Mercury Living Presence: The Collector’s Edition 3 [DiscList follows] – Mercury/Universal (53 CDs)

by | Jun 14, 2015 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Mercury Living Presence: The Collector’s Edition 3 [DiscList follows] – Mercury/Universal 478 7896 (53 CDs) – in rigid box with color illustrated booklet and original covers [3/23/15] *****:

This third huge set makes available on CD the remaining recordings remastered for CD release in the 1990s by Wilma Cozart Fine, using tweaked versions of the equipment originally used by Mercury to convert their mostly three-channel mastertapes into two channels for release on stereo vinyl. (Of course it doesn’t include the albums which were briefly released on Universal SACDs with the original three-channel recordings or the audiophile vinyl reissues of some of these.)

There are ten albums here which have been newly remastered for CD for the very first time. Thomas Fine (Fine’s son) was closely involved in the remastering which was done at Abbey Road Studios. Four albums originally engineered by the Mercury staff but issued on the Philips label are also included. There are three mono classic albums in the set, which benefit greatly from the greater audibility of the full orchestra and bring the sonic character to a place more similar to the later Mercury stereo recordings. In general the Mercury sort of slightly in-your-face sonics are preserved on the CDs (although it doesn’t quite compare to the three-track originals). At least you won’t have to deal with your tonearm leaping out of the grooves during the cannon in the 1812 Overture, as was often the case with the vinyls. And there is no hassle such as dealing with the very-close-to-the-label cutting of the original Mercury vinyls.

Here are the ten albums never before available on CD:

CD15: Frederick Fennell conducts Victor Herbert [New to CD]
CD38: Ginastera: Variaciones Concertantes; Britten: The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra [Mono recording]
CD39: Copland: Symphony No.3 [Mono recording]
CD40: Respighi: Church Windows; Roman Festivals [Mono recording]
CD43: Beethoven: Symphony No.3 in E Flat – “Eroica”
CD48: World Of Flamenco
CD49: Baroque Concertos For Recorders & Strings
CD50: Hindemith: Symphony in B Flat; Schoenberg: Theme & Variations; Stravinsky: Symphonies for Wind
CD52: Tchaikovsky: Overture 1812; Capriccio Italien [Mono recording]
CD53: Shostakovich: String Quartets Nos. 4 & 8

The illustrated booklet is full of details about all of the albums. There is a paragraph on every recording, including dates, tapes, mics, the engineer, the producer – in fact everything the collector wants to see. In some two original vinyl albums have been put together for one CD, due to its longer length. This time a higher digital resolution was used for the tape transfers than the sample rate of the 1990s. The 192K/24-bit format was used thruout the process. Here is just a short list of some of the orchestras, conductors, composers and soloists on this terrific set of CDs:

Orchestras: London Symphony Orchestra, Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Hungarica, Festival Chamber Orchestra, Eastman-Rochester “, et al.

Conductors: Antal Doráti, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Frederick Fennell, Sir Neville Marriner

Composers: Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss

Soloists: Sviatoslav Richter, Mistislav Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskyaya, Paper Reomero, Angel Romero, Bernard Krainis, Eugene List, Earl Wild, Rafael Puyana

The original mono version of the 1812 Overture is included because of both the sonics, including the terrific cannon sound, and for the historical interest.   The original mono Church Windows and Roman Festivals of Respighi are a kick as well, especially the loud tam-tam crash at the end of the first one. There is also a stereo CD of the Shostakovich String Quartets Nos. 4 & 8 with the Borodin Quartet – recorded during the first visit by the Mercury crew to the Soviet Union but not before released. It’s amazing what a great pickup of all the instruments of the orchestras were achieve with Fine’s placement of only a single mic or a trio of them, and no others – like most classical recordings today.

Altogether a landmark in recorded history of prime interest to all audiophiles and most collectors, as are the first two sets in the Mercury series. You’ll find that the sonics on each of the CDs in their separate sleeves is identical to that of the original reissues in jewelboxes, with the addition of the many recordings (especially in this set) which were not reissued on CD at that time, or not widely available on LP originally. [One of these multi-CD sets will be our drawing at AUDIOPHILE AUDITION next month!]

—John Sunier

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