RCA Living Stereo (CD reviews)

Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 "From the New World," and other orchestral masterworks. Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  RCA Living Stereo 09026-62587-2.
Hovhaness: Mysterious Mountain; Prokofiev: Lt. Kije; Stravinsky: The Fairy's Kiss. Reiner, CSO. RCA Living Stereo 09026-61957-2.
Respighi: Pines and Fountains of Rome; Debussy: La Mer.  Reiner, CSO. RCA Living Stereo 09026-68079-2. 

By now, the names Fritz Reiner and "Living Stereo" should be synonymous with highest recommendation. It's a no-brainer, a win-win situation. Between the years 1954 and 1962 Reiner made a remarkable number of stereo recordings for RCA. They were remarkable for two reasons:  first, because almost all of them were immediately recognized as superb performances and have remained on practically everyone's list of recommended recordings for the last forty years; second, because they were recorded in the pioneering days of stereo before sound engineers had learned much about screwing things up.

Back then, a lot of recording engineers appeared to be interested in minimal miking, a wide stereo spread, good front-to-back dimensional information, as well as wide dynamic and frequency ranges and reasonably unaffected tonal balance. Things like stereo multi-miking, spotlighting, highlighting, partitioning, reverb, compression, dynamic and frequency limiting, and artificial brightness were just starting to come into their own. For the most part, the conductor was still in charge of the sound of his orchestra. Lovingly remastered by RCA, the "Living Stereo" CD series, which RCA introduced in the mid 1990's, especially the ones with Reiner, show us just how good those simple, early techniques were, techniques later adopted by many prominent audiophile labels in their own recordings.

Anyway, of the three early discs in RCA's "Living Stereo" CD line, Reiner's Dvorak is the only recording I had not heard in many years. This Dvorak Ninth Symphony from 1957 still does not displace my favored Kertesz (Decca) or Horenstein (Unicorn) recordings, but it packs much mature drama and conviction into a powerful and enjoyable performance.

Fritz Reiner
The Reiner recording of Hovhaness's Mysterious Mountain, also from 1957, has been a classic for four decades and helped put Hovhaness on the musical map. It may not hold up as well sonically as, say, Gerard Schwarz's Seattle Symphony disc on Delos, but it is clearly among the most profoundly spiritual readings imaginable. Its coupling with Stravinsky's Fairy's Kiss and a delightful rendition of Prokofiev's Lt. Kije makes this an attractive package. Each of these recordings had appeared previously on CD from RCA. Perhaps in the "Living Stereo" series they lose a little something in overall brilliance, but they have never sounded quieter, smoother, or more natural.

The third disc I'll mention is an absolute must-buy. I think I have owned Reiner's Respighi tone poems, the Pines of Rome and Fountains of Rome, in one form or another for as long they have been around (RCA recorded them in 1959, and I bought the LP in the early 60's). Yes, the newer Muti and Dutoit recordings sound a little better in some ways, but no one has yet captured the color and splash of these works as well as Reiner. Coupled with yet another classic among classics, Debussy's La Mer, itself a perennial top-of-the-pile choice, this disc gets my highest  recommendation.

The reader newly acquainted with classical music could do worse than to purchase anything in the Reiner series; the reader newly acquainted with audiophile sound could do worse with many, if not most, modern recordings.

Incidentally, since issuing their "Living Stereo" series on CD, RCA has also issued many of the recordings on SACD, and JVC has remastered many of them in XRCD24. Choices, choices....

JJP

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

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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 more than 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, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
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.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

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.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa