Side One: Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus
- With two incredible sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them, this vintage London pressing trounced the competition in our recent shootout
- It's also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
- It's simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than all of what we played - this is music you cannot help but be drawn into
- The cello does not have that "fat" sound some audiophiles seem to like - Decca knew more about recording chamber music in 1958 than practically all the audiophile labels that would come along later, the ones that managed to make a mess of the very idea of audiophile quality sound (you know who I mean)
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The piano and the strings have that Golden Age Tubey Magical sound we love. It’s been years since I’ve had the opportunity to play this record; most copies are just too beat up to bother with, so I was glad to find a number in minty condition.
Now what I hear in this recording is sound that is absolutely free from any top end boost, much the way live music is. There’s plenty of tape hiss and air; the highs aren’t rolled off, they’re just not boosted the way they normally are in a recording.
A few years back I had a chance to see a piano trio perform locally; they even played a piece by Schubert. The one thing I noticed immediately during their live performance was how smooth and natural the top end was. I was no more than ten feet from the performers in a fairly reverberant room, and yet the sound I heard was the opposite of what passes in some circles for Hi-Fidelity.
This is the opposite of those echo-drenched recordings that some audiophiles seem to like, with microphones placed twenty feet away from the performers so that they are awash in "ambience." If you know anything about us, you know that this is not our sound.
I have never heard live music sound like that and that should settle the question. It does in my mind anyway. The Chesky label (just to choose one awful audiophile label to pick on) is a joke and always will be. How anyone buys into that phony sound is beyond me, but any audio show will prove to you that there is no shortage of audiophiles who love the Chesky "sound", and probably never will be.
What The Best Sides Of The Trout Quintet 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 1958
- 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 Value of Shootouts
Live classical music is shocking in its clarity and freedom from artificiality, and no recording we have ever heard duplicates that sound with perfect fidelity. But when the pressing is as clear and transparent and natural as this one, your ability to suspend disbelief seems to require no effort at all. Close your eyes. Your brain, search as it will, can find nothing in the recording to interfere with the appreciation of even the most subtle nuances of the score. This is the mark of a very fine record indeed.
It is precisely what careful shootouts and critical listening are all about. If you like Heavy Vinyl, what exactly is your frame of reference? How many good early pressings could you possibly own, and how were they cleaned?
Without the better pressings around to compare, Heavy Vinyl can sound fine. It's only when you have something better that its many faults come into focus. We, of course, have something much, much better, and we like to call them Hot Stampers.
What We're Listening For On The Trout Quintet
- 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.
A Good Test
One of the ways you can tell how great a recording this is, is that as soon as the needle hits the groove you are immediately involved in the music, listening to each of the lines created by the five preternaturally gifted players, all the while marveling at Schubert's compositional skills.
That's what a good record is supposed to do. That's supposedly why we've dumped so much money into all this fancy equipment. Because if you have records like this, and the equipment (fancy or otherwise) to play them, you will find yourself being transported to the musical space of the performance in a way that other recordings (read: Heavy Vinyl) simply will not allow you to be.
Records such as these are not cheap, but they do make good on their promise.
What do we love about these vintage pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The unique sound of every instrument is reproduced with remarkable fidelity. That's what we at Better Records mean by "Hi-Fi," not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. There's no boosted top, there's no bloated bottom, there's no sucked-out midrange.
This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I'm pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this record up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it.
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.
In his study of Schubert, Alfred Einstein wrote that the "Trout" Quintet is music "we cannot help but love." It is a work brimming with good-natured, Biedermeier Gemütlichkeit*, perfectly suited to the intimate nature of Paumgartner's musical gatherings, closer in spirit to serenade than to sonata, and rarely hinting at the darker, Romantic emotions that Schubert explored in his later instrumental works.
Dr. Richard E. Rodda
* "A situation that induces a cheerful mood, peace of mind, with connotation of belonging and social acceptance, coziness and unhurry."
Performed by members of The Vienna Octet under the direction of Clifford Curzon.
- Allegro vivace
- Scherzo (Presto)
- Theme and Variations (Andantino)
- Allegro giusto
The Trout Quintet - Commentary by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Early in July 1819, Franz Schubert left the heat and dust of Vienna for a walking tour of Upper Austria with his friend, the baritone Johann Michael Vogl. The destination of the journey was Steyr, a small town in the foothills of the Austrian Alps south of Linz and some eighty miles west of Vienna where Vogl was born and to which he returned every summer. Schubert enjoyed the venture greatly, writing home to his brother, Ferdinand, that the countryside was "inconceivably beautiful."
In Steyr, Vogl introduced the composer to the village's chief patron of the arts, Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy amateur cellist and an ardent admirer of Schubert's music. Paumgartner's home was the site of frequent local musical events - private musical parties were held in the first floor music room as well as in a large salon upstairs, decorated with musical emblems and portraits of composers, that also housed his considerable collection of instruments and scores.
Albert Stadler, in his reminiscences of Schubert, reported that Paumgartner asked the composer for a new piece that could be performed at his soirées, and stipulated that the instrumentation be the same as that of Hummel's Grande Quintour of 1802 (piano, violin, viola, cello and bass). The work, he insisted, must also include a movement based on one of his favorite songs, Schubert's own Die Forelle ("The Trout") of 1817.
Schubert, undoubtedly flattered, welcomed the opportunity, and started sketching the work immediately. He completed the piece soon after returning to Vienna in mid-September, and sent the score to Paumgartner as soon as it was finished. There are no further records of the "Trout" Quintet until 1829, a year after the composer's death, when Ferdinand sold his brother's manuscript to the publisher Josef Czerny, who promptly issued the score with this statement: "We deem it our duty to draw the musical public's attention to this work by the unforgettable composer."
In his study of Schubert, Alfred Einstein wrote that the "Trout" Quintet is music "we cannot help but love." It is a work brimming with good-natured, Biedermeier Gemütlichkeit, perfectly suited to the intimate nature of Paumgartner's musical gatherings, closer in spirit to serenade than to sonata, and rarely hinting at the darker, Romantic emotions that Schubert explored in his later instrumental works.
The first of the Quintet's five movements is a richly lyrical and expansive sonata form whose recapitulation begins in the subdominant key, one of Schubert's favorite instrumental techniques for extending the harmonic range and color of his music. The Andante is a two-part form, a sort of extended song comprising two large stanzas.
Following the delightful Scherzo comes the set of variations on Die Forelle, which lent the Quintet its sobriquet. Of Schubert's use of his own song here, and in the "Wanderer" Fantasy and the D minor Quartet ("Death and the Maiden"), Einstein wrote, "It was not for self-glorification, but merely the simple or naive knowledge of how good those melodies were and of the harmonic wealth they contained. He felt the need to spin out a concentrated musical idea which was [originally] fettered by the text to make it a plaything for his imagination, to demonstrate how far he could elaborate it."
The formal model for the movement was probably the variations in Haydn's "Emperor" Quartet (Op. 76, No. 3); as in that work, the theme is presented once by each of the ensemble's instruments, but its content is distinctly and characteristically Schubertian. A sonatina of decidedly Gypsy-like cast closes this deeply satisfying work.