The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus (closer to M-- to EX++ in parts)*
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus
- Outstanding Living Presence sound for this TAS-approved Super Disc, with both sides earning Double Plus (A++) grades
- This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic - here is the Mercury sound we love, and that is so hard to find
- Mercury recordings often struggled in the area of string reproduction, but here the rich, textured sheen sounds glorious - tonally correct and, above all, natural
- 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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*NOTE: On side 1, there is an audible squeak that plays at approx. the same level as the music about 20 seconds from the end of the second movement (track 6) of Suite No. 2, Danza Rustica, and continues through the third movement / the last track, Campanae Parisienses.
*NOTE: Side one of this record was not noisy enough to rate our M-- to EX++ grade, but it's not quite up to our standards for Mint Minus Minus either. If you're looking for quiet vinyl, this is probably not the best copy for you.
Both sides of this TAS List pressing have superb Hot Stamper sound, so much richer and sweeter and less strident than the typical copy you might find. (I must admit the Mercury approach to sound has not worn as well as I might have hoped. When it comes to the Big Three from the Golden Age, these days we prefer London, followed by RCA, then Mercury.)
Of course the music is wonderful, with Respighi looking back and paying homage to the music and the musical structures of the past. This is no Pines of Rome. Please see the Reviews tab above for more on the music.
What The Best Sides of Ancient Dances and Airs For Lute 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 1959
- 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.
The Absolute Sound Super Disc List
Inclusion on The TAS List doesn’t guarantee great sound, but Better Records does. If you don’t think a Hot Stamper pressing sounds as good as we’ve described, we’ll always happily take it back and refund your money. Good luck getting ol’ Harry to send you a check when the TAS-approved pressings you pick up don’t deliver. Ours are guaranteed to.
What We're Listening For On Ancient Dances and Airs For Lute
- 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.
- Powerful 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.
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.
- Suite No. 1
- Suite No. 2
- Laura Soave
- Danza Rustica
- Campanae Parisienses
- Suite No. 2
- Suite No. 3
- Arie Di Corte
Ancient Airs and Dances
Hungary, October 1956. Russian tanks roll into Budapest and brutally crush a 10-day-old uprising. Thousands of Hungarians flee their homeland to refugee camps in Austria. Amongst them are 200 musicians, most without their instruments, but determined to form an orchestra. With the help of refugee charities, private benefactors and the leadership of Antal Dorati, the Philharmonia Hungarica was born.
Within a year they are making world-class recordings, and performing all over the world. The Respighi Ancient Airs and Dances for Lute was recorded in 1958, and is still regarded as one of their finest works.
This is music of the modern era, but owes much to the past. Ottorino Respighi was not only a composer but also a musicologist and antiquarian. These 3 suites, written between 1917 and 1932, are arrangements of music from the Renaissance. The original composers flourished between 1575 and 1625. Their names Molinaro, Galilei, Caroso, Besard, Gianoncelli and Roncalli roll off the tongue beautifully, but are by no means household names today. Respighi’s task was to capture the elegance, subtlety and brilliance of this very old music in a form pleasing to the modern palate. He was so successful that they are some of the most popular works of the 20th Century.
Suites 1 and 2 are for full orchestra, and suite 3 is for strings only. Listening to them there is the curious juxtaposition of ancient ideas and themes with modern orchestration. To bring this off successfully, they must be performed with understated poise, elegance and the occassional flash of fire. The Philharmonia do this to perfection. From the well-known boisterous Bergemasca , to the soothing and elegant Campanae Parisienses (and incidentally a wonderful piece, a true discovery), the performances are polished and convincing. Nothing less could be expected under Dorati.
You may think that a recording over 40 years old may be left by the wayside by modern recording techniques. Not so. In fact, this is a CD that proves that a good analogue recording can be as good as any modern digital.
The common practice at the time was to use multiple microphones placed throughout the orchestra, then re-mix and balance them before final recording. Mercury’s sound engineer Bob Fine developed a new recording technique that used one ultra-sensitive microphone placed strategically in front of the orchestra. There was no limiting, balancing, mixing or boosting of the sound before it reached the final tape.
The result was a recording that was “like being in the living presence of the orchestra” according to Howard Taubman, chief music critic of the New York Times. This became known as Mercury’s Living Presence series of recordings. It was revolutionary in its time, and has proved itself so to this day.
Wonderful rediscovered music, a definative performance with a rich history, as good a recording as you will find anywhere, and for a bargain price. Worthy of its 5 stars.