The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus (often quieter than this grade)*
Side Two: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
- You'll find excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage Decca import pressing of these wonderful orchestral pieces - remarkably quiet vinyl too
- La Mer is on side one and it is lovely - rich and sweet, tonally correct, dynamic, and extended on the top and the bottom
- The richness of the strings is displayed here beautifully for fans of the classical Golden Age - it’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years
More of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) / More music conduced by Ernest Ansermet
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*NOTE: There is a stitch that plays 3 times lightly at the start of the last piece on side 1, Suite Bergamasque - Clair De Lune
This Decca reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet, with the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.
It's yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording. We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way.
The original masters have been transferred brilliantly using "modern" cutting equipment (from 1972, not the low-rez junk they're forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.
What The Best Sides Of La Mer Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes beginning in 1955
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Thread It Up and Just Hit Play Already
What might be seen as odd -- odd to some audiophiles but not to us -- was how rich and Tubey Magical the reissue can be on the best copies.
This leads me to think that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the tape, and that all one has to do to get that vintage sound on to a record is simply to thread up the master on a good machine and hit play.
The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record these days makes clear that in fact I’m wrong to think that this approach would work. It seems to me that somebody should be able to figure out how to do it. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years.
Old Tapes, New Tapes
The master tapes were about fifteen years old when this record was mastered.
Compare that to a current cutting which would be made from approximately fifty year old tapes.
Perhaps that explains it.
Or maybe it doesn’t.
Either way it’s pure speculation.
We don’t really feel the need to have reasons for why the records sound the way they do.
We hear the differences, and more importantly our customers hear the differences, and what else could possibly matter?
What We're Listening For On La Mer
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Production and Engineering
James Walker and Michael Bremner were the producers, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions spanning from 1955-1961 in Geneva's glorious Victoria Hall.
The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, perhaps of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound that goes beyond all the other recordings we have played, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.
It's as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass, combined with timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren't veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we've heard them all.
Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.
Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
Quality record production is a lost art, and it's been lost for a very long time.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
- La Mer
- De L'Aube À Midi Sur La Mer (From Dawn To Midday On The Sea)
- Jeux De Vagues (Play Of The Waves)
- Dialogue Du Vent Et De La Mer (Dialogue Of The Wind And The Sea)
- Suite Bergamasque - Clair De Lune (orchestrated by André Caplet)
- Prélude À L'Après-Midi D'Un Faune
- Petite Suite (orchestrated by Büsser)
- En Bateau
- Danse - Tarantelle Styrienne (orchestrated by Ravel)
Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea; 1903-1905) is one of the most famous non-symphonic orchestral pieces ever written. During the 1890s, oceanic imagery had proven a recurrent source of inspiration for the composer. Sirènes, the third of the Nocturnes (1897-1999), and passages from the opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-1905) at once bear testament to a certain nautical bent. La Mer, however, goes a great deal farther than any previous work—by Debussy or any other composer—in capturing the raw essence of this most evocative of nature’s faces. La Mer is no mere exercise in musical scene-painting, but rather a sonic representation of the myriad thoughts, moods, and basic instinctual reactions the sea draws from an individual human soul.
La Mer comprises three distinct movements: “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” (From Dawn to Noon on the Sea), “Jeux de vagues” (The Play of the Waves), and “Dialogue du vent et de la mer” (Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea). “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” unfolds in 6/8 following a Trés lent (very slow) introduction. As in so much of the composer’s mature music, it is not always possible to draw a clear distinction between thematic material and accompaniment and texture. Indeed, texture itself is often paramount in Debussy’s music; what few glimpses of discreet melodies the movement affords (such as the glassy violin solo that arrives some sixty bars into the piece, or the brief horn gesture soon after the metric change to 6/8) are soon subsumed into the complex orchestral fabric. There are passages during which the rhythmic and metric scheme is obscured, perhaps intentionally so, by as many as six or seven different layers of simultaneous activity. The movement ends with one of the most striking of the composer’s musical affirmations: In an enigmatic gesture, the final forte-fortissimo brass attack dies away to piano as the movement draws to a close.
The scoring of “Jeux de vagues” is, on the whole, more austere than that of the first movement. Frequent trills and bursts of rhythmic vitality vividly bring to life the movement’s frolicsome, unpredictable subject matter, while the extremely quiet ending purposely fails to resolve any of the musical expectations set out in the preceding, more active sections. The scoring of this passage (solo flute and harp harmonics) recalls the identical orchestration as used by the composer at the end of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; 1894), Indeed, these parallel passages are quite similiar in dramatic purpose.
The final “Dialogue” is a tumultuous juxtaposition of an urgent, articulated rhythmic gesture—first introduced pianissimo by the cellos and basses and ingeniously manipulated throughout the movement—with a grandiose legato idea that many have likened to the melodies of César Franck (an important influence upon the young Debussy). A sustained forte-fortissimo brings this violent, elemental work to a powerful close.
--All Music Guide