Warning, this post is going to be more front-loaded than one of the
lesser-known Shostakovich Symphonies. To get to the point, scroll down.
1st crisis: While driving home one day from Tower with Naxos' Vol. 39
of the Recorder Sonatas attributed to Dittersdorf, the premium-priced
Chandos 10 disc set of the Mahler Symphonies in two-piano arrangements
by Boulez, and a sampler CD of the "compassionate cacaphonists," Daugherty,
Tork, etc.; it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks: I'd fallen out of
love with Classical Music, it was just no fun anymore. (So did I get
over it and simply continue exploring new music I hadn't heard before?
Of course not, the remedy was clear: Listen to everything I already know
and love in some new way.)
2nd crisis: As you may or may not know, to deal with turning 40 and
mid-life crisis, I decided to upgrade my stereo system, which did nothing
but make all my CDs sound bad. After years of wandering for the perfect
"front-end" for my system, I finally found the new modern exemplary sound
I was looking for...in vinyl Lps and turntables.
It's not the place to discuss equipment, so I'll be quick. Turntables
have gotten better since I traded in my $100 Technics 'table back in '84
for a CD player! I'm surprised over and over again how dynamic a record
album can be, and how dead-quiet, if the album is in reasonably good
shape. I finally found the string sound I was looking for; just about
every Lp--with or without "audiophile" pedigree--has the same signature
string warmth and resplendency, even during terse passages. The other
startling difference between CD and Lp is the soundstage: Lp's give the
uncanny impression of an ensemble playing in a music hall; one can more
easily envision the stage, stage walls...there's just so much more
breathing room between the speakers! Interestingly, digital Lp's, (Lps
pressed from digital tapes), have these same qualities.
As there is a list for everything, one of the most famous lists
associated with Lp's is called the "TAS" list--Harry Peason's pick of
the "best-recorded" Lp's ever. (Best performances are another matter.)
HP works for the magazine, "The Absolute Sound," hence "TAS." Just about
everything listed can be very expensive and very hard to get, though
also can easily be sitting in the garage of the kindly old lady next
door to you.
What about the other billion Classical Lps out there? As I'm sure some
of you collect albums, I want to make sure your .99 cents is spent well.
If I find an album particularly well-pressed, performed, and recorded,
I'll put it on the my "JAS" list ("John's Absolute..."), which I will
post from time to time.
Rimsky Korsakov "Sheherazade." Svetlanov/LSO Angel: Only the Angel
pressing, but huge soundstage, warmth and thrilling low-end. My favorite
Sheherazade, along with Stokowski's on London Phase 4, though the harps
are so ridiculously spot-lit that every time there's an arpeggio I think
someone rang Liberace's doorbell.
Two late Columbia's: Puccini "Suor Angelica," Scotto/Maazel; and Orff
"Carmina Burana," MTT/Cleveland. My favorite of all Carminas. Outstanding
soloists, amazingly intense choral work, and a spacious dynamic recording
that comes through on the album. Same with Suor: Scotto is my fav, and
Maazel handles the score with loving care. Caution--Columbia pressings
can be variable in quality--examine under a bright light. Avoid pressings
shipped with paper-only sleeves!
Strauss: "Four Last Songs" and "Death and Transfiguration," Popp/Tennstedt
LPO Angel Digital. THE best performances of both, I know--daring, but
true. The compact disc was hideous though, harsh and flat to the extreme.
Astonishingly (!) the Lp is analog warm, spacious with great soundstage
and imagining. It *literally* brought a tear to my eye. Seek this one
out. Listen to the way Popp handles the end of "September," "...it
tarries, yearns for the rest.." etc.; NO one does this better. Available
on Angel and EMI, the latter a better pressing.
Saint Saens: Organ Symphony/de Waart/Rotterdam Philips: What is amazing
about this recording is the lower-bass clarity--bassoons, trombones--they
have so much interesting to say and it's so nice to hear them as distinct
from the lowerer pipes. They add a nice touch of soul when the organ
takes over the gorgeous melody in the slow mov't, and you can hear them
all the way down in the finale. Spectacular recording and lively
performance, (from de Waart, who tends to add a haze to everything),
although the "scherzo" is a little tepid. But who ever listens to that!
The usual, routine Philips dead-quiet pressing.
Dutoit's Ravel on London Digital: Such special performances, and I
can't--no matter how hard I try--fault the digital sound. Don't be
analog-retentive, sample one of these digital records, they're better
than the CDs.
Kodaly "Harry Janos"/"Concerto for Orchestra" Hungarian State
Orchestra/Ferencsik. Kodaly "Peacock Variations"/"Galanta Dances"
Lehel/Budapest Symphony. Hungaroton. Wow. Hungaroton is *not*
Supraphon--very quiet surfaces on the former. Wonderful performances
of wonderful music, and the analog recordings are stunning in their
soundstage depth, imaging, dynamic range and string warmth.
Faure Chamber Music, Eymar/Kehr/Braunholz, etc. Vox box, 4 records.
What treasures within.... I hope everyone knows this highly poetic,
intimate, lyrical music. These players run circles around Collard and
Co. on French EMI, no question; and the recording is infinitely warmer.
Absolutely cherishable set. Warning--try to find the early blue-box
pressing--sound is much more vibrant. The later pressings were riddled
with noise, but don't hesitate to sample whichever edition you come
across. Avoid box-sets with paper sleeves as well!
Glazunov Symphony 5, Suite from the Middle Ages/Fedoseyev CBS Melodia
'70's recording: I was worried about this one, both from a pressing point
of view and a recording point of view. Fedoseyev's take on this music
is my favorite, beating all after it, including Jarvi. No one transitions
into the lyrical central section of Middle Ages "prelude" like Fedoseyev.
My pressing is very quiet. Sound is of the "Airplane Hanger" variety
*but* strings are warm and soundstage/imaging is OK. There is plenty
of air around the sound and I'd take this over up-front and harsh any
day. Good dynamic range though discreet compression at points.
More to come.