If you're looking for CDs to display the full resources of your sound system, check out those listed below. All are outstanding examples of the finest achievements in the art of recording - the best of state-of-the-art digital recording as well as fine analog recordings successfully transferred to CD. Many have been reviewed on this site.
All CDs listed are "regular" CDs
although some of them are in the SACD format—but not necessarily
in surround sound. There's
no question that technologies of SACD and DVDA (see FEATURE on
these) permit even more accurate reproduction of master recordings. However,
proof that regular CDs are capable of spectacular sonics is evident
from those listed below. Audiophiles must
to take advantage of this improved quality. Many recordings included
here are SACD two or three-track
Surround Hall of Fame for
SACD and DVDA multi-channel recordings.
SAINT-SAËNS: Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78. DEBUSSY: La Mer. IBERT: Escales.
Berg Zamkochian, organist; Boston Symphony Orch/Charles Munch, cond.
RCA/BMG LIVING STEREO SACD 61387 TT: 73:04 (3 channel)
This is one of the first RCA/BMG Living Stereo SACD releases, a sonic blockbuster by any standards. Recorded in Boston's Symphony Hall April 5/6, 1959, this splendid performance of Saint-Saëns' "organ" symphony finds conductor Charles Munch in repertory perfect for him. Berj Zamkochian plays the Symphony Hall organ, and RCA's engineers have captured it all magnificently. The recording originally was made in three tracks (left/center/right), and the new remastering to SACD has been brilliantly accomplished. The Debussy and Ibert works, both recorded in December 1956, although impressive, are not in the same league sonically—but for display purposes the symphony well serves the purpose.
Beautiful Galatea, Pique Dame, Light Cavalry, Poet and Peasant,
and Night in Vienna, and Boccaccio overtures. AUBER: The
Bronze Horse, Fra Diavolo and Masaniello overtures.
One of the first Mercury SACD issues containing the original three-channel recordings, the Suppé made in Cass Technical High School in Detroit November 29, 1959, the Auber April 4, 1959 in Old Orchestra Hall in Detroit. Original recordings were stunning in their sonic impact, even more so in these terrific transfers to SACD. There is a smoothness to strings as never before, and the sound stage is perfectly spread in front of the listener. Paray and the Detroit Symphony are at their virtuoso best. Really quite special!
'THE FANTASTIC STOKOWSKI" - Transcriptions for Orchestra
Erich Kunzel leads the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra in surprisingly vivid, dynamic performances of Leopold Stokowski transcriptions: Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and Fugue in G minor, Festival Day in Seville of Albeniz, Debussy's Clair de Lune and The Engulfed Cathedral, Hungarian Dance No. 6 of Brahms, the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata No. 14, Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# minor, Boccherini's Minuet, and two works of Mussorgsky: Night on Bare Mountain and The Great Gate of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition. Engineering represents Telarc at its very best with super wide dynamic range combined with warmth, presence and thundering detailed bass.
ANTILL: Corroboree Suite. GINASTERA: Panambi Suite, Op.
1a. Estancia Suite, Op. 8a.
Sir Eugene Goossens leads the London Symphony in this sonically spectacular program. Antill's aboriginal ballet is filled with exciting jungle dances including Witchetty Grub Men, Rain Dance, Frog Totem, Fish Men, Procession of Totems, and Closing Fire Ceremony, ending with a fiendish scene of chaos and prostration. Scoring is for full orchestra and many exotic percussion instruments, the sound of which has been stunningly captured on 35 mm film in this recording made in 1959. Excerpts from Ginastera's two colorful ballets, and Villa-Lobos' brief excursion on a little train will also delight audiophiles. These are three-track original recordings, sonic wonders all.
GILLIS: Symphony 5 1/2. SOUSA: The Washington
Post. GOULD: Pavanne. ARNDT:
Nola: A Silhouette. PRYOR: The Whistler and his Dog. ANDERSON: Belle
of the Ball. Plink, Plank, Plunk! MacDOWELL: To a Wild
Rose. SCOTT: The Toy
Trumpet. GERSHWIN: Promenade. ROSE: Holiday for
Strings. NEVIN: Narcissus.
BRATTON: The Teddy Bear's Picnic. FRIML: Chanson "In
Love." HERBERT: March
of the Toys. RODGERS: The Carousel Waltz. HOLZMANN: Blaze
Rufus ("Kerry Mills"). The Arkansas Traveller.
Here's a delectable program of American light classics featuring one of the finest recordings ever of Symphony 5 1/2, "A Symphony for Fun," by Don Gillis. Delightful to listen to, and brilliantly recorded February 9-10, 1998 by producer Oliver Rivers with that master of engineers, Tony Faulkner. There's a wonderful sense of space and presence in these stereo recordings, with smooth strings, dazzling brass and percussion.
BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra. Music
for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Hungarian Sketches.
Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra taped this magnificent performance of Concerto for Orchestra October 22, 1955; it remains one of the finest recordings ever made of the work, with engineering that perfectly captures the rich acoustics of Orchestra Hall. Music for SPC, recorded in 1958, is another Reiner/Chicago treasure, equally stunning in both performance and sound. Both of these are available on Japanese premium CDs, but each occupies a CD, while on this mid-priced RCA issue the collector has both and as a bonus Hungarian Sketches recorded at the same time as Music for SPC. The Japanese versions are magnificent—the RCA equally fine although perhaps not quite as sharply etched in high frequencies.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 11 "In the Year
Leopold Stokowski made this recording in April 1958 immediately after he conducted the American premiere of this powerful symphony. This colorful, heavily-scored work brings out the best in Stokowski, who was aware of engineering enhancements that could be made. Oliver Daniel's biography of the conductor tells of Stokowski's requests for audio effect (...we give it a full dynamic range and powerful lows..."). You won't hear an orchestra sound like this in any concert hall, but it is a spectacular listening experience. The Houston Symphony has never sounded better. The 2 LPs of the original issue were in the elite group of demonstration disks; this finely-processed CD is as well.
HOLST: The Planets, Op. 32.
Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony give a superb performance of this seven-movement suite scored for large orchestra which vividly depicts seven planets, opening with the menace of Mars, the Bringer of War, and ending with the mysterious ethereal Neptune, The Mystic, with its wordless distant womens' voices. Inbetween we have Venus, the Bringer of Peace, Mercury, the Winged Messenger, Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age, and Uranus, the Magician. The music gives engineers ample opportunity for sonic display and this recording, dating from 1986, is one of the sonic blockbusters from London/Decca. The organ pedal notes in Mars, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune will shake your floor. The CD jacket shown is the original issue which currently is available only as an import; the recording has been reissued on the mid-price Penguin Classics label.
REVUELTAS: Sensemayá. La noche de los Mayas.
Here are three major works by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas beginning with the exotic Sensemayá. The four-movement suite from the composer's score for the film La noche de los Mayas, and the reconstructed La Coronela ballet, are equally powerful and heavily scored for percussion. The Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra is new to me but obviously is a virtuoso group, and the Naxos recording, made in Mexico in February 2001, offers stunning, wide-range and rich orchestral sound, which seems to be the norm for most recent recordings on the label.
"HOLLYWOOD SCREEN CLASSICS"
Chesky has imaginatively gathered together 67 minutes of movie music recorded by Charles Gerhardt with the National Philharmonic Orchestra originally recorded for Reader's Digest. Most of these recordings are not available elsewhere, the original Digest releases long discontinued. A highlight is a 7-minute suite of music from King's Row by Korngold, along with Three Coins in the Fountain, Laura, Born Free, Charade, El Cid, Topkapi, East of Eden and The Call of the Faraway Hills—as well as a magnificent Fanfare from Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra. And to top it off, an extended suite from Gone With the Wind. K. E. Wilkinson was the recording engineer, and Chesky's transfers are superb.
"MUSIC FOR BANG, BAAROOM AND HARP"
Here are a dozen light "pop" display pieces recorded in 1958 in Chicago's Orchestra Hall, the same site used for those spectacular Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony Orchestra (before architectural changes nearly destroyed the acoustics). The warmth and glow of the hall are ever apparent in these delightful, imaginative arrangements of works including National Emblem March, The Sheik of Araby, Baia, Tiddley Winks, Duel on the Skins, and Ding Dong Polka. Originally issued on LP and long treasured as a stereo demonstration disk, MFBB&H is now available in this superb CD transfer. One of the great demonstration recordings!
WAGNER: Das Rheingold
No. 5, Op. 74. Symphony No. 6. Op. 95.
Richard Hickox and the London Symphony have recorded the first six of Sir Malcolm Arnold's nine symphonies for Chandos; this disk of Symphonies 5 and 6 was recorded in February 1995. The music represents Arnold at his finest, and is richly orchestrated with plenty of percussion. Producer and engineers Brian and Ralph Couzens have worked wonders in capturing every detail, with a fine sense of space and plenty of percussion impact.
LEIFS: Hekla, Op. 52, Loftr-Suite and
This CD of music by Icelandic composer Jón Leifs features Hekla, sometimes called the loudest music ever written. This was composed in 1961 and vividly depicts the 1947 eruption of the volcano. The huge orchestra includes a massive array of percussion played by 19 musicians including stones, sirens, chains, artillery and heavy bells. During recording sessions many of the musicians used earplugs! Hekla is a wild 11-minute piece that begins softly, becomes ominous and at the end you and your sound equipment may suffer sonic shock. This gargantuan sound has been wonderfully captured by the BIS engineers. To settle your nerves, then sample other works on the CD which are, of necessity, of a gentler nature.
HOLST: First Suite in E flat, Op. 28 No. 1. Second Suite
in F, Op. 28 No. 2. HANDEL: Music for the Royal Fireworks.
This SACD offers a generous coupling of staples from the Telarc catalog, transferred with the latest technology from original Soundstream master tapes and sounding better than ever. The Fennell/Cleveland Symphonic Winds SACD is a knockout. Recorded in Cleveland's Severance Hall in April, 1978, it instantly became an audiophile's dream in its original LP and CD issue, with its incredible bass drum, remarkable presence and clarity. Now it's even more realistic, as is the collection of symphonic band works included on the SACD, not on the original CD issue.
Ballet (complete). Excerpts from Sleeping
Ever since its original issue this 1975 complete recording of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker has been recognized for its magnificent performance and fine sound. Here it is, in a budget-priced release, even more attractive as it includes the considerable bonus of an extended suite from Sleeping Beauty in a dynamic performance with the London Symphony directed by Anatole Fistoulari recorded in 1962 but sounding better than many recent recordings in its replication of a large orchestra playing in a fine hall. Dorati's Nutcracker has also been issued in the Philips "50 Great Recordings" series, in a 96kHz 24-bit "super digital transfer" (464 747) but this is full-price, available only in Europe and the coupling is different: Dorati's Philharmonia Orchestra recordings of Tchaikovsky's Suites 3 and 4.
STRAUSS: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30. Ein
Two sonic blockbusters indeed, Fritz Reiner's recordings of Zarathustra and Heldenleben, both recorded in March 1954 before Chicago's Orchestra Hall acoustics were diminished by ill-advised architectural work. Reiner is a specialist in music of Strauss, the CSO is in top form, and producer John Pfeiffer and recording engineer Leslie Chase outdid themselves. To have both of these legendary performances available on SACD at mid-price is extraordinary. Both of these were recorded only in stereo and these are the channels we hear on this SACD.
Another generous coupling in the initial release of Mercury Living Presence SACDs, containing all works originally released on two LPs. Firdbird is the earliest recording, made in Watford Town Hall June 7, 1959; the others were made in the same site in 1964. Dorati is an old hand in this repertory, with the expected results. These are original three-track tape recordings, and we hear what originally was recorded on them by recording directors Wilma Cozart and Harold Lawrence. Terrific listening experience!
VILLA-LOBOS: Uirapur˜. Modinha. PROKOFIEV: Suite
from Cinderella. Ugly Duckling, Op. 18
The Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York (actually the New York Philharmonic) under Leopold Stokowski's knowing direction, produces rich, exotic masses of sound in these Prokofiev and Villa-Lobos scores. Uiraperù, with its imaginative orchestration that includes many unusual instruments, is particularly effective. These recordings were made on 35mm film in 1958/59; the brilliance of the master tapes has been totally captured on this CD issue. And it is a budget-priced CD!
This CD gathers together a group of recordings conducted by the
late Charles Gerhardt made for Reader's Digest between 1965
and 1971 except for the Rossini-Respighi which was recorded in 1987.
In addition to familiar works by Gliere, Borodin, Grieg and Bizet, we have an
electrifying account of Lalo's seldom-heard Le Roi D'Ys. Kenneth Wilkinson
was the engineer, and the rich, well-balanced original sound has been
successfully transferred to CD.
PUCCINI: Prelude to Act III of Tosca. MUSSORGSKY: Prelude
to Khovantchina. OFFENBACH: Orpheus in the Underworld Overture. VERDI:
Ballet Music from Aida. BINGE: Elizabethan Serenade. DVORAK: In
Nature's Realm, Op. 91. KABALEVSKY: Colas Breugnon Overture, Op. 24. SMETANA:
Leopold Stokowski loved music of Mussorgsky (in 1929 in Philadelphia he conducted the first performance outside Russia of the "original" version of Boris Godunov), and this superb CD contains wonderful performances of all of Stokowski's vivid transcriptions of works by the Russian master. Night on Bare Mountain is famous for its inclusion of Walt Disney's 1940 film Fantasia. His version of Pictures in quite different from Ravel's familiar orchestration, particularly in Baba Yaga. This synthesis from Boris captures all of the mystery and grandeur of the opera. Bamert and the BBC do full justice to all of these and the Chandos team has captured the rich orchestral textures to perfection, with a fine sense of space.
Ravel's orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition has been a specialty of the Chicago Symphony over the years ever since the monophonic Mercury Rafael Kubelik recording made in 1951. Reiner's was the first Chicago stereo recording, made December 7, 1957, and since then the orchestra has recorded it with Neemi Järvi, Seiji Ozawa and Sir Georg Solti—but none of the last three have equalled Reiner's in either performance or sound. This is a true sonic blockbuster, and we are fortunate to have it in a superb transfer at a very reasonable price, with the other works as bonuses. All recordings are three channel except Marche miniature—it is explained that although no documentation exists to explain it, it may have been because the work is scored for a small ensemble in "the treble register" that there was no center channel.