Albeniz • Suite Espanola

New Philharmonia; Rafael Frühbeck De Burgos, conducting
London/Original Recordings Group CS 6581
45rpm double-record set



Mendelssohn • A Midsummer Night's Dream, Incidental Music

London Symphony Orchestra; Peter Maag, conducting
London/Original Recordings Group CS 6001
45rpm double-record set



by John Crossett | October 24, 2011

n his Suite Espanola, composer Isaac Albeniz combined the passion for which Spain, his home country, was known with a sense of the exotic. Despite being from the Catalonia area in the far northeast of the country, Albeniz incorporated the diverse aspects of the folk music heard in his travels throughout Spain. Hence the eight different parts to the suite, which encompass the sounds of each region. The choice of conductor for this recording also assisted in keeping the truly Spanish feel predominant. Frühbeck De Burgos made a number of recordings for the London label, most of which were of Spanish-written or -influenced music, with this being a prime example.

Conductor Peter Maag and the London Symphony Orchestra laid down a highly enjoyable version of the incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, along with sopranos Jennifer Vyvyan and Marion Lowe, and the Chorus of Royal Opera House. Right from the opening bars of the Overture, which Mendelssohn wrote when he was 17, on through the closing notes, written 16 years later at the bequest of King Fredrick William IV for a performance of the play in Potsdam, Maag walked the fine line between the tension and joyfulness that infused Shakespeare’s comedy. Maag also seamlessly blended the two sections, giving no indication that they were written so far apart.

Both recordings were released as London Blue Backs, so called because of their robin's-egg blue back covers. These were in many ways the equal of the famed RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence LPs, but without the high prices in today's collector market. I would find the Albeniz LP reissue as an easy recommendation on musical grounds alone, but fortunately I can report that as good as the music is, the sound is even better. Dynamic swings are massive, tonal shading is accurate, percussion is deep and thunderous, and the sense of space is realistic. The orchestra is layered both front to back and side to side, and there is a sense of the venue's space all around. If I had to carry just one LP to audition equipment with, this would be my choice.

While not the sonic blockbuster that the Albeniz is, the Mendelssohn will still give your system a workout. Given that the original Blue Back was a wonderful recording to begin with, ORG’s decision to remaster at 45rpm moves "wonderful" into the realm of "superb." Dynamic swings abound in this piece, so if your system is up to the task, you’ll hear the full effect. The stereo spread is naturally rendered, both in terms of depth and especially width.

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