Positive Feedback ISSUE 62
july/august 2012

 

The following submissions are for the 'Readers Who Want to be Writers' Contest. The authors are not Staff members of Positive Feedback.

 

Stravinsky's The Song of the Nightingale
by Richard J. Nelson

 

Do you like to collect LP's? Do you like to collect new and used LP's? When you collect LP's do you often collect by the label especially when it comes to classical and jazz? Do some of the titles that you collect on those said labels cause you to collect pieces by the same composers on different labels? Do your friends ask you what titles are the best sounding and have the best performances and on what label? Well if so then you are in the right place.

An often searched out and sought LP is the RCA Living Stereo of Stravinsky's  LSC 2150 backed by Prokofiev's "Lt. Kije" conducted by Fritz Reiner. This LP has had numerous pressings originally by RCA (Victrola) and there are re-issues by Classic Records in 33 and 45 RPM versions. Let's not forget that Chesky re-issued this RCA title too in the very beginning of the re-issue boom with the record number RC 10.

And what about the Song of the Nightingale on Mercury SR90837 with Antal Dorati conducting, recently I listened to this on the Speakers Corner re-issue and I found that I preferred it to the Reiner in sound for sure if not interpretation. This one is real sleeper and was one of the best sounding LP's I listened to in that week.

It only took me about ten listens before I finally realized I like the Mercury better than the RCA version with Reiner. But in any case both the RCA and the Mercury belong in your collection. Which brings me to another LP reissue. This one is on London / Decca and in this case specifically the London STS Stereo Treasury pressing.

So you are wondering what an STS pressing is? It is a London Stereo Treasury pressing. These are the American equivalent of the UK Decca Ace of Diamonds budget issues. The ones that I like to collect are the LP's with the orange/red label with the silver (sometimes black) lettering on the label. Always look on the label for made in the UK as these records are usually of very high quality and are typically pressed on heavy vinyl. Additionally you will find these LP's used at very fair prices for what you are getting and typically they have great to excellent sound.

A little history, a London Stereo Treasury pressing is a reissue of a London Blueback or is the offspring of an original Decca SXL LP. It is just the USA budget reissue of it. Typically you want to look for LP's that have the pressing information pressed into the inner lead out groove of the LP. This pressing number will always start with ZAL and will end with a number and a letter. For instance 1W which indicates first pressing and the pressing engineer of the record. In this case W = Harry Fischer. Usually these LP's are made from the same plates as the originals so expect good sound on UK pressings.

So the London Stereo Treasury LP I am reviewing here is Stravinsky's Song of the Nightingale. Record number STS 15011 with a pressing number of ZAL 3129-3W which means that it is the 3rd stamper and the W means Harry Fischer was the cutting engineer. The original SXL Decca 2188 and London CS 6138 should sound even better, with the UK SDD 136, and ECS 776 being the budget equivalent of the London Stereo Treasury if you are seeking any of them out.

The opening of this Song of the Nightingale LP is startling loud and very dynamic with the playing of the nightingale song by the flute with repeating melody of the song. You hear the harp pluck on the right a little forward on the stage. The horns are to the left with the strings in the middle and then another huge dynamic as the full orchestra makes its appearance. This starts the entrance of the Japanese Dance and it is here that the low string bass enter and growl as the score imposes severe demands on solo and group players.

The setting is the nightingale and the fisherman and the splendor of the Chinese Court. Deep percussion and snare drum underline the section of the Chinese Court and this part is startlingly original.

Then the horn sections call and answer with the bowed instruments responding and the horns calling back which sets the drama of the music brilliantly. The format is the setting of the Emperors palace and then follows with the Chinese March which introduces the flute song of the toy nightingale brought to the palace and given to the Emperor by the 3 Japanese.

The live nightingale then disappears and the drum frames of the percussion instruments appear and the banished fisherman song returns. The drum sound here has wonderful attack and decay. Solemn music follows as the Emperor is now ill and the live nightingale returns and its song saves the Emperor from death and then ends with the fisherman's song which hails in the new dawn.

Sound is always excellent and the acoustic is large and warm. Soundstage is wide just to the outside edges of my speakers with very good depth. The orchestra itself having a medium close presence with stunning layering of the instruments and the string bass resonating in the hall and the strings having a sweet sound.

The Song of the Nightingale was presented in 1917 to Ernest Ansermet who conducted the L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and it is here on this late 50's stereo era recording that the orchestra records it and play like angels.

Whether this is the start, middle or ending of collecting this Stravinsky work …don't pass up this version if the opportunity presents itself in those used bins or on eBay.

This is one of Ansermet's best Stravinsky LP's (and there are many) and both sides are of the highest sonic quality, the Decca standard of sound. This LP shows how early stereo brought large orchestras to listeners. A must have recording from the golden age of 1957. Don't miss it if you see it!

 

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