Analogue Productions RCA Reissue: “Scheherazade” LSC-2446
Analogue Productions RCA Reissue: Scheherazade [LSC-2446]
Chad Kassem has been updating LP pressings of some classic RCA recordings, using today’s state-of-the-art technology found at his own record pressing plant in Salinas, Kansas, (Quality Record Pressings) and released through his Analogue Productions label. None of his resurrections is more gorgeous than his revivification of the classic Fritz Reiner/Chicago Scheherazade, itself a knockout of a recording in its Living Stereo issue. (Except, maybe Analogue Productions new version of the Reiner, Pines of Rome.)
We compared this new 200-gram, 33-rpm LP from Analogue Productions with the original RCA Living Stereo issue, and Classic Records 33 rpm version, and were surprised at the outcome. Why? Because to these ears, the new Analogue Productions version was the more relaxed and natural sounding of the bunch. The sound is as it should be, inviting the listener into the music and entirely consonant with Reiner’s readings. This transfer bespeaks a confidence in the sound on the master tape, without the artificial touch-ups (a brightness) later found in the original Living Stereo pressing and the more pronounced jiggering in the version from Classic Records.
RCA graced this recording with some of their best engineering. Rimsky’s orchestration seems tailor-made for a sonic showcase and this is exactly what the RCA engineers gave Reiner’s well-nigh perfect reading. It is a reading of great subtlety and romanticism, which brings this too-often played piece to a newfound life. And so worth getting to know again if you’ve drifted away from it.
If ever there were a must-have LP in the recent wave of audiophile vinyl re-incarnations, this is it. Treat yourself and thank Kassem for doing it the justice it deserves.
Comment by Joey Weiss:
I’ve always held my original RCA pressing of this classic Reiner/CSO as a personal treasure. The strength of this recording – perhaps all RCA “shaded dog” LPs for that matter – lives in the mid frequencies. They might as well have used the slogan, “living midrange”, instead of “living stereo”, because that is just what they deliver. This particular recordings strength lies in the string tone, especially the solo violin, representing Scheherazade herself, whose tale is woven throughout the four movements. The original pressing is simply lovely, translating everything that those RCA’s do best. The violins are natural, the cellos romantic, and the trumpet calls are precise and penetrating. Unfortunately, this pressing is not without its many faults, as it is harmonically thin in the bass and overall dynamics are weak, almost shrill at the peaks. There is room for sonic improvement, most likely due to the lackluster vinyl pressing technologies of the day (at least, compared with what we have now), as subsequent reissues showcase.
One will immediately notice that the Classic Records (200 gram) redo sounds much darker and deeper than the original RCA, with increased tonal coloration throughout the harmonic range, especially in the mid to lower registers (double basses, cellos, violins, brass, et cetera). This LP takes the dramatic approach – a highly colored sweetness – and runs with it. The sound comes off as an interpretation of what they thought the recording should sound like, and to that end, the sound is not one of naturalness, but bursting with hi-fi spectaculars. The sound image pushes outward with a confrontational edge (there is even brightness in the higher harmonics) and a jazzed-up midrange that will impress any first time listener. But subtleties and nuances are generally passed over in favor of the harmonic onslaught (check out the rapid trumpet blasts in the last movement, which are uncomfortably forward in the mix, removed from their proper place in the mix). This version presents the performance with such an enhanced character, you will surely miss out on the delicateness that makes this particular recording so special.
I must admit that this Classic Records pressing is not without its charms – an epic widening of the stage, huge dynamics, and velvety rich violins – but these traits only further the “super-sound” that defines this approach. The steroidal textures and cavernous dynamics make for a thrilling finale, but is perhaps more explosive than it really needs to be, instead of enraptured revelation, there is unrelenting intensity.
In the late 1980’s, Chesky Records Inc. released an LP of this RCA recording. According to the liner notes, they sought to eliminate any “unnecessary electronic coloration” and used all-tube electronics during the mastering process. Compared with the Classic Records LP, the Chesky sounds much more natural, laid-back even, with more ambience and breathing room. Compared with the original LP, there is a great deal of improvement in terms of dynamic range, frequency range, and overall clarity (most likely due to the improvements in the physical vinyl pressing itself). The Chesky is cleaner sounding and simply more thrilling than the original, thanks to a widening of the dynamic and harmonic range. I prefer this pressing to the Classic Records reissue because the latter is way too forceful and overemphasized in comparison.
Moving along to the new Analogue Productions (AP) pressing, we find ourselves with an exceptionally natural and musical sounding LP. It is also devoid of the drastic coloration of the Classic Records reissue, thankfully, forgoing over-dramatization and focusing on realizing the full potential of the information captured on the tape (the same approach as the Chesky). To these ears, the sound is lovely, with an unforceful immediacy, one that will excite you as it entices you. And it also happens to brings back some of that magical RCA midrange.
Without a doubt, the AP pressing sounds much more natural than the Classic Records reissue; the sound is simply less forced, as if the notes and rhythms have more air to explore, more ambient Hall to reverberate, and more of the acoustic envelope to reveal. Dynamics are explosive and clean, and the vinyl is so damn quiet, you can turn it up without any hesitation (the LPs are being pressed at QRP and plated by Gary Salstrom). The solo violin is the heart of this recording and it’s supposed to sound seductive, and on this reissue, it does.
One thing is for certain; there is a lot more information coming through than on the original. The AP pressing takes the simplistic approach of the Chesky, but with a more developed sound, making the Chesky appear a bit subdued by comparison.
All the reissues mentioned above are superior to the original when it comes to bottom-end frequency (the original was seriously lacking fluid bass), deepening of tonal texture, the spatial imaging of the instruments, and the clarity of detail. The staging of the orchestra is also wider, and deeper, on all of the reissues than on the original LP. Regardless, the original contains something special, an essence that the others can’t touch, perhaps stemming from sentimentality more than anything else, perhaps not. I keep thinking that the new Analogue Productions reissue sounds like the most realized version of this recording, or, simply, what it would have sounded like if the tapes were fresh today.
I find the new Analogue Productions LP to be a wonderful representation of this RCA. An original “shaded dog” will delight with its antiquity and grace, but these days, they are not only difficult to find in pristine condition (well-loved LPs are also well-played LPs), but you will find they are also rather costly. Same goes for the Classic Records and the Chesky, both out-of-print and commanding relatively high prices on the used market, if you can even find one. (Considering the sound on this new reissue, those prices may quickly tumble.) If you are interested in hearing this classic RCA in all of its natural glory, you needn’t look any further than Chad Kassem’s latest offering. If this is any indication of Analogue Productions current batch of RCA reissues (approximately 24 more on the way), it just may be a new golden age for the modern vinyl listener.
*For our listening evaluations we used the following LP pressings:  an original RCA “shaded dog” pressing [LSC 2446 7s/1s];  the Classic Records, 200 gram, 33rpm repressing, mastering by Bernie Grundman;  Chesky Records repressing, mastering by Jack Adelman;  Analogue Productions 200 gram, 33rpm repressing, mastering by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound. All four LPs of Scheherazade we listened to were reproduced using the original master tapes as the source.
Each LP was cleaned with the Audio Desk Systeme Vinyl Cleaner before playing. We listened to each pressing and recorded our findings, at times resorting to a comparison of short passages alone for a more shrewd analysis. We repeated the listening sessions multiple times over a three-week duration. During our comparisons, one of us was always listening to the LPs completely blind; never knowing the exact pressing being played, and in random order. We made sure to evaluate and compare the pressings many times over. By the end of these sessions, the differences between the LPs were quite obvious to us, owing as much to the varying characters of the pressings themselves as the transparency of our sound systems. [~JW]
Analogue Productions RCA Reissue: Scheherazade [LSC-2446]
Available September 10th
Pre Order: ACOUSTIC SOUNDS
Mastered from the original analog master tapes by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound on a VMS 80.
Heavy duty old-school tip-on jacket
Pressed at Quality Record Pressings
200 gram vinyl / Flat profile pressing
Plated by Gary Salstrom