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CLASSICAL  June 2006

CLASSICAL June 2006

Subject:

Re: A Year with Classical Vinyl

From:

Roger Hecht <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 16 Jun 2006 19:46:52 -0400

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text/plain

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John Smyth discovers vinyl

Welcome to the club.  I've had so many arguments about this over the
years that I have withheld comment.  Suffice it to that I enjoy reviewing
CDs for ARG, but I relish the every other month I don't review when I
can listen to LPs.  And of course, I find every excuse to slip LPs into
my comparison listening.

Following are comments from a 40 year collector of LPs.  Take them for
what they're worth to you, and no I won't argue about any of this stuff.
Been there, done that.

For starters, I disagree with very little that John says.  Nothing like
coming to the club with the right clothes on.

>I went all the way and bought a record vacuum cleaner as
>well: once the record is cleaned with the appropriate fluid, a vacuum
>sucks the fluid and all the dirt out of the grooves, yielding-I kid you
>not-CD quiet surfaces.  You can build your own if you want.

You can, but if you can afford to buy one, e.g., VPI, do so.  It makes
life a lot easier.

>My turntable also comes with a center clamp and peripheral ring which
>flatten the record against the platter.  Neat.

Is this a Merrill?  That's what I have and I don't know of any other
that has that ring clamp.  Then again, I don't keep up with the latest
gear any more.

>RECORDS: You will be delighted to know that the "big four"-generally
>speaking-Philips, Decca (US=London), EMI (US =Angel), and DG are class
>acts all the way, great recordings and quality pressings, with Angel
>yielding maybe 80/90% of the sound of its British "original."

Sometimes Angels are not this good.  They vary.  As a rule, American
pressings are less good than European and Japanese pressings--think
American cars, etc.--but there are exceptions.  With Angels, British
EMIs are almost always better--often a lot better.  German EMIs are
something else.  They vary.  The best were recorded in Germany.  Those
recorded in England and pressed in Germany--not so hot.  The highs tend
to be rolled.  The French vary.  The Japanese are usually very good.

>I can't really tell a difference between London and Decca.

According to the conventional wisdom, they're the same and pressed in
the same plants.  Toward the end of the LP era, Deccas were pressed in
Holland.  I used to think those were not as good as the British pressings,
but now I'm not so sure.  And some people think they're better.

>If you want Decca's or EMI's you'll probably have to buy from online
>retailers or Ebay.

Or go to England.  That's what I did. Made the whole trip worthwhile.
Actually four trips.  Imagine a man and his wife hauling four big boxes
of LPs between them on the Underground to the airport.  I bought hundreds
over there, and they were reasonably priced.  I have no idea what the
prices are like now.

>It is my experience that it is not necessary to purchase London's,
>Angel's, DG's or Philips' online because so many were imported or
>pressed in the US.  Just be patient, most titles show up locally. 
>There is enough artistry and titles available on these four labels
>alone to entertain yourself for a lifetime and issues are readily
>available in mostly near-mint condition.

Very true. Don't be sucked into buying only "collectables."

>Luckily, quality control remained a constant from the earliest pressings
>of these companies to the end of the Lp era.  (Though some quibble about
>this.)

In my case, not a quibble, but disagreement.  I believe the quality
sagged greatly as the record companies tried to wean people off LPs.
Late pressings of most labels were far inferior to the earlier (and
sometimes the earliest) ones.  The only exception was Decca and maybe
Phillips, which was rarely of audiophile quality anyway, as far as the
majors were concerned.

>My favorite conductor "discovered" on vinyl is Ansermet on London/Decca.
>His Stravinsky "Petrushka" is absolutely irresistible and his sense of
>Rhythm!  The Suisse Romande Orchestra produces a sound I've not heard
>in modern ensembles: tart and unhomogenized.

Very true, but be prepared for some strain in teh playing.  Still,
wouldn't be without any of them.

>Some performances, as old as ' 58, sound so new and freshly-minted.  I
>look forward to working my way through Ansemet's Ravel, Debussy, Albeniz,
>and Stravinsky.  The original Ansermet Deccas can go for hundreds of
>dollars, yet the US London's of the same material go for pennies.

The earliest and most expensive Londons were called "bluebacks" for
obvious reasons when you see them.  Avoid them.  They're way overpriced
and not that great to begin with.  Some are actually not good at all and
far inferior to later pressings.

>What of US pressings?

Vary greatly.  Genearlly not good, the major exceptions being early RCAs,
some early Columbias, Mercuries, among the bigs.  With Phillips, for
instance, avoid American pressings like the plague.  Fortunately, they're
rare.

>Most of my collection as a college student was made up of late Columbia
>and RCA, probably the worst-quality pressings ever.  These pressings,
>along with my $60 Soundesign turntable are probably what defined everything
>I hated about Lps before the introduction of CDs!

Keerect.  Good LP reproduction takes thought, effort, and some money
(but not as much of the latter as it used to).

>Noisy surfaces, no bass, thin strings..  Early Columbias however,
>called "6-eyes," tend to be collectable, as they are warmer-sounding,

True, but often weak in the bass.  Later two eyes were better in the
bass, but not as sweet.  With Columbia, go Japanese or German.  Columbia
problems are not the recordings but the pressings.

>not to mention the artists-Walter, early Bernstein, early Ormandy!

Absolutely on that last one, but Columbia never really gave Ormandy his
due.  His 1950-60s Philadelphia may have been the greatest orchestra in
the world at the time, but you don't really get it the way you should
from the recordings.

>Early RCA's called "Shaded Dogs" tend to be very collectable for both
>the artistry-Munch, Reiner-and amazing sound.

True, but even these vary from one run of pressings to another.  My
advice is, unless you're a "collector," do drive yourself nuts over this,
though there is a point where the late almost make you want to go for
the CD remasterings, especially the recent ones.  And avoid Dynagroove
(though not every LP that says Dynagroove on the cover really is).

>You would be surprised, however, at how easy it is to find many of the
>early Columbias, RCAs and Mercury Living Presence for that matter, at
>your local thrift, or in a neighbor's garage.

Not around Boston.  At least not much any more, unless things have
changed.  Other places, yes, but there is condition to think about.
Alas, no collectors take such great care of LPs as the British.

>...  As a general rule, >the quality of early US pressings of RCA,
>Columbia and MLP was very good early on, but everything went downhill
>from there.

Yup.

>...  One of the gems and miracles of the analog/vinyl age has to be the
>Vox Skrowaczewski Ravel Complete Orchestral Works- the interpretations
>are so alive and the recording is beyond belief.  \

He ain't kidding, folks.

>Lyrita pressings, (UK) served the well-known and lesser-know composers
>or the British Isles, from Bax to Holst.  I prefer the Lyrita Bax
>Symphonic cycle over all others.

I'm not sure I do over the Handley recordings, but who's counting.
They're wonderful.  Just about everything Lyrita recorded was wonderful
--the music, the sound (stupendous), the performances.

>Lyritas are hard to find in the US and can be
>relatively expensive, from $10 and up.

Easilty worth $10. Try for the Decca pressings over Nimbus.

>I was delighted to find that Supraphon and Hungaroton offer much of the
>Eastern Europeans as well, from Janacek and Martinu to Novak.  Pressings
>aren't that good, but a US company called "Pro Arte" made many a good
>repressing of the Eastern European companies' classics.

I never really compared them much, but I've always thought the Supraphons
were better.  Prepare for some real Eastern European styling here.

>DIGITAL RECORDS vs CDs: It's been fascinating.  I like digital records
>much better than their CD counterparts.

I don't--at least I don't think I do. I've never really gone at this
comparison--though even now I have tons of opportunities--and could be
wrong.

>...  Collectors swear by the originals, but I find the
>repressings to be much more open and spacious.

So do I in many cases, though the ones mastered with tube electronics
will be better than those done with solid state.  FAce it, though.  They
didn't have the cartridges then that they have now.  Not even close.  So
care was taken in the old days not to demand too much from play back.

>In any case, it's nice to know that us mortals can own the rare and
>immortal performances as well for a lot less money.  Their companies
>re-release an average of 40 of the "most sought-after" Classical
>recordings a year.  So much for vinyl being dead!

And don't forget used record stores.  I built my collection of thousands
from them.

Great hearing stuff like this. I'd long given up.

Roger Hecht

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