Analogue Productions' Rhapsody In Blue/American in Paris "Living Stereo" Reissue Beats Original

A thousand United Airlines commercials later and Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" still sounds fresh, lavish and grand. It epitomizes New York City in its golden jazz age and with every listen opens the mind's eye to yellow incandescent lit Art Deco granite skyscrapers and the general urban dazzle of pre-WWII America. I never get tired of listening to it, the later at night the better for some reason. It could only have been written in America by an American.

It came to Gershwin all at once during a train ride from New York to Boston where he heard it—even saw it on paper—in a single lightning flash. So perhaps its only appropriate that this version with Earl Wild backed by Arthur Fiedler conducting The Boston Pops should be considered by many to be the best "Rhapsody in Blue" on record.

Not everyone loves Earl Wild's rapid-fire approach, finding that it goes from fast to faster and never takes a rest but having heard dozens of recordings including some that just turn what is supposed to be young, swaggering and grand into a pomposity that misses the point, even if this one's faster than ideal it still hits every mark on its way to a dramatic, thundering conclusion.

Between this one and Bernstein's on Columbia (MS 6091) that Speakers Corner just reissued, you've got "Rhapsody In Blue" and "An American In Paris" covered. Ironically both Columbia and RCA recorded their versions in 1959 and issued them around the same time early in the stereo era.

I grew up listening to the Bernstein, wherein he plays piano and conducts the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (he conducts the New York Philharmonic in the "American In Paris") and while the Bernstein may be a bit more elegant and dramatic, there's something more playful and young sounding about the Fiedler version that gets me every time.

Both "American In Paris"'s are equally enjoyable and it's another piece that sets the mind's eye wandering, this time through cobblestone streets and into cozy cafes. If you don't see Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dancing, well then you just haven't seen the movie. Its musical impressionism has been endlessly copied most obviously for '60s rockers by the arranger of the orchestral parts of The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed.

The "Living Stereo" 3-track recording by the legendary Lewis Layton at Boston's Symphony Hall on May 13th and 14th 1959 has always sounded somewhat distant and murky, particularly the "Rhapsody….", though in my opinion the murk only added to the mystery while not interfering with the musical pleasure.

This reissue cut by Ryan K. Smith from the original 3 track beats every original I have (four) in every way. It peels back layers of murk without adding brightness or spotlighting or anything bad.

Instead it's as if layers of dust and dirt have been expertly cleaned away revealing a fresh, clear window onto the live musical event.

No doubt for younger readers the recording date more than 50 years ago has got to sound moldy but trust me, this sounds more "you are there" than most recordings done today. Wild's piano has never sounded as cleanly rendered or as well-focused. You'll see it as clearly as the skyscrapers. The finale has never packed such a ferocious wallop either.

I went back and played the Columbia, which was produced by John McClure and engineered by Fred Plaut better know for engineering Kind of Blue among other jazz classics and Frank Bruno at the St George Hotel, in Brooklyn, New York, sounds as if it was recorded in far smaller space, which it was. It's more closely miked, which lets you better hear the parts but at the expense of the giant whole. It's also EQ'd a bit harder in the upper midrange but overall it well-compliments the RCA release both musically and sonically.

With records like this coming out, audiophiles who declare flatly that reissues never sound as good as originals skate further and further onto the thin ice.

If you intend to own but a single classical record in your collection, make it this one.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Ortofan's picture

I'll take Earl Wild's version of piano virtuousity any day.

Blue Note's picture

you get something like this reissued so nicely in every way, and Capitol gives us the Blue Note reissues that are a shadow of the original, in every way...

thirtycenturyman's picture

I was lucky enough to find a Bernstein Columbia at a thrift store a few months ago; absolutely mint and perfect in every way.  Not bad for a buck!  I'll have to give this one a listen as it will be interesting to compare the two.

mmarston's picture

I have a clean original mono (not going to go look at the deadwax just now, but most of the discs from that neighbor's dad's pile were pretty early pressings) and it doesn't sound murky at all.  It has a "medium distance" perspective but nicely balanced with good clarity. And the performance is my favorite (Mom had a well worn copy when I was young, which may also be the reason why I favor Toscanini's Beethoven, which, had Akio Morita been of like mind, we might have had 48 kHz CDs, but I digress.)

I always wondered about the stereo, and this review piques my interest, but not sure if it would be an improvement. 


Photo_Utopia's picture

I have a very nice (posibly Canadian) copy of this I bought from a charity shop for £2 and it has a very nice sound; I'll have to give it a spin later.

The dead wax area is interesting having a stamped matrix number on side two and handwritten one on the other with '1A' the copy is a clean shaded dog which was my main reason for buying.

Good to see the Boston Pops getting re-issued after over 50 years–thank you for your review.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I have the SACD of Michel Camilo with the Barcelona Symphony from Telarc It is an excellent recording of a spectacular perforamce.  

My fav is from the old label, Murray Hill out of NYC from 1965, which is a recording of piano rolls made by famous artists.  The Rhaposdy in Blue is a George Gershwin performance.  S-4358  13 minutes 11 seconds .  The piano used was a Steinway from 1929 and 3 custom AKG omni mics were used to make the master tape. 

I am listening to this now as I type and am recording into my Tascam DR-2d at 2496 for archiving.  I should have done it before.  The disc came in a 5 disc set of piano roll recordings from Paderewski, Hofmann, Ravel, Prokofiev, Landowski, Gershwin, and Busoni.

From the liner art:

"In 1904, the German made "Welte-Mignon" was exhibited and many famous composers recorded for them.  This instrument was capable of reporducinjg the full viruosity of the artist, the nuamces,  the phrasing, and the full range showings. However the insturment was of the cabinet type and cabinet player soon became obsolete as the piano makers began to build the mechanism into the piano itself. In 1913 the Aeolian Company came out with their "Duo-Art" reporducing piano and persuaded Steinway to install their mechanism in their pianos and the Steinway-DuoArt instruments were born. ......From 1916 to 1925 almost every concert pianist of any prominence made record rolls for Duo-art. "   

The engineering on the lp is excellent as the engineers surely cared about this project. It went on to say that the Duo-Art system was able to recreate the the full dynamics, pedal effects, methods of attack, and many other subtleties of expression. 

Jim Roberts's picture

I too, was raised on Bernstein's recording of Rhapsody in Blue and preferred its statley slower rhythms to others...until I heard the Fiedler/Wild recording on an HDTracks download. Good grief! Wild's viruosity with this piece is unparalleled and he provides a thoroughly enjoyable alternative to Bernstein's.  After several months of production delays I'm eagerly awaiting this re-mastered LP's arrival (yes, I've re-discovered that vinyl just cannot be topped by digital formats, even when the latter are hi res).  

rosser's picture


(Sorry for the repeat, but I posted this by accident in a much older thread. I just want my honest experience out there.):

Based on all the rave reviews, particularly about perfect pressings, I bought the first three RCA reissues when they came out. I had to return all three because they were horribly noisy. Constant ticks and snaps (like one every 1-2 seconds), along with a groove grinding sound in the right channel. I decided to only replace the Sheherazade -- the replacement was only marginally quieter, but it was pressed off center, particularly on side 2, where it warbles in and out of tune toward the end.

So like the vinyl fool I am, the other day I decided to try the Gershwin, and it will also have to go back. It is pretty severely dish warped (honestly, like far too many QRP pressings), and way too noisy to listen to. So now I've bought 5 different albums in this series -- 4 had to be returned, and the only reason I kept the other is because it didn't seem likely I can get anything better based on my experience. I doubt I will buy any more of these. One thing that is particularly galling is the promo piece that accompanies the albums, in which QRP vinyl is extolled for its near-complete absence of "bedevilling ticks and pops." Every one of their RCA reissues I have received are among the most annoying records I've ever listened to -- I was barely able to hear the music for the distracting popping, snapping, ticking and crackling sounds. 

When QRP records are not dish warped, off center, or noisy, they are as good as vinyl gets. A few of the Prestige mono series have been superb, though none of them are completely flat, one arrived with greasy fingerprints, and several have the spindles holes punched too large, so you have to figure out what the center is supposed to be. Having bought somewhere near 50 QRP pressings, I would say a good 70% were defective, to the point that I avoid them. 

Morris53's picture

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