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Reel to Reel Reviews

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Cook ST 1150 The King of Organs: Bill Floyd, N.Y. Paramount Theater Wurlitzer.

Emory Cook was a pioneer in stereo tape recording and is credited with the first classical commercial stereo sessions in Symphony Hall, Boston in March 1953. This 2-track tape release is the king of organ recordings from the Golden Age of stereo. Cook was something of a one-man operation. He personally supervised his tape transfers to maximize dynamic range and bass response. Many of Cook’s releases were field recordings. Hence they have a rough quality about them with minor technical glitches. This issue shows Cook at his best with a huge dynamic range and powerful bass. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" begins softly with distant chimes. And then the full organ with deep bass enters to fill the acoustical setting. There is a stunning performance of "Andalucia" in bolero rhythm to conclude the program. Turn up the volume, make sure the subwoofers are on, and enjoy. The LP is pale by comparison.

Cook ST 1041 Speed the Parting Guest: Jimmy Carroll and Percussion.

This may be the king of percussion recordings on 2-track tape, although there is strong competition from Dick Schory on Concertapes and RCA. Again there is a huge dynamic range. The program opens with a massive tamtam whack with a very long reverberation tail. Be careful here with volume setting. "Tinkle Tinkle Little Bell" is all high frequency percussion instruments with the sound floating and hanging in the air, something that digital recording has a very difficult time with. It is a tour de force of the recording art.

RCA ACS-63 Vienna: Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

RCA ACS-87 Emperor Waltz, Blue Danube: Reiner, CSO.

RCA ACS-99 Weber, Richard Strauss: Reiner, CSO.

RCA BCS-96 Prokofiev, Lt Kije: Reiner, CSO

RCA CCS-97 Stravinsky, Song of the Nightingale: Reiner, CSO

These five tapes are among the crown jewels of the 2-track tape catalog. The shaded dog LP of the Prokofiev and Stravinsky is justly famous, while the shaded dog of the waltzes is not. All receive excellent transfers from the mastertape, and in most ways still exceed more modern recordings. Performance, conducting, and engineering all come together to produce superb results. Even the SACD releases of four of the five do not beat them. Lt. Kije hasn’t been released on SACD yet. The marvelous Orchestra Hall acoustic is reproduced with great realism. Was there ever a better recording venue? Remember that the first letter of the catalog number indicates the length of the tape, with "A" being the shortest. And to nitpick a little, the recording of the waltzes is not quite at the exalted level of the Prokofiev and the Stravinsky. Only the Classic Records 45 rpm releases come very close to what is on the these tapes.

By Jerry Sodomka


RCA ACS-147 Barber: Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch. (2 Track)

RCA Victor issued its first stereo 2-track tapes in late 1955. They were not called "Living Stereo," but "Stereo-Orthophonic." This recording is dated 1958, but was never issued as a stereo "shaded dog" LP or even a plum label Victrola. It was finally released as a pink label Victrola LP on VICS-1391. It is a marvelous performance and recording with an uncanny sense of Symphony Hall and the orchestra playing in it. It is among a handful of RCA recordings that do this convincingly. The music begins quietly with soft sounds emerging from different places on the stage and then builds to a tremendous climax. There is a slight sense of dynamic constriction and hardness at the loudest part, but the music is harmonically and rhythmically spiky, so this can be overlooked. The soundstage is realistic and three-dimensional, and the instruments have a presence at low levels that is not heard on digital recordings. This is an excellent transfer, in fact, much better than a few more famous recordings in the RCA 2-track series. The only real complaint is that the tape is very short at only about 12 minutes.

Stereotape ST-9 Dvorak: Serenade, Op. 44, Los Angeles Woodwinds, David Raksin. (2 Track)

Audio Arts, Inc. was a small firm in Hollywood, California, that issued under the Stereotape label a short series of 21 tapes, two of which were samplers. This recording of the Dvorak Wind Serenade is one of their best. It was recorded on Sept. 24,1956 in the Band Room at UCLA, using a stereo Ampex recorder and two Telefunken C-51 microphones. It sounds as if it were recorded yesterday. There are two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, three horns, a cello and bass. All instruments are clearly audible. The music has all the melody and warmth that Dvorak is famous for. The performance is outstanding with precise ensemble and exact intonation. The high speed playing in the last movement is exhilarating. The only thing lacking is the ripe woodwind sound we hear from Czech players. And the recording puts most digital recordings to shame. All the characteristic timbre and body of the instruments are captured. My copy is signed by the conductor with "from David Raksin, Happy Leap Year." Was the box signed in 1956? I like to think so.

By Jerry Sodomka