* Mephisto & Co. [TrackList follows] – Minnesota Orchestra/ Eiji Oue – Reference Recordings Mastercuts series 45 rpm, 200-gram RM-2510 [9/9/14] (2 discs) *****:
This is a collection of eight variously daemonically-influenced shorter orchestral favorites, ranging from not quite three minutes to twelve minutes. It got reviews calling it superb when it first came out in 1998 as a CD. Now Paul Stubbleine has remastered it and the double 45 rpm pair were pressed at QRP and they include a huge amount of notes printed on the two inside surfaces of the double-fold album. The original recording session took place at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis in October of 1997 and Keith O. Johnson was the recording engineer.
The notes open with “Tales of the Supernatural, involving ghosts, goblins, forces of Nature, and Old Nick himself as well as the occasional “wild ride,” have given rise to counless descriptive pieces for orchestra.” These are eight of them, two on each of the four sides of the vinyl set. There are number of recordings of most of these pieces, but the Minnesota Orchestra and Oue really seem to play up the dramatic aspects of all of them to a high degree and compete with most of the others.
The Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1 is just one of the several Mephistoesque works by that composer, but it seems to sum up that infernal guy very well. It makes a great opening piece as well as the overall title for the album. The piece that follows it is the only one crediting a soloist; in this case violinist Jorja Fleezanis, in Saint-Saens’ Danse macabre. Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain always makes me think of Disney’s Fantasia, but then so does Paul Dukas’ humorous The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which was the Fantasia portion with Mickey Mouse as the apprentice, which was so beloved it was repeated in the Fantasia 2000 sequel. Both have definitely more audiophile-oriented sonics than one gets on Leopold Stokowski’s originals, as much as that conductor was into audiophilia.
The two probably least familiar pieces on the album will be the Tam O’Shanter Overture of Arnold and Johann Strauss’ “Lucifer Polka.” Both are given all-out virtuoso performances by the Minnesotans, with plenty of brass in the Arnold. Keith Johnson doesn’t use a forest of mics in the orchestra for his recordings, so there is plenty of L-R information that decodes well with Dolby Pro Logic or any other pseudo-surround processing for multiple-speaker setups. Is it worth $60? If you have a quality turntable and analog setup, yes. (Personally I don’t think the 200-gram pressings make much difference vs. the 180 standard, but it shouldn’t be enough to destroy your cartridge VTA setting. The 45 rpm does make a difference.)
TrackList:1. SIDE A – LISZT Mephisto Waltz No. 1 2. SAINT-SAËNS Danse macabre 3. SIDE B – LIADOV Baba Yaga 4. MUSSORGSKY Night on Bald Mountain 5. SIDE C – ARNOLD Tam O’Shanter 6. DUKAS The Sorcerer’s Apprentice 7. SIDE D – FRANCK The Accursed Huntsman 8. J. STRAUSS Lucifer Polka