FALLA: The Three Cornered Hat ballet; La Vida Breve: Interlude and Dance – Teresa Berganza, mezzo/Suisse Romande Orchestra/Ernst Ansermet – London/Original Recording Group ORG 102, 43:58 (2 45 rpm vinyl discs) *****:
“Espana” = RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Capriccio Espagnol; GRANADOS: Danze espanola No. 5 in E minor; CHABRIER: Espana Rhapsody; MOSZKOWSKI: Spanish Dances, Book 1 (5) – London Symphony Orchestra/ Ataulfo Argenta – London/Original Recording Group ORG 104, 39:24 (2 45 rpm vinyl discs) *****:
There’s probably no need to go into detail for AUDIOPHILE AUDITION readers about the sonic advantages of 45 rpm vinyl over 33 ⅓. Several audiophile labels have reissued classic jazz, pop and classical recordings at the 45 speed – normally requiring two discs and four sides to equal the time length of the original single LPs. Classic Records have offered RCA and other titles this way for years and Analogue Productions has recently added a Blue Note series of 12” 45s to their successful earlier Fantasy series. Since hardly anyone releases direct discs any longer, 45 rpm audiophile vinyl releases have become the ultimate in analog audio.
Now Original Recordings Group has licensed ten super-classic London Blueback recordings from the master tapes of the Golden Era of classical recording. These stellar examples of the vinyl LP format have been mastered at 45 rpm by Bernie Grundman (his signature is on each disc at the leadout grooves) and pressed at RTI on 180 gram vinyl. Only 2500 of each of the ten titles will be pressed and retail pricing is $55 each double album.
These two ORG reissues just arrived as samples from the series of ten, and the other eight include ALBENIZ: Suite Espanola, BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Clifford Curzon), RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloe (Pierre Monteux cond.), MENDELSSOHN: Sym. No. 3, BRUCH & HINDEMITH Scottish Fantasy & Concerto (David Oistrakh, v.), MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, HEROLD: La Fille Mal Gardee & GRIEG: Peer Gynt Suite.
The music of Falla’s Three Cornered Hat has been a hit with audiophiles ever since its original release on London/Decca in 1961. The ballet has a sort of comic opera scenario, with something going on onstage every minute. The rich symphonic tapestry includes hand-clapping, shouting of Ole! by orchestra members, a few lovely Spanish songs sung by the mezzo-soprano, and lots of brass, winds and string combinations – all with infectious Spanish rhythms keeping things jumping. The ballet is in four sections: Afternoon, The Neighbor’s Dance (Seguidillas), The Miller’s Dance (Farruca), and Conclusion. The filler selection at 7½ minutes is taken from Falla’s only opera, translated as Life Is Short. The instrumental piece communicates some of the anxiety of the opera’s plot, bathed in a sensual Andalusian style. (It takes up the “D” side of the two discs.)
The Espana album was recorded in London’s Kingsway Hall in December of 1956 and January of 1957, with the famed Kenneth Wilkinson as recording engineer. Spanish conductor Argenta was Music Director of Spain’s National Orchestra from 1945 until his death. He had a wonderful command of Spanish rhythms and was expert in bringing out the flamboyant qualities and instrumental colors in this spirited music. Some of the most colorful music depicting Spanish subject matters comes from non-Spanish composers. One example is Rimsky-Korsakov’s spectacular Spanish Caprice, which he originally envisioned as a virtuoso fantasy for violin and orchestra. It is in five linked movements, most based on various Spanish folk dances. The Russian composer had only spent a few days in Spain as a youth, but wanted to have his Capriccio full of dazzling Spanish orchestral color. And he succeeded.
The Moszkowski pieces continue a Russian composer’s impressions of Spain in music, though the writing here might be a bit more pseudo-Spanish. A couple of the pieces from this set of works originally for piano duet sound more Eastern European and even Russian than Spanish. The short Granados Spanish Dance is a classic encore number, originally written for solo piano in the last 1890s, and later orchestrated. Chabrier’s Espana has been an audiophile hit since the early days of the LP. Written in 1893, it captures the Spanish flavor in exciting and colorful orchestrations that even outdo Rimsky-Korsakov. The thrilling performance is captured in excellent natural stereo sound that preserves both individual instruments and the entire orchestra better than many recordings made since the 1950s. (An unusual aspect of this album is that even with the extended groove length of 45 rpm vs. 33⅓ the entire program fit onto only three sides. So ORG has repeated the entire first side again on the fourth side – The Capriccio Espagnol and Danza espanola. It’s almost 19 minutes – very long for a 45 rpm side, which usually demands one get up to flip discs almost as frequently as with 78s.)
It was a coincidence that ORG sent these particular two 45 rpm albums for review, because in the past I reviewed both of them as xrcd24 remasterings from First Impression Music. The Falla was LIM XR24 014 and has exactly the same cover art as the vinyl; “Espana” was LIM XR24 016 and has different cover art.
I therefore made an A/B comparison of the two formats from exactly the same masters. Normally in the past, any 45 rpm reissue trounced any digital disc version of the same material, but this time on first hearing I could tell no appreciable difference between the 45 rpm vinyls and the xrcd24s. This is the very first time this has occurred. There is absolutely no surface noise on the fine ORG pressings, and only once – with the level set too high – did I detect a slight groove-echo at the very beginning of a vinyl disc side. I reviewed the two FIM discs back in 2006 and 07 and my CD playback has improved since then, feeding the output from my Oppo BDP-83SE to my Benchmark DAC. My SOTA turntable’s SME-V arm is mounted with Grado’s Reference MM cartridge via the Phenomenon II phono preamp direct into my Sunfire preamp.
With extended and repeated listening to various tracks on both albums I could occasionally discern an extremely slight increase in “air” and impact on the 45 rpm vinyl vs. the xrcds, but it was so slight as to be unnoticeable by most listeners. Perhaps with an equal-quality moving coil cartridge and more lavish phono preamp this difference might be somewhat increased to the vinyl’s benefit. However, when one considers the differing retail prices of the two formats: $55 vs. $32, plus the increased up-and-down activity required for the 45 rpm sides, I think my vote would go to the F.I.M. xrcd24s.
Detailed TrackList of “Espana”:
1. Capriccio Espanol, Op. 34
2. Andalusia – Danza Espanola No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 37
1. Espana Rhapsody
2. Spanish Dances No. 1 in C Major
3. Spanish Dances No. 2 in G Minor
1. Spanish Dances No. 3 in A Major
2. Spanish Dances No. 4 in B Flat Major
3. Spanish Dances No. 5 in D Major
1. Repeat of program on Side A tracks 1 and 2
— John Sunier