Recording of December 1966: Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake & Sleeping Beauty

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake & Sleeping Beauty Selections
New Philharmonia Orchestra, Stokowsky
London Phase-4 SPC 21008 (LP); Ampex LCL-75008 (open-reel tape). Tony D'Amato, Marty Wargo, prods.; Arthur Lilley, eng. TT: 46:50.

These are exciting, lilting, concert-style (as opposed to ballet-style) performances of the best-known excerpts from Tchaikovsky's second- and third-most-popular ballets. (First, of course, is the Nutcracker.) The recording is a surprise, after the excesses we've heard on earlier Phase-4 recordings. Gone are the screaming highs, the room-rocking bass boom, the total isolation of channels, the absence of depth. These recordings are rich and fat in a way that only Londons can be, and overall balance is very good, save for a small tendency toward mid-bass heaviness.

Instrumental timbres are good, particularly during the quieter passages, and they are balanced in just the "right" way for this kind of music. The trombones have weight and "bite," trumpets are suitably brilliant yet not piercing, and there's a rosinous sheen in the sound of the string sections.

The only real lack here is realism: the recording is just too beautiful to be believable. There is little sense ofthe hall acoustics, and we get no feeling of depth—of the back-row instruments being farther away than the closest ones. There are differences in depth, to be sure, but they are not the differences we are accustomed to hearing from a concert-hall seat that would put us this close to the first row. As a matter of fact, it is almost impossible to decide whether this is a Row-A, Row-H, or Row-M recording; the sense of true distance seems indefinite, and seems to change perceptibly from loud to soft passages. Dynamic range is not very great—about on a par with a typical Columbia disc.

Stereo imaging is excellent, centerfill is only fairly good, and stereo spread is very wide; literally from speaker to speaker. Our tape was hissier than usual, but the LP was fine.—J. Gordon Holt