The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus to EX++
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus to EX++
- An original Maroon Label Mercury pressing of these enchanting symphonies for winds boasting incredible Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades throughout - just shy of our Shootout Winner
- Both of these sides are big, clear and lively, with no trace of smear, and clearly reproduced harmonics on every instrument - a Demo Disc to be sure
- The woodwinds are so rich and natural, with none of the "nasally" quality one hears on so many Mercury records
- The brass at the end of the record are full-bodied and smooth in the best tradition of vintage analog
- Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings - there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
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These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top-quality sound that's often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers ("relative" meaning relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don't agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.
These symphonies for winds are an audiophile delight. Mercury is famous for their wind band recordings and this is clearly one of their best.
The idea of a symphony performed only by wind instruments (with added harp and percussion) is novel, to me anyway, and I found the music nothing short of enchanting. One of the first wind recordings I fell in love with decades and decades ago was British Band Classics on Mercury with the EWO under Fennell. Whenever a copy comes in I play it and fall in love with it all over again. You may feel the same about this very record.
I’ve been a fan of the Hovhaness piece here for many years. Finding enough clean copies with which to do a shootout took a very long time, but eventually we had enough and this copy was doing more of what we wanted than practically all others we played.
This original Mercury pressing has 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.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What The Best Sides Of Hovhaness's Symphony No. 4 and Giannini's Symphony No. 3 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 in 1964
- 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.
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.
What We're Listening For On Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 3
- 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.
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.
Symphony No. 4 - Hovhaness
- Andante Espressivo
Symphony No. 3 - Giannini
- Allegro Energico
- Allegro Con Brio
Hovhaness Symphony No. 4
Premiered before an outdoor audience of some 6,000, this symphony is scored for Wind ensemble with added harp and percussion, and remains well known through its Mercury recording by the Eastman Symphonic Wind Ensemble. It is in three movements and the composer enigmatically referred to “spiritual influences of the composers Yegmelian, Gomidas Vartabed and Handel”. A local paper reviewincluded the following:
It was the Symphony of Alan Hovhaness that made the most impression on the audience. It is a superb work carefully wrought by a composer who is both inspired and imbued with craftsmanship. It is really a set of three movements in the form of a concerto grosso with various solo instruments. Mr Hovhaness is a master of color, and his ability to achieve weird and unbelievably beautiful effects with combinations of instruments percussive and wind is uncanny.
Donald Steinfirst, Pittsburgh Post Gazette
The outer movements start with solemn hymns which lead to a majestic fugue. The central movement is in dance-trio-dance form.
The first dance is taken up by solo marimba (19/8 + 20/8). Two ‘trio’ sections follow (woodwind with harp, then woodwind with vibraphone).
The second dance has the xylophone (20/8 + 9/8) taking the place of the opening marimba solo.
The work contains superimposed meters as well as free rhythm sections and many passages which are in prime numbered meters like 7/4 and 11/4. One very noteworthy effect occurs in the last movement when a phrase in the lower trombones is accompanied by crossing glissandi in two upper trombones (first minor thirds, then major seconds). This makes for a very original effect, where two sliding notes momentarily merge into one before ‘diverging’ back out. In the 1960s glissandi became very prominent in Hovhaness’s music, to the extent where they became large segments of musical phrases.
Giannini Symphony No. 3
Here’s how this particular symphony came about: The Duke University Band asked Giannini to write something, and according to the composer, “I can give no other reason for choosing to write a Symphony to fulfill this commission than that I ‘felt like it,’ and the thought of doing it interested me a great deal.” That’s a good enough reason, and Giannini reported that when asked how it feels to compose for wind band (and not for orchestra, chamber groups, or voice), he “can only answer, ‘There is no difference. The band is simply another medium for which I try to make music.’”
Add to that the fact that there’s nothing really puzzling, shocking, or experimental about Giannini’s Third (except maybe that it’s for wind band but isn’t otherwise strange), and you have a vivacious work that wind bands can really use to please crowds and that also carries the dignity and historical weight associated with the name “symphony”. Giannini seemed to want us to hear this composition as a straightforward wind-band play on a classical symphony.
It has four movements, in the standard order of fast-slow-fast-fast. In the liner notes to the Mercury Living Presence recording, he even diagrammed the structure, specifically calling the first and last movements sonata forms. The second is looser, and the third is a scherzo. In other words, Giannini didn’t use the unusual medium as an excuse to do something wild and crazy. And he wanted us to know it.
This might explain why, at times, the Third sounds like a wind band transcription of a symphony for orchestra — and it suggests to me, at least, that Giannini really conceived this symphony as an orchestral piece. When I hear the second theme of the first movement, I wonder if I ought to be hearing soaring strings instead of massed winds. This shouldn’t surprise us — Giannini himself was a violinist. The part I’m talking about is in the following clip, after the hymn-like trombone passage and solo clarinet response. On the other hand, in the finale, the second theme is a solid march, and I think strings would detract from it (here it is the second time we hear it, toward the very end of the movement):
In the second movement, Giannini sensitively blends and contrasts the available wind band timbres. It, too, has its “orchestral” moments, but my favorite parts are when solo instruments play off each other, as in this lullaby-like moment for flute and clarinets:
In the third movement (the scherzo), Giannini gives us some nice range and timbre contrasts (piccolo, flute, and snare vs. bass clarinets, bassoons, and sax) around an undulating clarinet figure — and toward the end of this clip, the brass work their way into the texture:
Unsung Symphonies blog