed sets, the ones with this third set are made from higher quality, thicker cardboard and are near exact replicas of the LP covers (including the back covers).  You might need a magnifying glass to read some of the liner notes, but they are there in entirety.  Even the CDs appear as facsimiles of the LP labels (although the dog is not shaded).  Nicely done!

Analogue Productions RCA/Decca Reissues ... Revisited

Greetings to all of you from snowy Boston!  It has been six months since our last post on this blog, and we apologize for the inactivity.  It has been a busy time for both of us, but we are hoping to gradually roll out some posts over the coming weeks.

Those of you who have been following us for some time may remember that 10 months ago, I posted my original review of the first two of Analogue Productions' reissues of some of the most sought after RCA/Decca Living Stereo recordings (LSC-2225 and LSC-2449).  While I was initially very pleased with how the records appeared out of the box, I discovered a couple of issues with the records that I expressed in my post.  First, while these LPs were marketed as being 200 gram vinyl, both of them weighed in at 180 grams.  Secondly, with the reissue of LSC-2449, the vinyl had some defect that caused a "wobble" in the sound.  Incidentally, AP subsequently recalled both of those reissues, stating that they were not of the quality that Chad Kassem had intended.  As subscribers to the series, we were told that we would be issued replacement records.  And so, we patiently waited.

Nine months later, they finally arrived.  Acoustic Sounds must've assumed that we held on to the original outer jackets, because both records arrived in QRP inner sleeves with no outer jacket.  Small matter, I suppose, though it was fortunate that both records arrived well insulated and unscathed from shipment.

First things first.  I weighed both LPs.  The reissue of LSC-2449 weighed in at exactly 200 grams, while the reissue of LSC-2225 weighed in at 215 grams.  Okay, a good start.

Next, I decided to play LSC-2449 first, since this was the one that had issues with "wobble".  I am pleased to report that the problem has been rectified.  The record plays very cleanly (a few occasional very soft pops excepted) and delivers at least the same dynamics, clarity, imaging, and soundstaging as my "defective" copy, but unhampered by any significant audible defects.  I think I still marginally prefer my Classic Records reissue of this album, which is a tad bit brighter sounding and packs a little more punch, but I am upgrading my original sound rating from 8+ to 9/10.

I was already very pleased with the sound of the first AP reissue of LSC-2225, but I figured I would see if this 200 gram copy sounded any different than the previous 180 gram copy.  I decided to do an A/B comparison using the Saint-Saens' Dance Macabre, the first track on side 2, as the reference work.  Honestly, I couldn't readily discern any sonic differences between the two.  I'll stand by my original sound rating of 10/10. 

So many thanks to AP for taking the time to repress these records and providing replacements free of charge to us subscribers.  I don't know what the release schedule will be for the remaining reissues in this series, but I am definitely looking forward to (hopefully) receiving them in 2017. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Weekend Roundup for June 4-5th, 2016

Well, it's been busy these past several weeks, and this was the first weekend in a while that I was able to take the lid off my turntable and enjoy some vinyl.  Here are a few of my thoughts on some of the listening highlights:

Columbia SAX 2526
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor
Leon Fleisher, piano
George Szell, conductor
Cleveland Orchestra
(BC 1003 A-1E/B-1E)
Performance: 10/10
Sound: 7.5/10

I picked up this semi-circle label first pressing from Spiral Classics a few years ago. This recording may not have demonstration quality sound, but  the sonics are still very good and capture the spirit of the performance, which is outstanding. Fleisher's recordings with Szell and the CO of the Brahms (and Beethoven) piano concertos have long been praised and considered by many to be some of the finest performances of these works. On this LP, the piano is clearly and warmly presented and slightly more forward relative to the orchestra, which otherwise provides a well-balanced and fitting accompaniment. One small reservation I have is the drier-sounding orchestral string tone that is often the case on CBS recordings of the era. I have not heard the original US Epic release of this title (which should be acquirable at a fraction of the cost of the SAX), but I would wager that this UK pressing boasts slightly quieter vinyl surfaces and may be the better sounding pressing overall. I'm not entirely sure what additional remastering work if any was done by EMI for this UK release, but there are two matrix numbers on each side. For instance, side A has BC 1003 A-1E as well as XXSB-43706-1L; side B has BC 1003 B-1E and XXSB-43707-1AJ. The latter numbers look like Epic/CBS matrix numbers. This recording was digitally remastered in the late 1990s by Sony and can be purchased as part of a Fleisher budget boxed with the Beethoven concertos or with the recent Fleisher complete album collection with mini-LP sleeves with the original cover art. 

Lyrita SCRS 150
Moeran: Violin Concerto
John Georgiadis, violin
Vernon Handley, conductor
London Symphony Orchestra
(ZLY 5209-1A, 5210-1A)
Performance: 8.5/10
Sound: 9/10

I'm a big fan of the Moeran violin concerto, with its beautiful sweeping melodies and pastoral nature. I believe this LP was the very first commercial recording of this work. John Georgiadis gives a passionate, lyrical performance and is suitably backed by conductor Vernon Handley and the LSO. As with so many of the Lyrita releases, the sound quality here is superb, with excellent clarity and dynamics (marvelous brass), expansive soundstaging, and deep and taut bass.  Interestingly, I discovered through Google that John Georgiadis, from the age of 26, was the LSO leader for 11 years and then went on to pursue a career as a conductor (he's been musical director of the London Virtuosi, Bristol Sinfonia, and Bangkok Symphony). 

If you like the Moeran concerto, I'd also highly recommended the digital recordings from Lydia Mordkovitch (Vernon Handley/Ulster Orchestra) and Tasmin Little (Sir Andrew Davis/BBC Philharmonic), both on the Chandos label.

London CS 6337
Bruch: Scottish Fantasia
Hindemith: Violin Concerto
David Oistrakh, violin
Jascha Horenstein, Paul Hindemith, conductors
London Symphony Orchestra
Performance: 10/10
Sound: 9/10

A long-time TAS Harry Pearson Super LP List recording, this LP is worth its accolades. Oistrakh's performance of the Bruch Scottish Fantasia is probably my "desert island" recording of the work -- I find it a little warmer than the Heifetz/Sargent RCA recording of around the same time -- and the Hindemith is a classic with the composer as conductor.  The dynamics on this recording are quite powerful, and Oistrakh's violin is just beautifully captured.  I've never owned a blueback FFSS copy of this album, but this narrow band FFRR that I picked up for $8 on E-bay is a bargain and still packs a punch. Also worthy is the Speakers Corner 180g reissue, which I used to own and can still be purchased new for around $35. The Decca is in a different league in terms of cost, with an average E-bay price of $257 according to Two days ago, a wide-band ED1 copy just sold for $1034!  My two cents: you can't go wrong with the London.

Well, that wraps things up for this weekend.  Happy listening, and as always, your thoughts, insights, perspectives, and comments are always welcome.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Readers' Poll: Most Surprising and Disappointing Discoveries

Thanks to everyone for sharing your stories about your best classical LP bargain finds!  For this week's poll, we would like to ask:

Which classical LPs were some of the biggest surprises for you?  There are different ways to look at his question.  For example, were there albums that you picked up on a whim but that turned out to be hidden gems?  Were there albums that you found in the bargain bin for cheap, only to discover later that they were rare and valuable records?  Or were there albums that, simply put, just surprised you?  An LP with the same music on both sides?

Conversely, which classical LPs ended up being the biggest disappointments?  Were there albums for which you paid decent money, thinking that they'd be gems, but instead they turned out to be duds?  Albums that on the surface had a lot of potential but failed to live up to expectations?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Readers' Poll: Best Bargain Find

This week's Readers' Poll question takes a detour from the usual "reference recording" to ask you:

Which album in your collection would you consider to be your greatest "bargain find"?

Is it that $1 blue-back original wide-band Decca found at the used book sale?  Blue and silver Columbia SAX for less than 1 GBP at the local thrift shop?  We've all had at least one of these hidden treasure discoveries and we'd love to hear about yours!

Readers' Poll Results: Brahms Symphony No. 1

Thanks to all our readers for their responses this past week!

Columbia SAXF 5001 (French pressing, boxed set)
Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra

Decca LXT 5292 (mono)
Josef Krips, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Decca SXL 6796
Zubin Mehta, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

EMI ASD 2401
Sir John Barbirolli, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

EMI ASD 2871 (also in EMI SLS 5009 boxed set)
Sir Adrian Boult, London Philharmonic Orchestra

EMI CFP 131 (EMI ASD 350) 
Rudolf Kempe, Berlin Philharmonic

Regal SREG 1017 (EMI ASD 350) 
Rudolf Kempe, Berlin Philharmonic

World Record Club T464
Franz Konwitschny, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

Friday, April 15, 2016

Decca SXL 6119: Ansermet conducts Russian Delights

Decca SXL 6119

Russian Delights

Ernest Ansermet, conductor
L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande

Pressing: UK, ED2

Condition: NM-

Date first published: 1964


Mother number: 1, 1
Buckingham codes: I, BB

Performance: 8.5/10

Sound: 8.5/10

Price Range: $24-366 (mean $92) on

Comments: Here is another enjoyable potpourri of Russian orchestral favorites by Mussorgsky and Glinka. Although this LP doesn't usually make it to the well-known audiophile recording lists, it is, in my humble opinion, a gem and certainly one of my favorite London/Decca's. Night on the Bare Mountain may drag a bit in terms of tempo and doesn't have quite the terror of contemporaneous recordings by Matacic, Giulini, Leibowitz, or Pretre, but Ansermet and the OSR still manage to maintain a decent level of intensity throughout. The movements from "Khovanschchina" are sensitively played, though, I have honestly never been particularly drawn to this work. The Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, Waltz Fantasy, and Jota Aragonesa are more successful and a delight to listen to from start to finish.

There is much to praise about the sonics of this recording. The orchestra is presented with mostly excellent clarity (there is just a touch of very low-level distortion at times), imaging, and transparency across a wide and expansive soundstage. Dynamics are certainly a strong point of this album and, combined with the deep bass (most notable with the percussion), give powerful impact to the more dynamic musical passages.

This LP shows up about 9-10 times per year on the auction market, which is relatively rare for a Decca, though based on the most recent going prices it doesn't look like you'll have to break the bank to get a decent copy. That being said, a NM copy just sold for $227 earlier this month. The London version of this recording, CS 6405, is generally cheaper and may be the copy to seek, unless you have to have the more colorful laminated Decca cover.

Readers' Poll: Brahms Symphony No. 1, Op. 68

What are your favorite vinyl performances and recordings of Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68?

Please click on the comments link below to tell us your top choices.

Readers' Poll: Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps)

Fewer responses this week, but here they are!

CBS MS 6010
Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic

CBS MS 6319
Igor Stravinsky, Columbia Symphony Orchestra

CBS S 72804 (German pressing) (MS 7293)
Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra

Decca SXL 6691 (or London CS 6885)
Sir Georg Solti, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

EMI/HMV ASD 313 (or EMI CFP 129 or Regal SREG 1024)
Igor Markevitch, Philharmonia Orchestra

Mercury Living Presence SR 90253
Antal Dorati, Minneapolis Symphony

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Readers' Poll: Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps)

What are your favorite vinyl performances and recordings of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps)?

Please click on the comments link below to tell us your top choices.

Readers' Poll Results: Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

Thank you as always for your responses -- a diversity of favorite recordings for this work!  Here are the results of our most recent poll:

Columbia/CBS MS 6298
David Oistrakh, Eugene Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra

Columbia SAX 2323 (WRC ST562)
Leonid Kogan, Constantin Silvestri/Paris Conservatoire Orchestra

Crossroads 22 16 0224 (WRC R-00066)
Hyman Bress, Sir Adrian Boult/London Philharmonic Orchestra

Decca LXT 2970 (mono) (ACL 25)
Mischa Elman, Sir Adrian Boult/London Philharmonic Orchestra

Decca SXL 2279 (London CS 6215)
Ruggiero Ricci, Sir Malcolm Sargent/London Symphony Orchestra

Decca SXL 6493 (London CS 6710)
Kyung-Wha Chung, Andre Previn/London Symphony Orchestra

Deutsche Grammophon SLPM 139028
Christian Ferras, Herbert von Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Deutsche Grammophon 2532 001
Gidon Kremer, Lorin Maazel/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Deutsche Grammophon 419 241-1
Anne Sophie-Mutter, Herbert von Karajan/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

EMI ASD 2813
Igor Oistrakh, David Oistrakh/Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra

London CS 6011 (Decca SXL 2029 or SPA 183)
Alfredo Campoli, Ataulfo Argenta/London Symphony Orchestra

Philips SGL 5815 (Fontana SFL 14059)
Michele Auclair, Robert Wagner/Innsbruck State Symphony Orchestra

RCA Living Stereo LSC-2129
Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony Orchestra

RCA Red Seal Dynagroove LSC-3014
Itzhak Perlman, Eric Leinsdorf/Boston Symphony Orchestra

Remington R-19920 (mono)
Michele Auclair, Kurt Woss/Austrian Symphony Orchestra

Westminster WST 14017
Erica Morini, Artur Rodzinski/Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of London

World Record Club ST 574 (Capitol SP 8512)
Nathan Milstein, William Steinberg/Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Monday, March 28, 2016

Readers' Poll: Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

What are your favorite vinyl performances and recordings of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto?

Please click on the comments link below to tell us your top choices.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

EMI HMV ASD 304: Popular Movements from Symphonies

Popular Movements from the Symphonies

Andre Cluytens, conductor
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Pressing: UK, ED1, gold/cream

Condition: VG+

Date first published: 1959

2YVH 9-1, 10-4

Performance: 6-7/10

Sound: 7/10

Price range: $37-300 (mean $94) on

Comments:  A somewhat atypical EMI release containing a potpourri of symphonic movements by Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, and Tchaikovsky that is among the rarer birds in the EMI/HMV early stereo catalog.  While I am generally a fan of Andre Cluytens the conductor, I wouldn't exactly put this recording on my "must-have" list of his discography.  The performances are not the most inspired to my ears, and unfortunately none of them left an indelible mark on me.  The first movement of Beethoven's 5th and third movement of the 8th are among the better performances here.  In contrast, the first movement of Mozart's 40th fails to do much of anything, and the third movement of Tchaikovsky's 4th sounds too polite when compared with more passionate interpretations by Mravinsky, Markevitch, and Muti.  The addition of the opening movement of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik makes the album title a bit of a misnomer, but I suspect it was thrown in for popular appeal.  The Largo movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony is sadly tainted by a rather bland and blase sounding English horn solo.  The record concludes with the third movement of Tchaikovsky's 6th that also lacks in intensity, especially when juxtaposed with Mravinsky or Giulini.  The sound is warm and tubey with decent dynamics and bass depth.  My copy revealed some mild distortion in more dynamic passages in the Tchaikovsky 6th.  In summary, this one is primarily for die-hard Cluytens collectors. 

Readers' Poll Results: Elgar's Enigma Variations

It looks like Barbirolli and Boult may have been the favorites, but we had a pretty good spread of recording recommendations this week:

Contour Classics 2870 440
Norman Del Mar, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Decca ACL 55 (mono)
Sir Adrian Boult, London Symphony Orchestra

Decca SXL 6795 (London CS 6984)
Sir Georg Solti, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Deutsche Grammophon 2530 586
Eugen Jochum, London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Edward Elgar, Royal Albert Hall Orchestra

Sir John Barbirolli, Philharmonia Orchestra

Sir Adrian Boult, London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Malcolm Sargent, Philharmonia Orchestra

Lyrita SRCS 77
Andrew Davis, New Philharmonia Orchestra

Philips 6500 481
Bernard Haitink, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Pye Records GSGC 4057
Sir John Barbirolli, Halle Orchestra

RCA Living Stereo LSC-2418 (SB 2108 or VICS 1107)
Pierre Monteux, London Symphony Orchestra

World Record Club WRC ST 158 (EMI CFP 40022)
Sir Adrian Boult, London Philharmonic Orchestra

Friday, March 18, 2016

Readers' Poll: Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations

What are your favorite vinyl performances and recordings of Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations?

Please click on the comments link below to tell us your top choices.

Readers' Poll Results: Debussy's La Mer

Claude Debussy: La Mer

Our apologies for the delay in posting the results of this poll, but here they are:

Columbia SAX 2463
Carlo Maria Giulini, Philharmonia Orchestra

Columbia SAX 2532
George Szell, Cleveland Orchestra

Decca LW 5267 (mono)
Ernest Ansermet, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande

Decca Phase Four PFS 4220
Leopold Stokowski, London Symphony Orchestra

Deutsche Grammophon SLPM 138 923
Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

HMV ALP 1228 (mono)
Guido Cantelli, Philharmonia Orchestra

London CS 6024 (Decca SDD 214)
Ernest Ansermet, L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande

Mercury Living Presence SR 90010
Paul Paray, Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Philips 9500 359
Bernard Haitink, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Analogue Productions' New Brew: RCA's Devilish Decca Discs

The wait is over ... Analogue Productions (AP) has finally released the first two LPs in its new RCA/Decca Living Stereo reissue series.  For collectors, this may be an audiophile's dream come true for many reasons.  First, AP has chosen to reissue some of the finest sounding recordings in the RCA/Decca catalog (see RCA Living Stereo: The Decca Recordings Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4), including such sonics greats such as:

LSC-2077 Strauss: Til Eulenspiegel, Death and Transfiguration
LSC-2225 Witches' Brew
LSC-2285 Walton: Facade, Lecocq: Mamzelle Angot
LSC-2298 Borodin: Symphony No. 2
LSC-2313 Venice
LSC-2327 Bizet: L'Arlesienne Suites, Chabrier: Espana
LSC-2336 Finlandia
LSC-2400 Ballet Music from the Opera
LSC-2405 Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
LSC-2449 Gounod: Faust Ballet Music, Bizet: Carmen Suite
LSC-6065 The Royal Ballet Gala Performances
LSC-6094 Iberia

Secondly, these are also some of the rarest and most valuable recordings in the RCA/Decca catalog, with originals still fetching prices in the hundreds (e.g. Witches' Brew, LSC-2449) to thousands (e.g. Royal Ballet Gala) of dollars.  Classic Records made some really great reissues in the 1990s and 2000s, but those are out of print and some fetch prices that are just as high.  Just try searching for Classic Records reissues of Royal Ballet Gala on E-bay ... and try buying a copy for less than $500-1000.  Well, thanks to Chad Kassem and the folks at AP for all their hard work in obtaining the original analog tapes and producing these reissues for the rest of us!   These are 33 1/3, 200-gram LPs pressed at Quality Record Pressings.  All but two of the releases were mastered from the original analog master tapes by Willem Makkee using a Neumann VMS 80 cutting lathe.  APC 2327 and APC 6065 were mastered by Bernie Grundman, whom we know has a long history with these recordings.  It will be interesting to see how these releases affect the auction market for the originals and the Classic Records reissues, which have up until now dominated the market because of their rarity.

As soon as I heard about the subscription, I called up Acoustic Sounds to reserve one.  Even though it was the day just after the announcement, they were already down to number 69 in the numbered series, but I was happy nonetheless to take this.  That was back at the beginning of December.  Subscriptions have sold out.  Now we're into February, and the series has taken off, with two LPs being mailed out at a time.  I love that AP didn't wait until the end of the subscription to send out the real goodies (not that there are any duds in this series, but you know what I mean).  What better way to kick things than with Witches' Brew and the highly coveted LSC-2449?

My copies arrived in the mail today, and I am very happy to be able to share some thoughts with you ... 

Each record comes nicely sealed in plastic sleeves just like most of the AP releases pressed by QRP.  Upon opening the sleeve, I was already impressed by the weight and gloss of the album cover.  Similar to AP's other 200 gram reissues, this one comes in a thick, high-gloss cardboard cover ("original Stoughton Printing heavyweight tip-on jacket facsimiles" according to the inside pamphlet).  You can see how glossy he cover is in the photo I took to the left.  Both the front and back covers are essentially exact replicas of the original covers, except for the fine print at the bottom of the back cover.  As you can see, the pressing number is printed in gold at the top left of the back cover.  The LP itself is housed in a nice standard QRP protective sleeve.  Just for curiosity's sake, I decided to weigh the records on my digital scale, and interestingly, both measured in not at 200g but at exactly 180g.  I'm not sure this makes a huge sonic difference, though it might have an impact on VTA for those who adjust for the extra thickness of a 200g record.  I couldn't detect any visible imperfections on my copies.

And now for some sonic impressions:

APC 2449 (LSC-2449):  I have never owned the original but have reviewed the Classic Records 33 1/3 180 gram reissue, so I think my expectations for this AP reissue were -- perhaps unfairly -- high. After all, this is one of the rarest and most valuable RCA shaded dogs in the catalog.  The AP surfaces are extremely quiet, so you can really appreciate a great deal of low level detail on this recording.  The soundstage throughout is both wide and deep, and clarity and imaging are excellent.  Dynamic range is pretty impressive though the impact of orchestral tuttis is perhaps not quite as powerful as on my Classic 180g pressing during A/B comparison.  The Classic 180g also has brighter treble, which, to my ears, gives the music and performance more brilliance. The AP has less treble boost but could be interpreted as having a more natural overall balance.  My AP pressing, as pristine as it is, also seemed to have some issues with "wobble" at times.  This was most audible in musical passages in which strings or horns play long notes and sounds almost as if all them are playing with very slow and fat vibrato. First I though it might be an issue of pitch stability with my turntable, but the wobble was definitely absent during identical passages on my Classic Records pressing during the A/B comparison.  I may contact AP directly about this issue to see if there is an explanation.  Bottom line: if you don't own this album yet, this reissue is probably worth getting for $35, but if you've already got the original or Classic, hang on to it.  8+/10.

APC 2225 (LSC-2225) Witches' Brew:  I was particularly eager to hear this one, because, as those of you who have read my prior blog post, you know that while I very much liked the original shaded dog, there was definitely room for improvement.  It got an 8+/10 in my book.  Part of the problem had to do with the bass, which suffered from boominess and some distortion.  I can say that this AP reissue handily addresses this and the results are a marked improvement.  Not only is the bass tighter and cleaner but it has even greater depth and impact than on the original.  In addition, surfaces are super quiet, making for a black background that really allows for more clarity and detail to be appreciated.  Dynamics pack a huge punch.  Similar to the original shaded dog, the soundstaging on this album is stunning in its width and depth, and I dare say that it is even more "holographic" on the reissue.   Malcolm Arnold's rarely recorded Overture to Tam O'Shanter is definitely a sonic highlight of this album, particularly with its use of percussion.  Now I have not heard any of the Classic Records reissues -- and I know that my co-blogger Meles and my friend Ejeden have praised these in the past -- so I can't make a just comparison between the AP and these.  Perhaps Ejeden, whom I know also purchased a subscription, can comment on any differences between the two.  However, I can say that to my ears the AP reissue beats out the original and makes for an even more enjoyable listening experience.  10/10.

Thanks to Chad Kassem, Willem Makkee, Bernie Grundman, and the rest of the production team for making these treasures of the RCA/Decca catalog widely available once again.  This reissue series is off to a promising start, and I am looking forward to listening to the second batch.

Update (12/17/16):  AP subsequently recalled these pressings and replaced them in November 2016.  If you are interested, you can read my thoughts on the replacements here.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Readers' Poll: Claude Debussy's La Mer

What are your favorite vinyl performances and recordings of Claude Debussy's La Mer?

Please click on the comments link below to tell us your top choices.

Readers' Poll Results: Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique

Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique

Well, thanks to an enthusiastic response this week, we have a pretty diverse list.  Berlioz himself would be proud.

Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic Orchestra

Chesky CR1
Massimo Freccia, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Columbia SAX 2537
Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra

Decca 7659 (French Decca)
Carlos Paita, London Symphony Orchestra

Deutsche Grammophon ‎2530 358
Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra 

EMI/HMV ASD 399 (or Concert Classics SXLP 30295)
Sir Thomas Beecham, Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise

Jean Martinon, Orchestre National de L'O.R.T.F.

Philips A 00.123L (mono)
Willem Van Otterloo, Berlin Philharmonic

RCA Living Stereo LM-1900 (mono or Classic Records stereo)
RCA Living Stereo LSC-2608
Charles Munch, Boston Symphony Orchestra

RCA Living Stereo LSC-2362
Pierre Monteux, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Reference Recordings RR-11 (2 LP set)
Varujan Krojian, Utah Symphony Orchestra

Westminster WL-5268 (mono)
Hermann Scherchen, London Symphony Orchestra

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Readers' Poll: Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique

What are your favorite vinyl performances and recordings of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique?

Please click on the comments link below to tell us your top choices.