Living Stereo 60 Box
Import, 60 CD
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This 60 disc box set contains 60 original 'Living Stereo' recordings. This is the first time a comprehensive collection of these iconic recordings has been created. Each album comes complete with its original LP artwork. An extensive booklet is included with the liner notes from each original album. Includes recordings by such great artists as Jascha Heifetz, Charles Munch, Fritz Reiner, Julian Bream, Leontyne Price and Arthur Rubinstein. Sony. 2012.
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(1) The late 1950s state-of-the-art ability to electronically capture a stereophonic soundstage and accurately reproduce it in your listening room subsequently underwent no significant improvement. Relative to contemporary recordings, recording quality of virtually any RCA / Living Stereo recording is far more realistic in its reproduction accuracy. As there was essentially no real-time or post-recording technical tinkering, the sonic feel of the recordings appear more accurate, musically honest, and natural to the ears (provided, of course, one employs a quality stereo tube amp ran flat with two quality loudspeakers -- which was, of course, how this music was intended to be enjoyed).
In a head-to-head, "RCA / Living Stereo" vs. "Mercury / Living Presence", matchup (from the same 1955-62 period), one will notice Mercury engineers utilized closer miking techniques -- indeed a photo from the Mercury box set exhibits the famous three mics suspended stage-front, overhead, whereas RCA engineering appears to have incorporated a pick-up location a few rows off-stage into the hall. The noticeable trade-off is apparent: the Mercurys are brighter, tighter, and have more direct punch (one gets the feeling that the conductors "conducted" the players to play to the mics...), while the RCAs have a more thorough sound stage and a larger overall robust sound -- with the latter, your listening room can truly approximate the recording hall, which, of course, is what stereophonic reproduction was supposed to do. In short: with the Mercurys you hear more, with the RCAs you feel more.
(2) Conductors and their musical interpretations, the instrumental competency of the orchestras, and the compelling ability of featured soloists from the 1955-62 period far and away outshine their contemporaries. One listen to Charles Munch's interpretation of Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 or Fritz Reiner's interpretation of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scherazade" and it's immediately apparent there are no contemporary conductors or orchestras who can approach these or the many other truly remarkable recordings in the set. The reason is simple: in the case of both conductors as well as many orchestral members, there was either a direct link or near-direct link to many of the 19th century composers and teachers responsible for the music at hand. Such links are absent from today's classical culture.
The number of satisfying performances in the set are copious: Munch's readings of "Daphnes Et Chloe" (Ravel), Prokofiev's Violin Conerto No. 2, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, as well as Reiner's readings of "El Amor Brujo" (Falla), and Berlioz' Symphony Fantistique are notably outstanding. Soloists such as Rubenstein, Cliburn, and Heifetz are without contemporary parallel.
There are about 10 CDs devoted to opera -- not enough to satisfy an appetite for that sort of thing, yet surely enough to blemish an otherwise incredible cross-section of RCA's golden "stereophonic" age of formal Western art music. There's also a CD each of solo pipe organ music and Spanish guitar music. In all three cases, these would be better served in sets addressing their respective music genres.
This set, along with its recent Decca, Philips, and Mercury counterparts, serves as an excellent method to instantly acquire quality recordings of formal Western art music; and at approximately $2--3/disc this wonderful music can be had at a fraction of the traditional single disc cost. Most discs are coupled with additional works to routinely tally individual disc playing times to over one hour.
The set is a truly phenomenal and inspirational collection or formal Western art music and will provide a lifetime of satisfaction and enjoyment.
What I am finding is that the titles in this collection that were also reissued in hybrid SACD/CD form, like the Earl Wild performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (Volume 1, CD 8), were not scrubbed for tape hiss, the result being that they sound very natural like the hybrid SACD/CD's, while recordings that were not released in hybrid SACD/CD form, WERE scrubbed for noise, for example, the Rubinstein/Szeryng performance of Beethoven's Kreutzer and Spring sonatas (Volume 2, CD 17) , and they sound flat and not life-like on high resolution systems. Please note that my comments are made based upon hearing the CD's in the box set and only the CD layer in the hybrid SACD/CD's, and that I am not comparing the sound of the SACD reissues with the CD reissues in the box sets (I do not own an SACD player or otherwise have a means of listening to music recorded in DSD).
Many of the performances in these box sets are wonderful and especially given the price, these box sets are, overall, fantastic to have, but audiophiles need to know that not all of the CD's here were remastered with the same approach used on the SACD/CD reissues and are therefore not ideal from an audiophile perspective.
This box contains 60 compact discs, many of which are outstanding (try Reiner's Also Sprach Zarathustra), and all of which are acceptable, both as performances and recordings. The first disc is a "sampler", but the remaining 59 are great performances of core repertoire. Although you are getting old-fashioned Red Book 16/44 compact discs (manufactured in Korea!), the recording is actually the CD layer of the SACD remasters from the original master tapes (by Sound Mirror). Each disc comes in a sleeve with the same cover art as the SACD, and the box is accompanied by a superb book which contains all the SACD cover notes for every disc, and provides background details of the remastering. I have the equivalent SACDs for a couple of the discs, and the comparative sound quality, whilst not identical, is quite close.
For just over $2 per disc, you are getting a superb bargain, and all the performances are in excellent late 1950s or early 1960s sound. Of course, there is some tape hiss and occasional audience noises on a few of the live performances. But you are hearing something special, and it is well worth the modest cost.