Published: March 2018
Hungarian Dances, WoO1 – Nos.1, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 19 & 21
Slavonic Dances, Op.46, Nos. 1, 3 & 8
Slavonic Dances, Op.72, Nos. 1 & 2
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Fritz Reiner
Recorded at the Sofiensaal, Vienna, 12, 13, 16 & 19 June 1960
Erik Smith – Producer
James Brown – Recording Engineer
Remastered at the Emil Berliner Studios

Concerto in A-minor for Two Violins, Op.3/8 [RV522]
Concerto in G-minor for Two Cellos, RV531
Concerto in F for Three Violins, RV551
Concerto in B-flat for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, RV547
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
Ariadne Daskalakis
Recorded in 2012 in Evangelische Kirche, Reutlingen-Gönningen, Germany
Andreas Spreer – Producer & Recording Engineer
TACET 180gm LP: L205

Violin Concerto in E-minor, Op.64
Ida Haendel & Johanna Martzy (violins)
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Hans Müller-Kray
Haendel recorded 10 January 1953 at Sendesaal, Villa Berg; Martzy recorded 5 February 1959 at Liederhalle, Stuttgart
Erich Prümmer & Herr Lichius – Artistic Directors
Hannes Staub – Sound Engineer
Remastered at the Emil Berliner Studios

Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Johanna Martzy (violin)
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Günter Wand
Recorded 6 February 1964 at Liederhalle, Stuttgart
Erich Prümmer – Artistic Director
Frank Richter – Sound Engineer
Remastered at the Emil Berlin Studios

Twenty-Four Caprices, Op.1
Ruggiero Ricci (violin)
Recorded 1-9 Apr 1959 Victoria Hall, Geneva
James Walker – Producer
Roy Wallace – Recording Engineer
Remastered at the Emil Berliner Studios
ANALOGPHONIC 180gm remastering: Decca SXL 2194 (2 LPs)

Milstein Vignettes
Nathan Milstein (violin) & Leon Pommers (piano)
Recorded 23 April 1957 at Capitol Studio A, 46th Street, New York
Richard C. Jones – Producer
Frank Abbey – Recording Engineer
Remastered at the Emil Berliner Studios
ANALOGPHONIC 180gm LP: Capitol P8396

Spanish Dances [selections]; Navarra, Op.33*
Alfredo Campoli & Belinda Bunt* (violins), Daphne Ibbott (piano)
Recorded 8-9 November 1976 Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London
Peter Wadland – Producer
John Dunkerley – Recording Engineer
Remastered at the Emil Berliner Studios
ANALOGPHONIC 180gm LP: L'Oiseau-Lyre DSLO 22

The Six String Quartets
Juilliard String Quartet [Robert Mann & Isidore Cohen (violins), Raphael Hillyer (viola) & Claus Adam (cello)]
Recorded May & September 1963 at Columbia Recording Studios, New York
Paul Myers – Producer
Fred Plaut – Recording Engineer
Remastered by Cohearent, Los Angeles
SPEAKERS CORNER 180gm: Columbia D3S 717 (3 LPs)

Violin Concerto No.2
Isaac Stern (violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonard Bernstein
Recorded February 1958 at Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York
Howard H. Scott – Producer
Jack Ashkinzy – Sound Engineer
Remastered by Cohearent, Los Angeles

Violin Concerto in D
Symphony in Three Movements
Isaac Stern (violin)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Igor Stravinsky
Recorded February & June 1961 at American Legion Hall, Hollywood
John McClure – Producer
Edwin Michalski – Recording Engineer
Remastered by Masterdisk, New York
SPEAKERS CORNER 180gm LP: Columbia MS 6331

Les noces
Renard [both sung in English]
Ragtime for Eleven Instruments
Mildred Allen (soprano), Regina Sarfety (mezzo-soprano), Loren Driscoll & George Shirley (tenors), William Murphy (baritone) and Donald Gramm (bass)
Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss & Roger Sessions (pianos); Toni Koves (cimbalom)
American Concert Choir
Columbia Chamber Ensemble
Columbia Percussion Ensemble
Igor Stravinsky
Les noces recorded 21 December 1959 in New York; Renard and Ragtime 26 January 1962 recorded in Manhattan Center
Remastered by Cohearent, Los Angeles
SPEAKERS CORNER 180gm LP: Columbia Masterworks MS 6372

George Gershwin
Rhapsody in Blue
An American in Paris
Columbia Symphony Orchestra [Rhapsody]
New York Philharmonic
Leonard Bernstein (piano)
Recorded June 1959 & December 1958 at St Georges Hotel, Brooklyn, New York
John McClure – Producer
Fred Plaut & Frank Bruno – Recording Engineers
Remastered by Masterdisk, New York

Chamber Music from Marlboro
Benita Valente (soprano), Marlena Kleinman (mezzo-soprano), Wayne Connor (tenor) & Martial Singher (baritone)
Rudolf Serkin & Leon Fleisher (pianos) and Harold Wright (clarinet)
Recorded August 1960 at Marlboro School of Music, Vermont
Howard H. Scott – Producer
Fred Plaut – Recording Engineer
Remastered by Masterdisk, New York
SPEAKERS CORNER 180gm LP: Columbia MS 6236

Symphony No.6 in B-minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)
New York Philharmonic
Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded 22 April 1957, Studio 30th Street, New York
Remastered by Masterdisk, New York
SPEAKERS CORNER 180gm vinyl: MS 6006

Romeo and Juliet, Op.64 [selections]
New York Philharmonic
Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded November 1957 at St George Hotel, Brooklyn, New York
Howard H. Scott – Producer
Fred Plaut & Stan Tonkel – Recording Engineers
Remastered by Masterdisk, New York
SPEAKERS CORNER 180gm vinyl: MS 6023

The vinyl renaissance has well and truly arrived with the Berlin Philharmonic releasing its cycle of the Brahms Symphonies with Simon Rattle on LP, having recorded them using just two microphones – which seems odd given that the greatest Decca, Mercury and British Columbia recordings used a minimum of three – in analogue, while 180gm remastering is appearing right-left-and-centre, so in this round-up, a modern recording by the Tacet label has been used, a series of releases by the South Korean company Analogphonic, some of which are radio recordings, as well as the usual fare from the doyen of 180gm labels, Speakers Corner, who has continued to trawl through the CBS catalogue, but first from that label we look at an older disc of classic performances of some of Brahms’s Hungarian and Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, conducted by Fritz Reiner.

The reason for this is that as the LP market has grown, so has the availability of high-definition digital sound, and an American company High Definition Tape Transfers (HDTT) produces – along with CDs – very high-resolution transfers from a variety of commercial and studio masters. Here, from a four-track tape, a DSD128 download played in native format (that is, without filtering) was compared with a wide-band, grooved original (which cost hundreds of pounds) and the Speakers Corner LP. Both the LPs have a problem that afflicted a lot of early stereo recordings in that the brass and timpani are virtually inaudible as are the woodwind in forte passages, although the string sound on the Speakers Corner is better, so one can see no reason why anyone would pay silly money for the original. However, the HDTT transfer has better definition, which means the brass, woodwind and timpani – while hardly matching the glories of the Solti Ring – can be better heard, and because the sound is DSD native there is no loss of analogue presence and the instrumental timbres have been retained, so unless you must have vinyl and have a suitable DAC, this is the version to buy.

Modern instrument performances of Vivaldi are now about as rare as hens’ teeth, but the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra field seventeen string players (including Ariadne Daskalakis) plus cembalo and theorbo, so even with the lack of vibrato the sound is much plusher than you find with many period-instrument groups. However, the Stuttgartians seem to have decided that – regrettably – the only way they will be taken seriously in Baroque music is by aping period style, so tempos are brisk – often unnecessarily so in slow movements – and there is usually plenty of attack with sforzando and staccato markings observed, although sometimes a bigger dynamic range and a smoother melodic line would not have gone amiss, but today that is probably considered heresy. Nevertheless the performances are still very enjoyable.

Sound-wise, it is usually accepted within audiophile circles (although as mentioned DSD played in native format can match it) that the finest analogue sound produces the nearest you are going to get to natural instrumental timbres, or a true sense of acoustic and the string sound here is very faithful; unfortunately though a church was used so the reverberation time is unacceptably long. This is a pity because despite this there is reasonable clarity, definition and a palpable sense of presence, the overall balance is nicely middle-distance, and the dynamic range is again very good.

Analogphonic is a South Korean label that somewhat unusually for the 180gm market re-masters digital recordings such as Bernstein’s Deutsche Grammophon set of the Mahler Symphonies as well as ‘golden-age’ (read: pre-1969) discs and it has now started issuing LPs of radio performances including these two from SWR featuring Johanna Martzy (her set of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas still fetches around £3,000) and Ida Haendel, who doesn’t command such exotic prices because most of her recordings fall outside of the golden-age and she is still alive, an attribute that doesn’t do much for an artist’s collectability. In the Mendelssohn, Martzy gives a perfectly adequate account of the work; she speeds up in the second half of the first subject and then slows right down for the second without losing momentum, but there is nothing really memorable here, whereas Haendel is more incisive, relaxes more in the Adagio, and bounces her way through the Finale. Both are done no favours by the conducting of Müller-Kray, who clearly was not up to international standard. Nor is the sound up to much in either performance, where the brass and timpani are almost inaudible, as are the woodwind in tutti passages, and the treble is completely dead, so either the tapes were compromised, or some crude form of analogue noise-reduction has been used as Analogphonic don’t use modern digital processing. The orchestra is pretty distant, but both soloists are more forwardly balanced.

The Brahms is more characterful, the tempo changes are integrated into the larger whole, the first movement’s second subject is imbued with quiet, rhapsodic eloquence, but Martzy sounds elegant as opposed to rapt in the slow movement, and while the tempo is upbeat in the Finale, her intonation is sometimes marginally awry with the bowing inexact. However, Wand is in a different class to Müller-Kray, but this is a fine as opposed to great account of the work.

Sound-wise, things are better, probably because in the intervening five years recording technology had improved and the tapes would have had less time to deteriorate. As before, Martzy is slightly recessed, the orchestra is still distant in anything other than forte passages, internal balance is approximate but tend to get lost in louder ones, the timpani are virtually non-existent, and the strings lack weight and tone, although they are reasonably well-defined. In terms of presence and body, Martzy’s timbre is well-preserved, but as with the Mendelssohn the top is ironed-out so the upper harmonics are missing.

Moving to studio recordings we have three violinists who were very much part of the golden-age and we start with Ruggiero Ricci in Paganini’s Caprices, which was released on one LP, not the two Analogphonic has issued. Ricci’s fame is largely based on the recordings he made for Decca mainly between 1950 and 1961. This was his second version of the Caprices, the first having been recorded for American Decca is 1950, and in all honesty it really isn’t up to much. So after a bouncy account of the opening E-major piece, some nicely light articulation in Two and Three, soulful playing and perfectly contrasted sections in the C-minor and a well-characterised account of Number Five, the performance comes of the rails in the G-minor, where the intonation is painful to listen to, as it is the E-flat, and some of the bowing is at best approximate.

Each side of the original had four bands, but in order to give each Caprice a separate track Analogphonic has divided them between two LPs. This has made Ricci’s tone sound fuller and better projected when compared to a first-label disc (£300ish at auction). However, a mono original sounds exactly the same and costs very little. Analogphonic LPs are around £30 in the UK, but the second is offered heavily discounted and the gatefold sleeve is beautifully presented.

Nathan Milstein (1904-92) was famed for his effortless virtuosity, quiet sense of patrician authority that in his heyday permeated everything he played, and sometimes a sense of emotional detachment, all of which are on offer here. Rather surprisingly given the era he was trained in there are very few slides and his use of rubato and tempo variation is similarly restrained. So in Wieniawski’s Polonaise the two themes are beautifully characterised, the variations in pace completely natural, and the rhythmic exuberance contrasts with the crushed-velvet phrasing and sound of Albéniz’s Asturiana, and there is a wonderfully unauthentic account of the famous Bach ‘Air’, although a bit more devilry and attack in the Wieniawski Tarantelle would not have gone amiss. The recital is also let down by the demure playing of Leon Pommers, who stays resolutely in the background (although the recorded balance doesn’t help him), the thirty-five-minute playing time is far too short and the sound is mediocre.

In 1957, stereo was in its infancy and chamber recital discs were often recorded in mono. The overall balance is quite forward, there is a hint of wow-and-flutter at the beginning of side one, and the piano is muffled. Milstein’s tone is however beautifully captured, the upper treble being particularly rich. However, the internal balance heavily favours the violin, but a closely-placed single microphone will always highlight the instrument nearest to it. By way of comparison an EMI CD was used and needless to say the LP makes it sound hopelessly ersatz and constricted.

The great Italian-English violinist Alfredo Campoli (1906-1991) was by all accounts a quietly unassuming, complete gentleman, who never went in for self-promotion, which may be one of the reasons why after making a dazzling series of recordings for Decca in the 1950s he faded from public view. However, for L'Oiseau-Lyre (part of Decca) in late-1976 he recorded this glorious recital followed by a disc of virtuoso pieces by Wieniawski.

At the start of the opening Malaguena the tone – at a slow tempo and with little vibrato – is gorgeous, the beautiful melody truly sung with innumerable variations of weight and dynamic, and perfect rubato. In the more upbeat Habanera the tone is sultry, yet the upper register glows, and the way Campoli manipulates the line belongs to an expressive world that is long gone, as he does in Romanza Andaluza, where he gives a masterclass in the art of making everything sound spontaneous and completely effortless, the precision of the multiple-stopping, spiccatos and pizzicatos in Jota Navarra is outstanding, the tempo variation wonderfully over-the-top. And so it goes on, time-and-again you catch your breath at the ravishing sounds coming from the loudspeakers, smile at the old-world bravura, and the way virtuosity is used for purely expressive means. To Belinda Bunt’s great credit she is not completely outdone in Navarra, for Two Violins, although she cannot match Campoli’s tone or sense of command, and Daphne Ibbott does tend to plod along behind, but for me this could well be a desert island disc.

Turning to the sound, in 1976 Decca could still produce state-of-the-art recordings and at the small Rosslyn Hill Chapel, in Hampstead, London, Peter Wadland and John Dunkerley did a pretty good job of capturing Campoli’s unique tone. So the overall balance is middle-distance, the slightly mushy – as opposed to over-reverberant – acoustic is captured in a way that only analogue can, the down-side to this is that Campoli floats above the piano as opposed to being firmly anchored in front of it, but knowing the venue well, this is unfortunately entirely realistic. Despite this, both instruments have excellent definition and clarity, and their timbres are reproduced beautifully, the sense of presence and projection is palpable and the dynamic range is excellent, better than the original (which costs over £300).

Speakers Corner has continued to release CBS LPs, including the Juilliard Quartet’s second version (having first recorded them in 1950) of Bartók’s String Quartets. The group plays the First Quartet’s opening Lento as a slow dirge, the dynamic range piano and below, and for all of the ensuing Allegretto’s chromaticism the Juilliards still inject a degree of romantic largesse into their phrasing, but in the Allegro vivace Finale more attack is needed. There is a sense of conversation between the players in the Second Quartet, as they delineate the first movement’s radical polyphony, and in what is effectively the Scherzo they really accentuate the dance rhythms. The closing Lento is imbued with a deep sense of foreboding.

Bartók used folk-like themes and motifs in the single-movement Third, with sul ponticello and col legno bowing and some glorious glissando-like portamento, contained within short sections that coalesce into two larger wholes. The players effortlessly convey each change of pace, mood, dynamic and texture, although their pizzicatos are not quite violent enough. Number Four is in five movements; here the players’ sophisticated reading captures every change of direction and emotion, including some beautiful cello-playing by Claus Adam.

In the Fifth, the second movement Adagio molto is quite rightly very slow, the Scherzo suitably rustic, and despite the climax of the third movement lacking savagery, the Finale is delightfully sprung and elfin. The Sixth is a profoundly serious, tragic, yet beautiful work. Here the players’ weight, variety of tone and depth of expression are superb, the final bars being especially desolate. In conclusion then, these marvellous performances can be recommended alongside classics versions by the Talich and Végh Quartets.

It says a lot about record-collecting that you can buy the original CBS box-set of these performances for as little as £25, but the equivalent Columbia SAX discs (produced under licence) can be ten times that amount. These Speakers Corner discs use the later grey and orange – as opposed to first American grey two-eye label – which is unfortunate given the price of around £65 plus postage and packing, but presumably dictated by the available Sony/BMG archive material.

In terms of sound the overall balance is more forward than on the CBS first label LPs, without being in your face, although it is slightly more recessed in the First and Fifth Quartets. There is excellent definition and clarity, which means unlike so many recordings the cello’s lower register is clean; the players are locked in place, can be heard as individuals in climaxes and the frequency response is smooth and extended. Because a recording studio as opposed to a larger hall was used there is a short reverberation time, which is ideal for chamber music, and being analogue the room’s acoustic is captured vividly. The dynamic range is good, if not exceptional, instrumental timbres have real vibrancy and naturalness. The Speakers Corner LPs are superior to the originals.

Moving to Bartók’s (Second) Violin Concerto, we have the perhaps underrated Isaac Stern (1920-2001), where the opening harp-led bars sound like something out of Aida, and when Stern enters one hears his incredibly rich tone and effortless virtuosity, which means nothing – including the fiendishly difficult cadenza – fazes him. The long stream of scales and arpeggios that the soloist then plays bring immaculate intonation, and his double-stopping is incisive. Throughout, the performers observe an unusually high proportion of the composer’s instructions and perhaps only an eastern-European (Stern was Ukrainian) could phrase and point the rhythms in such a way. Bernstein and his players are brilliant partners.

Unfortunately the sound is a bit of a mess. Stern is unnaturally dominant, the strings are somewhere in the background and in higher-lying passages the violins sound thin. As ever with Bartók the woodwinds offer a fairly constant commentary on the unfolding musical narrative and for most of the time they are almost completely inaudible, as is the brass, and while the exposed timpani and percussion parts in the Andante can be heard, the rest of the time they are swallowed up by the amorphous quality of the image that is not helped by the recessed overall balance and reverberant acoustic. Fortunately, Stern fares better, his violin having a richer tone without any loss of definition, although the upper harmonics are absent, something that analogue should reproduce effortlessly, and the dynamic range is no more than adequate. A two-eye second label disc was used for comparison, which has greater transparency, definition and treble extension, although Stern’s timbre isn’t quite as rich.

Stravinsky’s wonderfully jaunty, witty, acerbic – yet lyrical – Violin Concerto has fared well on record, with classic accounts from Arthur Grumiaux, Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Itzhak Perlman, so how does Stern compare with these luminaries? The work opens with a distinctive melodic, rhythmic fragment that clearly derives from The Soldier’s Tale, which will recur in various forms at the start of the remaining three movements. Stern attacks this gracefully; he then bounces his way through the ‘Toccata’. His tone is rich, yet transparent; he uses variable vibrato and occasional portamento, and his expressive palette is richly romantic. Throughout Stern never forgets that the composer intended the violin to be primus inter pares, and this account is the equal of those mentioned.

In the tremendous Symphony in Three Movements the composer powers his way through with enormous attack, weight, rhythmic panache, textural clarity and without losing the ability to relax playfully and the Columbia Symphony plays marvellously for him. As an added attraction the sleeve notes feature Stravinsky talking to Robert Craft about the Violin Concerto, where he admits that he does not much like the Concertos of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn, which shows that being a genius does not preclude from being seriously misguided!

Regrettably, the sound is not in the same class as the performances. Recorded in 1961 the image sounds more like something from the start of the stereo era as opposed to the beginning of the classic age of valve/tube recording. At the start of the Concerto the prominent woodwind parts, within a middle-distance, are unnaturally spot-lit and do not have the defined natural timbre found on Decca recordings of the period. Overall, balance is fairly forward, although Stern is too close. Definition and clarity are reasonable without being exceptional, the dynamic range is somewhat muted, and while no register dominates, there is a lack of treble sparkle and deep bass.

Two of Stravinsky’s vocal masterworks are featured on the next record. Renard is a burlesque with dancer-acrobats and singers that tells the tale of the fox deceiving the cock, cat and ram before the last two kill him. The music is delightfully tuneful, fast-moving, rhythmically incisive, and the performance is exceptionally vibrant, although some of the singing is not up to international standard. Les noces combines the Russian marriage service, invocations to the Virgin and saints, sexual imagery, and folklore. The soprano is both the bride and a goose, and the groom is sometimes a tenor, sometimes a bass. In musical terms the vocal lines combine deliberately primitive declamation, motor rhythms, conversation-like commentary and softer more flowing lines. The four pianos, played by an almost unbelievable line-up of composers, percussion and the rest all offer a kaleidoscopic range of colour, rhythmic invention and, when needed, give savage power and impetus. However, despite the composer’s brilliant conducting the singing is again a little provincial (perhaps intentionally so) and if it had been sung in Russian, the performance would surely be even more authentic. Finally, there is a bright, bouncy rendition of Ragtime, a delightful soufflé, which displays effortless melodic and rhythmic invention.

A score such as Les noces is going to cause any production team big problems of balance. The small chorus is centrally behind the instrumentalists, the soloists are very much stage-front, the pianos are in the centre without telling them apart (the CD transfer, which might bring greater clarity at the expense of instrumental timbre, body, presence and anything else that defines an instrument, is no better), which given the stellar line-up of performers isn’t good enough. Added to this there isn’t any real sense of depth or exact placement. Three years later in Renard there is more reverberation, and the woodwinds cut through the vocal line. But, as in Les noces, they are not securely fixed. Despite being recorded on the same day things improve in Ragtime where there is better sense of perspective, but here the centre of the image is weak in that many of the small group seem to be caught in the speakers, which is not what you expect from a recording made in 1962.

Records don’t come much more iconic than the Bernstein Gershwin LP. Bernstein had only recently become the first American-born music director of a major American orchestra (the New York Philharmonic) and he had just triumphed on Broadway with West Side Story. Here you hear him playing the music of one of the twentieth-century’s greatest composers who was also American, for an American record label, with an LP sleeve that is now collected as a piece of art in itself.

The performances are very much what you would expect of Bernstein – big, bright, rhythmically alert, with plenty of expressive licence, characteristics that suit both works down to the ground. An American in Paris opens with Gershwin capturing the sights and sounds of the city (including car-horns) where he had gone to study, and Bernstein invests the music with tremendous energy, transparency and humour. In the more relaxed central section the Blues are evoked by some beautifully phrased, schmaltzy string-playing, and also Bernstein’s innate grasp of rubato and tempo variation, while the final section has real swing and cumulative power. The New York Philharmonic plays with virtuosity and obvious enjoyment. In Rhapsody in Blue Bernstein’s playing effortlessly encompasses romantic classical virtuosity, jazz and Broadway, within tempos that are quite measured, and while Leonard Pennario and Felix Slatkin (Capitol) offer a performance with even more sweep and panache, this is still a marvellous account.

The Rhapsody was recorded in late-1957 and the famous opening clarinet glissando has presence and projection, the overall balance is slightly forward, which means that the brass is very clear and the piano is realistically balanced, which is incredibly rare! In tutti sections there is no congestion, and the timbre of every instrument – including the piano – is beautifully caught. Turn to An American in Paris and all of the same qualities are present, but the balance is a touch more forward, the sound has greater weight, the bass is deeper and there is less sense of depth and perspective, which gives the brass extra punch. Both recordings feature excellent string tone and dynamic range, but the treble in Rhapsody has greater sparkle. This is excellent sound and a big improvement on the first UK label pressing it was compared to.

Brahms wrote his first set of Liebeslieder-Walzer in 1869. The music is charming, but hardly inspired. Nevertheless, a surprisingly large number of stellar vocal quartets have recorded the collection. In terms of the piano-playing, it is beautifully scaled, legato lines are effortlessly spun and maintained, there is old-world rubato, small variations in generally forward-moving tempos and immaculate pedal control. Unfortunately, the singers are not in the same league. Wayne Connor’s tenor lacks body and projection, and his intonation is poor; and Martial Singher’s baritone is under-nourished. The women are better, but their voices lack individuality, and, like the men, the ability to project.

Schubert’s sublime The Shepherd on the Rock receives a better performance. Harold Wright was a great clarinettist, and Rudolf Serkin is magnificent, and by herself Benita Valente is more commanding, but turn to Margaret Price with Jack Brymer and James Lockhart (a Classics for Pleasure LP) and you realise how two-dimensional she is.

CBS did not do too bad a job with the sound. The overall balance is middle-distance, the image has a natural sense of depth and width, being analogue the hall acoustic is tangible and there is no excessive reverberation. In the Schubert the performers are caught clearly and locked in a realistic perspective, and, again, the timbres of the clarinet and singer are recreated in a way that CDs cannot equal. In the Waltzes the voices have presence and separation, but the pianos lack impact. It is not a matter of balance – they are a reasonable distance behind the singers – rather it sounds as though a separate microphone was used, which the recording engineer turned down and which, given the quality of the playing, is regrettable.

Dimitri Mitropoulos’s wilfully distorted changes of tempo in the slow introduction of the ‘Pathétique’ Symphony are unfortunate and in the main Allegro the New York strings are weak, although he does steer a relatively straight course through the towering development. In the waltz-like second movement Mitropoulos (1896-1960) is suitably elegiac, there is no change of tempo for the central section, but as the return of the first theme approaches the rhythm becomes foursquare. The start of third-movement march needs more definition and drive and the ensemble is awry. To his credit the Greek maestro refuses to over-emote in the concluding Adagio lamentoso, although the long crescendo in the second subject lacks intensity, and more dynamic shading at piano and below would have helped.

The performance of selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet is more successful, dark, light (if not playful enough) if sometimes rhythmically staid. And yet, despite these reservations, there is a rare sense of cumulative power, tension and underlying melancholy, and behind the sweeping lyrical lines the threat of impending tragedy has rarely been equalled on record. Mitropoulos ends his choices with ‘Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb’, and without any sentimentality or overstatement, exquisitely delineates and captures every instrumental and emotional strand of this sublime music.

When you listen to analogue recordings from Decca, Mercury and Columbia, there is an identifiable label sound, but there is no such thing as the CBS sound; rather you have something of a lottery that produced everything from excellent to dreadful. The overall balance in the Tchaikovsky is quite forward, there is a decent sense of depth, the brass is clearly audible (although the trumpets lose body in their upper register), the woodwinds are reasonably clear and focused, but tend to get lost in climaxes, the timpani are powerful and crisp, but elsewhere make little impact. In terms of the string tone, the high violins are very much speaker-bound and thin, and strings en masse are something of a blur. This is a pity because in the introduction of the first movement Tchaikovsky often asks for divisi violas, cellos and double basses – virtually nothing of this can be heard. Being analogue there is a sense of space and acoustic, instrumental timbres are well captured, but inevitably, given this was the start of the stereo era, the dynamic range is constricted and there is an impression of, as opposed to true, deep bass. On the Prokofiev there is excellent depth and perspective and real presence. In an ideal world the midrange would be less congested, the treble would have more sparkle, the string tone would be richer, and the brass and timpani more prominent, but this is better than the Tchaikovsky if not in the same class as Bernstein in the Gershwin.


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