Side One: Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus
- You'll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of on this famous TAS List orchestral spectacular
- It's an extraordinary recording, and so amazing on this pressing that after playing it, you may agree with us that few other classical Demo Discs are in its league
- The bottom end of this record is powerful and solid like no other classical LP we've played in a very long time - this is the way to record tympani!
- On a pressing this good, the sound is dynamic, lively and BIG - jumping out of the speakers and bringing not only the power but the vibrant colors of the symphony right into your listening room
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There are two covers for the original Turquoise pressings of the album. This one comes in the darker of the two.
This vintage 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 Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances 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 1967
- 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 and this is no exception. 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 Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances
- 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.
- Tight punchy bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- 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.
This famously good sounding Vox pressing has been remastered a number of times, but you can be sure that the Hot Stamper we are offering here will beat any of those modern pressings by a wide margin in any area that has to do with sound. (Surfaces are another matter.)
I spied an interesting quote from the Acoustic Sounds site years ago:
"...Analogue Productions' 45rpm remastering improves upon the venerable Athena LP release from the late '80s, with better dynamics and a fuller 'middle' to the orchestral sonority." - Andrew Quint, The Absolute Sound, October 2010"
For some reason Andrew uses the word "venerable" when a better, certainly more accurate, term would have been "execrable." Having played the record in question this strikes us as the kind of mistake that would not be easy to make. Athena was a godawful audiophile label that lasted all of five records, only one of which was any good, and it's not this one. (It was in fact the Debussy piano recording with Moravec, mastered by the venerable Robert Ludwig himself, a man who knows his classical music, having cut scores if not hundreds of records for Nonesuch in the '60s and '70s.)
As usual, we guarantee this copy will blow the doors off any Heavy Vinyl or audiophile pressing of the album or your money back.
Mint Minus Minus 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.
- Symphonic Dances for Orchestra, Opus 45
- Symphonic Dances for Orchestra, Opus 45 (conclusion)
- "Vocalise" for Orchestra, Opus 34, No. 14
Rachmaninoff shuttled between his house in Switzerland and his flat in New York throughout the 1920s and well into the subsequent decade, eventually setting permanently in the United States at about the time he completed his Third Symphony, in 1936. He then busied himself performing and recording some of his works, but a hiatus in his creative activity was broken only by the composition of the Symphonic Dances. This was the only major work Rachmaninoff composed fully in America; after preparing a version for two pianos, he completed the orchestral score in the fall of 1940, in time for the premiere to be given on January 4, 1941, by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, to whom he dedicated the score. This proved to be Rachmaninoff’s valedictory effort, and many consider it his finest work for orchestra. "I don’t know how it happened," he remarked; "it must have been my last spark." He died two years after the work’s premiere, without attempting any further composition.
This "last spark" seems now almost a conscious valediction, or in any event a sort of retrospective. It is first of all a summing-up of Rachmaninoff’s activity as a symphonist, for only his choice of title separates the Symphonic Dances from the cycle nominally concluded by the three-movement Symphony No. 3. That it also represents a conscious review of his more than fifty years as a recognized composer is indicated by the citation of themes or fragments from certain of his earlier works (in a far more subtle way than the blatantly self-congratulatory manner in which Richard Strauss quoted himself, at a much earlier stage in his career, in the grand-scaled work he modestly titled A Hero’s Life).
The First Symphony, abandoned after its calamitous premiere under Alexander Glazunov in 1897 (it was not to surface again until two years after Rachmaninoff’s death), is cited in the coda to the first of the three dances. An Alleluia from the Vespers of 1915 makes a similar appearance in the coda to the final movement. Along the way there are references to the choral symphony The Bells, to the Third Symphony, the second of the two suites for two pianos, and a solo piece or two. There is also in the final movement, and far more conspicuously presented (one might say "insistently"), the Dies irae, the ancient liturgical chant for the dead that had so intrigued Rachmaninoff throughout his creative life. Many composers have made use of this motif in one way or another, but for Rachmaninoff it would appear to have been virtually an obsession, for it made its way into just about everything he composed.
If the foregoing suggests some sort of programmatic content, autobiographical or otherwise, for the Symphonic Dances, such an assumption is given weight in noting that Rachmaninoff at one point thought of giving the three sections of this triptych descriptive titles—originally "Morning," Noon" and "Twilight," eventually modified to "Midday," Twilight" and "Midnight" before being abandoned altogether—symbolizing three stages of life. His original title for the work as a whole was the somewhat more evocative Fantastic Dances, and each of the three panels is indeed a sort of fantasy. He might well have come up witha detailed program for the work if the famous dancer and choreographer Michel Fokine had not died in 1942.
Rachmaninoff had been quite pleased with Fokine’s choreographic treatment of his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. He had in fact given Fokine his own scenario for the ballet Paganini, and he played the Symphonic Dances for him on the piano before he completed the orchestration, with the thought that this score might prove to be even more danceable than the earlier one. But Fokine died without discussing such a possibility, and Rachmaninoff held to the decision he had made before the work’s premiere, to let the tempo markings suffice as movement headings—a decision that seems quite in keeping with the essentially symphonic nature of the music.
The opening movement (bearing the somewhat controversial marking Non allegro, which some authoritative commentators have insisted is a printing error) is in sonata form and contains allusions to jazz—in the use of syncopation, in a reliance more on rhythmic strength than melodic content, and in a solo passage for alto saxophone. Rachmaninoff’s original intention was to call for a contralto voice to delivery the material he ultimately assigned to the saxophone, and he is said to have had the voice of Marian Anderson specifically in mind. This was his only use of the saxophone, and before attempting to fit the instrument into his orchestral fabric he sought the advice of the famous Broadway orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett.
Andante con moto (Tempo di valse) is the heading of the second movement, whose dark coloring may evoke a setting more decidedly nocturnal than the discarded "Twilight" would suggest. This is music from a world somewhere between the Valse triste of Sibelius and the gently nostalgic concert waltzes of Glazunov; perhaps its most identifiable ancestor would be the Valse mélancolique in Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3 (a work, incidentally, whose finale also quotes the Dies irae), but the sense of fantasy felt here is entirely and unmistakably Rachmaninoff’s own.
The concluding movement, initiated with a brief Lento assai introduction, is a dramatic Allegro vivace whose dark events are more than intimated by the presence of the Dies irae, on which much of the movement is based, rather in the manner of quasi-variations. A lush passage for the strings, with occasional interjections by the flute or harp, summons up the ecstatic expressiveness of the great slow movements of Rachmaninoff’s earlier symphonies and concertos, but the end bring an emphatic feeling of a "last word"—final, conclusive, irrevocable.
— Richard Freed