Side One: Mint Minus Minus (closer to M-- to EX++ in parts)*
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus (closer to M-- to EX++ in parts)*
- This early Shaded Dog pressing of Reiner's excellent 1960 recording boasts very good Hot Stamper Living Stereo sound on both sides
- We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness, and performance energy on this copy than others you've heard, and that's especially true if you own whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market, made from who-knows-what tapes
- Harry was right to put this on his TAS Super Disc list - it really is a super disc
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*NOTE: There is a mark that plays 5 times at a moderate level about 1/4" into side 1.
*NOTE: 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.
Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand -- close to a dozen different performances, I think -- and found them all wanting, save three: this one (which is still on the TAS List), a Reader's Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite), and a London with Kertesz.
If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On these works both are crucial.
No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles -- high and low -- time and time again.
For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.
We never did find something better. Our best Shaded Dog ended up winning the shootout. The best RCA pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton nailed it -- in 1960!
So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and both the Pines and the Fountains get very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.
All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing. Still, with the best copies going head to head with each other, Reiner had more of all the qualities we were looking for.
How did the famous 1S/1S pressing fare? No idea. I haven't seen one in twenty years. It may be better than the copy we are offering here. I certainly would not make the mistake of saying what it sounds like without having played it. If someone has one and wants to send it to me to audition, I would love to give it a spin.
Some recordings we played lacked transparency, as well as the relaxed sense of involvement that eases one’s ability to be tricked into thinking “you (really) are there.”
The famous 1977 Maazel recording for Decca, which was on the TAS List for a long time, suffered from a bad case of multi-miking and the transparency issue mentioned above. What do you expect from 1977?
This is, of course, the knock on the modern Heavy Vinyl pressing -- where is the transparency? The space? The three-dimensional depth? If your stereo can reproduce these qualities -- a big if, since even as recently as twenty years ago mine could not -- you should have given up on these opaque and airless frauds years ago.
The Real Deal
This vintage Shaded Dog 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 The Pines and Fountains of Rome 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 1960
- 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.
The Classic Records Pressing
For those of you who have only heard the Classic pressing, you are in for far better sound. The Classic is both aggressive and lacking in texture at the same time, the worst of both worlds. Bernie's cutting system is what I would call Low Resolution -- the harmonics and subtleties of the instruments simply disappear.
We wrote about it on our blog, under the heading Bernie Grundman's Work for Classic Records in Four Words: Hard, Sour, Colored and Crude. You can read it here.
What We're Listening For On The Pines and Fountains of Rome
- 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.
Better Front Ends Are Often Quieter
I would make the further point that the better your front end is, the less likely you are to have a problem with vinyl like this, which is the opposite of what many audiophiles believe to be the case. In other words, some of the cheaper tables and carts seem to make the surface noise more objectionable, not less. On the other hand, some pricey cartridges -- the Benz line comes to mind -- are consistently noisier than those by Dynavector, Lyra and others, in our experience anyway.
A Must Own Orchestral Showpiece
These wonderful tone poems -- two of the greatest ever composed -- should be part of any serious Living Stereo Classical Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.
Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale
This album is especially difficult to reproduce. Do not attempt to play it on anything but the highest quality equipment.
Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable / arm / cartridge setup. The Pines of Rome would be a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.
One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as these two tones poems. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has bought you.
It has been my experience that cheap tables (anything under $2k, I would guess) more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this. If you have one of those, this is probably not the record for you.
- Pines of Rome
- Fountains of Rome
Pines of Rome
Pines of Rome (Italian: Pini di Roma), P 141, is a tone poem in four movements for orchestra completed in 1924 by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. It is the second of his three tone poems about Rome, following Fontane di Roma (1916) and preceding Feste Romane (1928). Each movement depicts a setting in the city with pine trees, specifically those in the Villa Borghese gardens, near a catacomb, on the Janiculum Hill, and along the Appian Way. The premiere was held at the Teatro Augusteo in Rome on 14 December 1924, with Bernardino Molinari conducting the Augusteo Orchestra, and the piece was published by Casa Ricordi in 1925.
The piece consists of four movements, for which Respighi wrote programmatic notes describing each scene:
- "I Pini di Villa Borghese" ("The Pines of the Villa Borghese") – Allegretto vivace
- "Pini presso una Catacomba" ("Pines Near a Catacomb") – Lento
- "I Pini del Gianicolo" ("The Pines of the Janiculum") – Lento
- "I Pini della Via Appia" ("The Pines of the Appian Way") – Tempo di marcia
Respighi completed I Pini di Roma in the summer of 1924, after he had "conceived, started and restarted" work on the piece in the course of several years. Having relocated from his hometown of Bologna to Rome in 1913, Respighi said that the city's "marvellous fountains" and "umbrella-like pines that appear in every part of the horizon" were two characteristics that "[have] spoken to my imagination above all." This influence resulted in the first of his three tone poems about Rome, the Fontane di Roma (1916), which brought him international fame.
Authors Rehding and Dolan observed that the piece is cyclical in nature in different ways; the Villa Borghese gardens, the Janiculum hill, and the Appian Way pinpoint a counter-clockwise tour around Rome's perimeter, and the four movements progress from day to night, and ending with dawn. The setting of each movement goes back in time, from children playing in the contemporary city to the era of the catacombs from the early Christian period, before it concludes at the time of the Roman Republic. The piece also represents progressing through time, beginning with children playing and ending with grown men in uniform. All the while, the Janiculum hill is dedicated to Janus, the god of beginnings, endings, and transitions, and has two faces, both of which looks both forward and back in time.
"I Pini di Villa Borghese"
This movement portrays children playing by the pine trees in the Villa Borghese gardens, dancing the Italian equivalent of the nursery rhyme "Ring a Ring o' Roses" and "mimicking marching soldiers and battles; twittering and shrieking like swallows." The Villa Borghese, a villa located within the grounds, is a monument to the Borghese family, who dominated the city in the early seventeenth century. Respighi's wife Elsa recalled a moment in late 1920, when Respighi asked her to sing the melodies of songs that she sang while playing in the gardens as a child as he transcribed them, and found he had incorporated the tunes in the first movement.
"Pini presso una Catacomba"
In the second movement, the children suddenly disappear and shadows of pine trees that overhang the entrance of a Roman catacomb dominate. It is a majestic dirge, conjuring up the picture of a solitary chapel in the deserted Campagna; open land, with a few pine trees silhouetted against the sky. A hymn is heard (specifically the Kyrie ad libitum 1, Clemens Rector; and the Sanctus from Mass IX, Cum jubilo), the sound rising and sinking again into some sort of catacomb, the cavern in which the dead are immured. An offstage trumpet plays the Sanctus hymn. Lower orchestral instruments, plus the organ pedal at 16′ and 32′ pitch, suggest the subterranean nature of the catacombs, while the trombones and horns represent priests chanting.
"I Pini del Gianicolo"
The end of the third movement features this recording of the song of a nightingale which Respighi incorporated into the score. The third is a nocturne set on the Janiculum hill and a full moon shining on the pines that grow on it. Respighi called for the clarinet solo at the beginning to be played "come in sogno" ("As if in a dream"). The movement is known for the sound of a nightingale that Respighi requested to be played on a phonograph during its ending, which was considered innovative for its time and the first such instance in music. In the original score, Respighi calls for a specific gramophone record to be played–"Il canto dell'Usignolo" ("Song of a Nightingale, No. 2") from disc No. R. 6105, the Italian pressing of the disc released across Europe by the Gramophone Record label between 1911 and 1913. The original pressing was released in Germany in 1910, and was recorded by Karl Reich and Franz Hampe. It is the first ever commercial recording of a live bird. Respighi also called for the disc to be played on a Brunswick Panatrope record player. There are incorrect claims that Respighi recorded the nightingale himself, or that the nightingale was recorded in the yard of the McKim Building of the American Academy in Rome, also situated on Janiculum hill.
"I Pini della Via Appia"
Respighi recalls the past glories of the Roman empire in a representation of dawn on the great military road leading into Rome. The final movement portrays pine trees along the Appian Way (Latin and Italian: Via Appia) in the misty dawn, as a triumphant legion advances along the road in the brilliance of the newly-rising sun. Respighi wanted the ground to tremble under the footsteps of his army and he instructs the organ to play bottom B♭ on the 8′, 16′ and 32′ organ pedals. The score calls for six buccine – ancient circular trumpets that are usually represented by modern flugelhorns, and which are sometimes partially played offstage. Trumpets peal and the consular army rises in triumph to the Capitoline Hill. One day prior to the final rehearsal, Respighi revealed to Elsa that the crescendo of "I Pini della Via Appia" made him feel "'an I-don’t-know-what' in the pit of his stomach," and the first time that a work he had imagined turned out how he wanted it.
The score of Pines of Rome calls for a large orchestra consisting of three flutes (third doubling piccolo), two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets in B♭ and A, bass clarinet in B♭ and A, two bassoons, contrabassoon; four horns in F and E, three trumpets in B♭, an offstage trumpet in C, two tenor trombones, bass trombone, tuba, six buccine in B♭ (two sopranos, two tenors, two basses; usually played on flugelhorns and saxhorns); a percussion section with timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, two small cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, ratchet, tambourine, glockenspiel; organ, piano, celesta; harp; gramophone; and strings.
Performances and recordings
Pines of Rome had its premiere on 14 December 1924 at the Teatro Augusteo in Rome, a venue built above the mausoleum of Augustus, the first Roman emperor. Bernardino Molinari conducted the Orchestra dell'Augusteo to a positive reception. Elsa remembered the final measures of the piece were "drowned by frenetic applause" from the audience, and a second performance was arranged on 28 December to a sold-out venue. The American premiere took place on 14 January 1926, during Arturo Toscanini's first concert as conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Toscanini also conducted the piece at his last performance with the orchestra in 1945. Respighi, who had arrived in the United States to undergo a concert tour in December 1925, conducted the work with the Philadelphia Orchestra a day after Toscanini's American premiere.
Pines of Rome is easily the most prolifically recorded of all Respighi's works, frequently released as part of his trilogy of Roman-inspired works, but just as often not. As of 2018, more than 100 recordings of the piece are currently available on physical media alone.
Lorenzo Molajoli and Ettore Panizza both made recordings with the Milan Symphony Orchestra; Molajoli's recording was released by Columbia Records and Panizza's recording was released by Odeon and Decca Records. In 1935, Piero Coppola and the Paris Conservatory Orchestra recorded the music for EMI, released by in the UK by His Master's Voice and in the US by RCA Victor on 78 rpm discs. Toscanini recorded the music with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall in 1953. The music was recorded in stereophonic sound by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Orchestra Hall in 1959–60, also for RCA alongside Claude Debussy's La Mer.