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Tchaikovsky - Serenade for Strings / Munch - Super Hot Stamper

The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.

Super Hot Stamper

Serenade for Strings / Munch

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Sonic Grade

Side One:

Side Two:

Vinyl Grade

Side One: Mint Minus Minus

Side Two: Mint Minus Minus

  • Superb Living Stereo sound for Munch’s recording with the Boston Symphony, with both sides of this early Shaded Dog pressing earning Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them
  • 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
  • Surely one of the greatest performances ever recorded, more powerful and emotional than any with which we are familiar
  • "In his conception of the Serenade, Tchaikovsky envisioned a work which falls somewhere between a symphony and a string quintet. The work is as personal as any of the composer’s symphonies and as intimate as his chamber music."

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) / More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

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The texture and harmonic overtones of the strings are near perfection. As we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity the performers brought to the work in 1957, as well as the quality of RCA’s engineering.

The overall sound is rich, sweet and Tubey Magical. For those of you who have only the Cisco pressing, you are in for a world of better sound. After playing these sides, you may be inclined to take all your heavy vinyl classical LPs and put them up on ebay, or at the very least, in storage. None of them, I repeat not a single one, will ever sound the way this record does.

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

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 Serenade for Strings 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 1957
  • 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.

Golden Age Living Stereo

What do we love about Living Stereo pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The instruments on this vintage recording are reproduced with remarkable fidelity.

Now 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. There’s no added digital reverb (Patricia Barber, Diana Krall, et al.). The microphones are not fifty feet away from the musicians (Water Lily) nor are they inches away (Three Blind Mice).

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 one up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it.

What We're Listening For On Serenade for Strings

  • 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.

Better Front Ends

I would make the further point that the better your front end is the less likely you are to have a problem with vintage 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.

Vinyl Condition

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.

A Must Own Classical Record

Serenade for Strings is a recording that belongs in any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

Side One

Serenade For Strings, Op. 48
  • Pezza In Forma Di Sonatina
  • Walzer
  • Elegie

Side Two

Serenade For Strings, Op. 48
  • Finale – Tema Russo

  • Introduction And Allegro For Strings, Op. 47 - Edward Elgar

Expert Commentary

[T]he “artistic qualities” of the work were perceived from the very first time it was heard in public. The Serenade received its premiere performance in St. Petersburg, under the direction of Eduard Nápravník on October 30, 1881, when it was an instant success. Rubinstein – who six years earlier had devastated the composer when summarily pronouncing that the First Piano Concerto was “ill-composed” and “unperformable” – had nothing but praise for the work, declaring it “Tchaikovsky’s best piece”; he also enthusiastically told Jurgenson: “You can congratulate yourself on the publication of this opus.” Since then the Serenade has been continually acclaimed for its poise and lyric beauty.

In his conception of the Serenade, Tchaikovsky envisioned a work which falls somewhere between a symphony and a string quintet. The work is as personal as any of the composer’s symphonies and as intimate as his chamber music. In it, Tchaikovsky also pays tribute to his musical idol, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who composed more than a dozen Serenades of various proportions and instrumentation.

-Ileen Zovluck


At the very time that Tchaikovsky was composing his nationalistic, powerful and undeniably noisy 1812 Overture, he was also writing this: the graceful, poised and rather sedate Serenade for Strings.

‘It is a heartfelt piece and so, I dare to think, is not lacking in real qualities,’ Tchaikovsky confided to his patron, Nadezhda von Meck.

The composer had recently rediscovered Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the time and deliberately set out to imitate Mozart’s style in the first movement. It doesn’t sound much like Mozart – it’s probably more the kind of music Tchaikovsky thought he would have written had he been around in Mozart’s era.

The second movement, a Valse, has become a popular piece in its own right and features one of Tchaikovsky’s best melodies. At its premiere, the movement had to be repeated. Tchaikovsky’s former teacher Anton Rubinstein declared it Tchaikovsky’s best piece.

Now considered one of the late Romantic era’s definitive compositions, the Serenade has also been taken up as music for the ballet and films. The waltz movement was arranged for soprano and full orchestra for the 1945 musical Anchors Aweigh. It also rather bizarrely – and accidentally – accompanied the final countdown for the Trinity atomic bomb test July 16, 1945, when it was being broadcast by a radio station on the same frequency being used to transmit test communications.

Elgar: Introduction and Allegro for Strings

The position of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings in his composing life is quite striking.

It was written after the Enigma Variations, after Sea Pictures, and after the Pomp and Circumstance Marches Nos.1–3, but before his period of self-doubt following the composition of his Symphony No.2, a time of endless soul-searching about whether he was ‘composed out.’

When it came actually to writing it in 1905, it involved a typically Elgarian method of composition. Elgar used numerous notebooks, which he kept with him at all times, for those moments when the muse struck. For this work, he dipped into his jottings and borrowed something that was dated four years earlier.

It had come from a rather bracing walk along the Cardiganshire coast, when he had heard a distant choir, and he had stashed it away for a possible ‘Welsh Rhapsody’ of some sort. In the end, the Welsh piece never came, so he borrowed the tune for this work, which features both a string quartet and a string orchestra. It was written originally for the strings section of the fledgling London Symphony Orchestra, from an original suggestion by his publisher, Jaeger.