Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 - Ormandy

Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 - Ormandy

Dutton  CDLX 7379

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3*

Virgil Fox*, organ
Philadelphia Orchestra
Eugene Ormandy, conductor

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6 of 7 recommend this, would you recommend it?  yes | no

Analogue recording
Comments (3)

Comment by hiredfox - July 23, 2020 (1 of 3)

This coupling is an amalgamation of two 4-channel Vinyl recordings from the 1970's featuring Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Saint-Saens recording in particular has long been regarded as of 'demonstration quality' and a first choice for this work. It is fair to say that this may still hold true today so the release of a modern re-engineered version on SA-CD was bound to cause a flurry of excitement for some.

The reality sadly falls some way short of expectations. While all the detail, expansiveness and dynamic range that anybody could wish for with these works is recaptured by the bucket full and the purity and depth of organ tones cause tremors throughout the listening room, there is a pervasive overlaying veneer of sheen and screechiness to the proceedings that spoils one's listening. There is in places a feeling of artificiality, too much emphasis on solo parts and a more general imbalance of the sound stage that perhaps projects the hi-fi aspect of the recording at the expense of realism. The upper strings in particular are harsher than any string instruments that I have heard on disc or live. These comment apply to both works.

It is possible that this is a rogue disc as it is hard to imagine that the master recording would have been signed-off without listening tests. The screechiness of the strings in particular is very typical of PCM recording in my system but with much greater ferocity than usual and most unusual for DXD, if as suspected Dutton records their historic series in DXD.

On this basis the recording cannot be recommended which is a pity as both performances are outstanding, an orchestra and its conductor in perfect harmony.

Comment by Gilbert Burnett - July 27, 2020 (2 of 3)

I have listened several times to this recording in both stereo and multi channel. It must be remembered that these recordings were made to demonstrate the then new quadraphonic LP's of the era. It should also be noted that the 'house' sound of RCA, CBS and the likes of Decca were, at the time, very distinctive and very different from each other. CBS featured a closely miked soundstage with distinct focus on instruments. RCA also tended to focus on instrumental entries with some compression and false gain for dramatic effect. Decca (and other European companies) presented a more open and balanced soundstage. The recording in question is a prime example of the RCA style and was indeed 'demonstration' standard. The extent of compression and gain riding would not be something which would be acceptable in a modern recording but produces an exciting result with lots of dynamics as Hiredfox points out. I found the quad mix to be much easier on the modern ear than the stereo mix which does come over as a little brash. The disc is therefore a good re-creation of the original effort by RCA without having access to the now defunct RCA quad Lp system. The performance is, of course, excellent. Completely re-mixing the recording (almost certainly not allowed by the original publisher) would destroy the authenticity.
In summary, I would definitely recommend this issue (especially if you have multi channel equipment). It is still a very exciting sound but is very different to modern mixes and typical European recordings. It is a bit unfair to judge it by those standards. Stereo listeners could probably tame the top by a little use of tone control/equaliser.
Dutton have given us the chance to listen to some of the best quadraphonic issues of the 70's. Some will be 'better' than others but at the very reasonable price asked, I think they are well worth exploring and I look forward to more in the future.

Comment by Graham Williams - July 28, 2020 (3 of 3)

John (hiredfox)

I agree with your comments about the thinness of the upper strings and also the excellence of the performances on this disc, but your statement that “The Saint-Saens recording in particular has long been regarded as of 'demonstration quality' and a first choice for this work.” is definitely not the case.

Ormandy and the Philadelphia also recorded the Saint-Säens with E Power Biggs (CBS) and Michael Murray (Telarc). It is possibly the latter to which you are referring though surely it is the version by Munch and the Boston Symphony that fits best matches your assertion.

I have yet to discover any review of the 1973 RCA recording that Dutton has used, let alone one that describes it as “a first choice for this work”