The Fantastic Philadelphians (CD review)

Eugene Ormandy, the Philadelphia Orchestra. RCA High Performance 09026-63313-2.

By the late Nineties, the folks at RCA had finally figured out what to do with all those old quadraphonic recordings they made in the early Seventies. If this disc was any indication, they probably thought they could remaster the whole lot of them in Dolby Pro Logic and 24-bit technology and market them in their "High Performance" series. But apparently they thought better of the idea. Although the sonic results here are not bad, they are a far cry from audiophile quality.

The disc is filled with showstoppers, things like Saint-Saens's Dance Macabre, Chabrier's Espana, and Falla's Ritual Fire Dance, some of them making a good impression, others not so much. And the sound is equally up and down. The single most outstanding characteristic of the album is the quality of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which sounds wonderfully lush and lustrous.

Eugene Ormandy
Eugene Ormandy was at the helm of the Philadelphia Orchestra for an amazing forty-four years, yet his catalogue of recordings restored to CD remains relatively meager, especially his output for RCA, a little better for Sony (CBS/Columbia). One can understand why, though. He simply did not produce enough critically celebrated albums. OK, I know that statement is not going to go over well with Ormandy's multitude of fans, but unlike some of Ormandy's contemporaries in America during hi-fi's golden age of stereo--Reiner, Fiedler, Bernstein, Solti, et al--Ormandy, with his fairly foursquare rhythms and conservative phrasing, was rather conventional in his approach to music making. These performances demonstrate the fact. They are perfectly acceptable and perfectly ordinary to the last. Which isn't, as I say, bad, just not good enough to endure very well the test of time.

RCA's sound, too, has its pluses and minuses. Producer Max Wilcox and engineer Paul Goodman recorded the material in 1971-72, and RCA digitally remastered it in 1998 in 24-bit Dolby Surround. In its favor, it is extremely dynamic, with occasional thunderous lows and clean, clear highs. Counting against these merits are its multi-miked two-dimensionality and its sometimes over-spacious acoustic when played back in regular two-channel stereo.

Some of the tracks sound reasonably free of this property--Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours, for instance, and Kabalevsky's Galop, probably the best piece on the disc. Nevertheless, much of the music sounds like it's adjusted to one of those overactive "Stadium" settings that hardly anybody uses on a surround-sound receiver.

In short, I wasn't exactly bowled over by Ormandy or his newfound sound of the day.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


1 comment:

  1. Spot on, John. I recently picked this up for $2 at Half Price Books. Not sure it was quite worth it...

    ReplyDelete

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.

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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa