Philharmonic Ball: Music by Johann and Josef Strauss (CD review)

Willi Boskovsky, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.  LIM XR24 019.

In the booklet insert, Winston Ma, the owner and producer of the high-end label FIM/LIM Music, tells us that friends encouraged him to have among his audiophile remasters "at least one of Johann Strauss's waltz albums from the Decca catalog since these are such famous recordings."  Looking high and low for the best possible representative of the series, he settled on Willi Boskovsky's album Philharmonic Ball from 1959 to do up in the XRCD remastering process.  It's certainly hard to argue with his choice.

Boskovsky conducted the Vienna Philharmonic's famous New Year's concerts for twenty-five years, from 1954-1979, and in the late Fifties Decca wanted to produce an album of music that reflected the kind of program such an event would include.  If you are a fan of Mr. Boskovsky, of the Strauss family, or of the Vienna Philharmonic, this album is among the best things you can find.  Nobody did the Strausses better than Boskovsky, and no orchestra knew or played the Strausses better than the VPO.  Among the selections, you'll find the familiar--the "Blue Danube" and "Voices of Spring" waltzes, "Auf der Jagd," "Pizzicato Polka," "Perpetuum Mobile," and the less familiar-- "Ohne Sorgen, "Transsktionen," among others.

Now, here's the thing:  In the past four or five decades, Decca engineers have themselves remastered Boskovsky's early material many times over, and you will find the recordings on this LIM disc in various Decca collections at much lower cost.  You just won't find them any better.  LIM, a division of FIM Music, uses only the best master tapes they can find and remaster them in the celebrated XRCD process, using the JVC replication plant in Japan.  The results are very good and very expensive, but unless you have a quality sound system you may not appreciate the improvements.

Indeed, after comparing several of the cuts on this disc with ones on Decca's own discs, I concluded that most listeners on mid-fi equipment probably wouldn't notice any difference.  But that's not the point, is it?  These discs are for audio connoisseurs who want to extract the last ounce of fidelity from their music and hang the expense.

For the first few moments of my comparisons, I wasn't sure I heard any differences myself.  Then, flipping back and forth between the LIM and the Decca, I began to hear them.  The Decca was slightly foggier, duller, glassier, and less dimensional.  The LIM clarified the midrange, seemed to tighten the bass and extend the treble, and further opened up the soundstage.  Were they night-and-day differences?  Not at all, just very, very subtle.  Worth the money?  Probably, to the well-heeled audiophile.  In addition, both the Decca and the LIM displayed a touch of hard glassiness in the upper midrange, which I assume to be a part of the original master tape.

Finally, Ma explains in the booklet that he chose to leave the master tape hiss in the album, rather than use Dolby SR to remove it.  Although the hiss is audible during quieter passages, it presents no problem to one's enjoying the music.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa