Publisher Profile

Reference Recordings Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 “Organ”

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2018-1 RR Saint Saens No. 3

Michael Stern, conductor
Kansas City Symphony
Jan Kraybill, organ
 

Side A
1.       Adadio – Allegro moderato (10:18)
2.       Poco adagio (9:43)

Side B
1.       Allegro moderato – Presto (7:25)
2.       Maestoso – Allegro (8:01)

 

We’re living in the wake of the great vinyl generation of the 70s when labels poured their resources into producing the most natural sound that the medium could muster. If you’re born in 80s and after, you’re probably a digiphile and don’t give a holler about terms like half-speed mastering, or the significance of a 45 rpm record, or what good a 180-gram record does.

The case for the audiophile vinyl experience rests upon factors such as whether the music cut into the groove is recorded with such care and mastered with such precision as to contain enough resolution that can make use of the extra dynamic headroom offered by a 45 rpm record. Supposing the recording quality was there, then half-speed mastered records, as cut to the father lathe at half of the 33 1/3 round-per-minute speed while the playback machine was synchronized to the same speed, would surpass regularly cut records in tonal depth and spatiality. Cut the record further at 45 round-per-minute of playback speed and the music could take even further advantage of the extra dynamics accorded. California record label Reference Recordings has been issuing such records and the Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3, also known as the “Organ” Symphony, is the subject of this review.

The Saint-Saens symphony is a regular workhorse in the concert circuit.  The world’s greatest conductors have all left their mark on this work, so definitive readings of it abound. This production of the music sets precedence, still. For it is the first to be mastered and cut in half-speed, and issued on a single 45 rpm record. Just these factors alone should be enough to make any vinylphile worth his salt jump in ecstasy. Add to the fact that Keith O. Johnson of Spectral Audio fame engineered the recording while industry veteran Paul Stubblebine supervised the half-speed mastering of the release using Nelson Pass custom electronics, and this quickly belongs in a very short list of vinyl to own.

The first magic of the album is the sound of the Kansas City Orchestra. Smooth as butter and uniform as feathers on a peacock, the strings of the KCO make those of other coveted, world-class ensembles pale in comparison. Then, the brass takes on a dimensionality quite peerless by the most critical standard. Quite frankly, the sound of this LP is a marvel and an example of what audiophile-grade engineering might can create. The sense of scale of this LP as produced by the Sound Lab Ultimate 545 is enormously satisfying. If this was the only aspect of the LP worth buying, it would have been enough.

In terms of performance, the KCO is understandably more cautious and hence less flamboyant than that of, say the 1957 Mercury Living Presence release of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Paul Paray, or the digital, 1982 Karajan reading with the Berlin Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon, just to name two. Nonetheless, this is a competently performed and a meticulous, nuanced reading of the seminal work. Presently, Telarc is no more and Nimbus is no longer issuing its Super Analog Master disks. It is a very good thing we still have Reference Recordings!

 

Review system:

ASC TubeTraps
Audio Reference Technology Power Distributor
Audio Reference Technology Super power cables
MIT Cables Oracle Series Interconnects and Speaker Interface
AudioDeskSysteme Ultrasonic Glass Vinyl Cleaner
Spiral Groove Resolution turntable with Centroid tonearm and Fuuga cartridge
TriangleArt Master Reference turntable with Osiris II tonearm and Apollo moving coil cartridge
Pass Laboratories Xs Phono stage
Pass Laboratories Xs Preamplifier
Pass Laboratories XA200.8 Class A monoblocks
Sound Lab Ultimate 545 electrostatic panel speakers
Technical Audio Device Evolution One speakers

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