2010 Records To Die For Page 3


LISZT: Piano Concerto 1
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto 2

Artur Rubenstein, piano; Alfred Wallenstein, RCA Victor Symphony (Liszt); Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Rachmaninoff)
RCA Living Stereo LSC-2068 (LP). 1962. John Pfeiffer, prod.; Lewis Layton, John Crawford, engs. AAA. TT: 49:38

Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto 2 is one of my favorite piano works, and the Rubenstein-Reiner-Chicago reading is the one I'd grab if the house were burning down. Truth be told, I marginally prefer Vladimir Ashkenazy's performance with the Moscow Philharmonic (Decca/London), but the glorious, rich sound of this RCA Living Stereo carries the day. It may be a bit too romantic, with a too-vivid, larger-than-life piano, but for me, it pushes all the right buttons. Definitely a lights-off, sit-back-with-a-glass-of-wine-and-enjoy record. (XVI-6)

RUSH: Caress of Steel
Mercury SRM-1-1046 (LP). 1975. Rush, Terry Brown, prods., engs. AAA. TT: 44:51

Caress of Steel, Rush's third album, narrowly edges out their fourth, 2112, as my R2D4. The sparse arrangements showcase their playing; in particular, Alec Leifsen's chord-based guitar style is shown off far better here than on their later, more complex albums. With Caress and 2112, Rush exploited the album format with longer, more developed operettas than were possible with their later focus on radio-friendly singles. Yes, "I Think I'm Going Bald" is woefully out of place, the lyrics are a little pretentious, and Geddy Lee's vocals are an acquired taste, but the music and sound are incredible. Rush at their very best.


CHILDREN OF EDEN: American Premiere Recording
Stephen Schwartz, music, lyrics; Danny Kosarin, cond.
RCA 63165-2 (2 CDs). 1998. Stephen Schwartz, Danny Kosarin, prods.; Glen Marchese, eng. DDD. TT: 97:51

Children of Eden had a short run in London's West End in 1991, and the planned transfer to Broadway did not materialize. However, the show has been acquiring a considerable following among musical-theater fans, and this recording, based on a major production mounted at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse, shows why. It's really a wonderful piece: richly melodic, and written in a variety of musical styles that include pop, rock, jazz, gospel, and mainstream musical theater. The opener, "Let There Be," has pre-echoes of Schwartz's Wicked, and I was at times reminded of Leonard Bernstein's Mass, for which Schwartz wrote some of the lyrics. Several songs deserve to be musical-theater standards, including "Stranger to the Rain," "In Whatever Time We Have," "The Hardest Part of Love," and the very moving title song. The show is almost completely through-sung, and Schwartz's flair for melodic invention prevents this device from becoming tiresome. Very fine performances, led by Stephanie Mills, and no complaints about the sound.

CHRISTINE ANDREAS: Here's to the Ladies
PS Classics PS-208 (CD). 2002. Martin Silvestri, prod.; Gary Thomas, eng. DDD. TT: 51:25

Christine Andreas made her Broadway debut in 1976, in the 20th-anniversary Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, the recording of which I prefer (heresy!), in some ways, to the original Broadway cast recording with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. (She's a more gutsy Eliza than Andrews, and I like the fact that Ian Richardson actually does some singing rather than just talking his way through the songs.) Andreas's distinctive voice encompasses the belt as well as the soprano range, with a strong vibrato that I find very attractive. Best of all, she's a real singing actress who tells a story with each song. The concept is a tribute to the great female stars of the musical theater—Martin, Merman, Lawrence, Cook, Streisand, Lansbury, Andrews—but Andreas wisely makes no attempt to sound like any of these ladies, and in the process makes each song sound as if it were written for her. She gets sympathetic support from an orchestra conducted by Lee Musiker, and the recording has a suitable "pop" balance, with the voice up front, so we don't miss the slightest inflection.


CHARLIE PARKER: New Sounds in Modern Music, Vol.1
Charlie Parker, alto saxophone; Dizzy Gillespie, piano, trumpet; Miles Davis, trumpet; Curly Russell, bass; Argonne Thornton, piano; Max Roach, drums
Savoy MG 9000 (10" mono LP). 1950. Herman Lubinsky, exec. prod.; unknown eng. AAA. TT: 21:25

For Miles Davis, the history of jazz could be condensed into four words: "Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker." Of the second half of that observation, no greater evidence exists than this record. On November 26, 1945, alto saxophonist Parker entered the studio as a bandleader for the first time, with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Curly Russell, Max Roach, and Argonne Thornton (aka Sadik Hakim). They recorded three complete songs and a couple of improvisations that day, including a version of "Now's the Time" that includes the young Davis's first solo on record. But the session is remembered for "Ko-Ko," an uptempo variation on "Cherokee" that came to epitomize both Parker's virtuosity and bebop itself. The first solo is Gillespie's, on trumpet—notable because he was there to play piano—after which Parker burns phrase after memorable phrase into the listener's mind, with uncanny rhythmic flexibility and harmonic intuition. It's a jazz milestone, and one of the finest, most exciting examples of improvisational music ever committed to record.

"Ko-Ko" and the seven other selections on this 10" LP have been anthologized numerous times, often with good liner notes and great outtakes, but never with better sound than this. The genius of Charlie Parker could transcend any format, but if you crave all the color, presence, and impact there is, seek out the vinyl (and a good mono cartridge).

Apple 5099969945120 (CD). 2009. George Martin, prod.; Geoff Emerick et al, engs.; Allan Rouse, reissue prod. AAD. TT: 9:52: 03

If you're among the sane, sound-loving Beatles fans to whom the debate surrounding their newly remastered catalog does little more than call to mind the voice of the fat, ponytailed comic-book dealer from The Simpsons, take my advice: the Beatles' In Mono is the box to buy. It offers the Beatles' first 10 original albums (Please Please Me through The Beatles), plus two CDs of non-album singles, all mastered exquisitely well—I would even say surprisingly well—from the original mono mixes. This is surely the closest anyone will come within my lifetime to the punch and color of the original British LPs, and unless you already own Sgt. Pepper's or The Beatles on import mono vinyl, there are performances in this set that you literally have not heard. A towering set, and easily the first digital issue that honors rather than obscures the sheer brilliance, originality, charm, and excitement of the music.


BEETHOVEN: String Quartets 12–16, Grosse Fuge, Opp. 127, 130–133, 135
Orion String Quartet: Daniel Phillips, Todd Phillips, violin; Steven Tenenbom, viola; Timothy Eddy, cello
Koch International Classics KIC-CD-7683 (3 CDs). 2007. Adam Abeshouse, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 3:15:14

Virtually every great string quartet, past and present, has recorded the Beethoven quartet cycle, that pinnacle of the literature and ultimate challenge to performers and listeners. The late quartets, born of Beethoven's compositional, emotional, and spiritual maturity, seem to transcend all earthly things in a quest for sublime beauty and perfection. The Orion Quartet, one of my favorite groups, admired and beloved worldwide, has lived with them for many years; having conquered all technical difficulties, the players are free to enter into and communicate Beethoven's thoughts, feelings, and changing moods, from gentle and quirky humor to sorrow, conflict, joy, and serenity.

BRAHMS: Cello Sonatas 1 & 2, Opp. 38 & 99
With: Dvorák: Waldesruhe, Op.68 No.5; Rondo, Op.95. Suk: Ballade & Serenade, Op.3 Nos. 1 & 2.
Steven Isserlis, cello; Stephen Hough, piano
Hyperion CDA67529 (CD). 2005. Simon Perry, exec. prod.; Philip Traugott, prod.; Ben Connellan, eng. DDD. TT: 73:49

Steven Isserlis is a masterful cellist with a beautiful, expressive tone, but his playing is most remarkable for his complete immersion in the music: one feels he is creating it again and letting it flow directly to the listener. His discography covers all styles; this CD features two works by each of three great romantic composers, each pairing showing opposite sides of its composer's musical personality. Brahms's Sonata 1 is austerely melancholy, Sonata 2 exuberantly triumphant; Dvorák's Waldesruhe breathes calm serenity, while his Rondo is all elfin lightness; Suk's Ballade projects dramatic passion, his Serenade ingratiating charm. The players capture all these moods, from poetic lyricism to ecstatic ardor, with total identification.


Stiff/Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs MFSL 1-329 (180gm LP). 1977/2009. Nick Lowe, prod.; Bazza, eng.; Shawn R. Britton, remastering. AAA. TT: 37:00

Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus's raw debut album has never sounded as vital, coherent, and nuanced as it does on this surprising, almost shocking remastering, which stuns the George "Porky" Peckham original LP (UK Stiff), as well as the four CD editions that followed (Columbia, Ryko, Rhino, Universal). The glassy overlay and gauzy scrim obscuring all previous LP and CD editions has been replaced with a level of transparency and tactile three-dimensionality that opens a window onto producer Nick Lowe's brilliant, low-budget game plan. Even if you've heard it a thousand times before, you'll hear new, key instrumental lines and backup vocals previously hidden in plain view. UK track order, plus "Watching the Detectives." (XVII-1, XXIV-12)

NAT KING COLE: The Nat King Cole Story
Capitol/Analogue Productions APP-SWCL 1613 (8 45rpm 180gm LPs, 2 SACD/CDs). 1961/2009. Lee Gillette, prod.; Kevin Gray, Steve Hoffman, remastering. AAA/AAD. TT: ca 90:00

Nat King Cole's record sales built the Capitol Tower in L.A. In 1961, Capitol repaid the pop/jazz icon and his fans with interest by meticulously re-recording in stereo his greatest hits, many of which were originally issued in mono on 78rpm shellacs. Capitol packaged the set in a deluxe, cloth-covered, perfectbound three-LP edition, annotated by Leonard Feather, Ralph J. Gleason, and George T. Simon, that fans treasure to this day. This eight-LP, two-SACD set mastered from the original three-track work tapes is a sonic spectacular that outdoes the original by a wide margin—as does its packaging. The SACDs include three-channel and two-channel mixes. A major reissue.

John Atkinson's picture
Interesting thread on our website forum in response to this year's feature: http://www.stereophile.com/content/records-die-2

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

soulful.terrain's picture

Excellent to see the Complete Columbia Album Collection on this list.

xenomanic's picture

Hey Jon or anyone. I can't find the 20/20 album anywhere. I would settle for even AAC 256 files. There should be a place you can download it. Any ideas?

Olliecat70's picture

I live in Pinehurst, NC and I'm hving difficulty locating a store where I can purchase classical CD's.  Any suggestions?