Kult of Kogan Kontinues!

By now you know the drill: The Electric Recording Company finds a collectible and music-worthy title to reissue and does its fanatical-attention-to-details thing, both in the mastering from the original tape on a lovingly restored all-tube cutting system to a meticulously produced record sleeve and jacket that are in most ways difficult to distinguish from the original as described in previous ERC reviews.

The label has already reissued highly sought after Leonid Kogan recordings of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and here it adds his performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major with Kyril Kondrashin conducting The Philharmonia Orchestra originally released on EMI's Columbia label as SAX 2307.

How collectible is this one? According to Popsike.com, a copy sold on February 6th, 2016 for $3752. This tells you something about both Mr. Kogan's continued popularity (or cult, depending upon your perspective) and about how music enthusiasts continue to embrace vinyl as the superior means of musical and emotional communication.

Kogan's 20th century romantic style combined with his technical excellence produces an effortless, silky sound that expresses searing emotional intensity. Assuming you've heard a few other performances of this piece, you wouldn't have to be a Brahms or a violinist aficionado to notice Kogan's exceptional handling of the rousing Third Movement. And this is where I, never claiming to be an classical music expert, stop!

What I can write with complete assurance is that the mixer put Kogan well in front of the orchestra and in "reach out and touch it", fully expressive 3D. The orchestra is well-recorded in terms of transparency and harmonic richness, but it is otherwise somewhat dated sounding as is often the case with these older recordings. But Kogan is where you'll be spending your ear time. If you can't afford to spend $555 for a single new record, find a less expensive version and listen to how Kogan, who died at age 58, plays this piece.

Yes $555 is a great deal of money for a single record, but considering what an original costs and that this superb sounding reissue is limited to three hundred copies and ERC promises to never press more, it too is likely to appreciate in value over time.

Jim Tavegia's picture

Are there not 2,000 folks around the globe who might buy this for $100 during this holiday season? They sure seem to limit their market or do they really think that there are only 300 people who might be interested in this? Or 1,000 copies at $200 each? I guess their limited distribution has working for them in the past.

mauidj's picture

......exactly Jim. Just for the .1%. Bloody sad as I would love to hear this.

Rudy's picture

There are so many audiophile "software" titles coming out lately that are IMHO rather insanely priced. Who do they plan on marketing these to? Certainly not the majority of us who buy new records in this era.

I think it's nice that Mikey has access to these for review purposes, but seriously, I'm on a budget, and any new $50 record I might buy, means I can't buy several used records. And even at $50, I'm hyper-sensitive to the quality--is the pressing free of ticks, unwarped, and not pressed off-center like about a third of the QRP pressings I've ever owned? At $50, I expect close to perfection. I had to go through two MoFi Miles "Kind of Blue" 45RPM sets to "Frankenstein" an acceptable one together. And that's just one example out of way too many.

For $100 or more per copy, it damn well better be flat as a pancake, dead on center, and completely free of any vinyl noise or ticks whatsoever. Yet I know that will never happen.

I just don't like where this $100+ pricing is heading...as if anyone needed yet something else to mock us vinyl lovers for.

Roy Martin's picture

I don't expect a "Spinal Tap 11," but at this price only a "9" for "sound."
Michael, where does the recording fall short?

isaacrivera's picture

I have this record and another MRC reissue, the Hank Mobley's Message mono. The sound on the Brahms is a 9.

The Mobley is superb in all aspects. I do not know if MF would rate it an 11, but it is easy a 10. I unfortunately was not able to get the AP recent reissue of same, it would have been nice to compare a $35 reissue to a $350 one--an order of magnitude difference. AP's prestige mono series are superb in every way. However the MRC on its own is quite incredible, definitely one of the very best LPs in my collection. Now, to be fair. The quality of the packaging and artwork is definitely the very best in my collection. Not even the Music Matters 33RPM series comes close. You may not care about this aspect of the reissue, but it is there as part of it and done in the painstakingly artisanal hand-made way. A pleasure to look at and hold on your hands. Also, they are numbered and there is only 300 of them, in a market-driven, supply-and-demand economy, that simply costs more, specially when, as MF has pointed out, the originals cost another order of magnitude. Well taken care of, this LP will appreciate with time.

BTW, If anyone in NYC has a copy of the mono reissue of the Message by AP, I would love to get together at your place or mine (Brooklyn Heights) for a comparison. Or perhaps Michael has one? Michael, if you do and If you are going to be around the area and would like to be treated to lunch and a comparison session, let me know! Or I could come over to your place ;)

So now the Kogan Brahms concerto... the 9 does not reflect in my opinion the quality of the reissue which is, in all aspects stellar. I believe the original recording tapes simply do not have more in them that can be extracted. Texture and timbre, harmonics and frequency extension of this record are outstanding. To my ears, where it actually falls short is the orchestral crescendos, which sound massive but muddled and without much insight into the parts of the orchestra. Michael says: "The orchestra is well-recorded in terms of transparency and harmonic richness, but it is otherwise somewhat dated sounding as is often the case with these older recordings." The solo violin parts are incredible and the 3D of soloist to orchestra is amazing, but to me in my fine system, the orchestra is a solid mass.

Again the quality of artwork and packaging are incredible.

If this recording is important to you, you can have a very limited edition, hand made packaging reissue that likely sounds a couple of points better than the original pressing at a 10th of the cost knowing that, at this point in history, this is the most that can be gotten from the masters. Otherwise, if packaging and the very last point of sonics is not worth the extra cash, I am sure the testament all-analog reissue probably sounds like an 8.

Michael Fremer's picture
Am at Shinola in Detroit and will compare ASAP!
Rudy's picture

So you were near us and didn't swing by to spin some rekkids? ;)

My daughter is enrolling at the art school downtown (CCS) next autumn. A couple of alumni have worked for Shinola and on the college tour we took this past Saturday, they mentioned Shinola designing a turntable recently (which would be the VPI, if I'm not mistaken). Small world...

Grant M's picture

just by coincidence AcousticSounds posted today on Facebook that the mono reissue of the Message by AP is back in stock.


isaacrivera's picture

Now I have to get one before it goes out of stock again...

Michael Fremer's picture
I have both. The ERC (not sure why you call it MRC) has a liquidity and transparency that's insanely great. However, does your record and jacket say "Presitige Beverly Hills, CA" and include an inner sleeve with the same address and images of much never catalog? I think ERC screwed up royally with the packaging! It's supposed to say "Bergenfield, NJ" not Beverly Hills! They must have taken their info from an OJC!
isaacrivera's picture

... But I meant ERC.

But you have a hawk eye! The ERC is addressed at Beverly Hills, CA and the AP at 50th St., New York, NY. I have not yet listened to the AP which was just delivered 2 days ago, but the ERC is superb and easily on the top 20 list of the best sounding records in my collection which contains many superb AAA reissues by AP, Classic Records, Roulette, Music Matters, etc.

How does the AP compare sonically to the ERC in your opinion?

gnostalgick's picture

I hate to be the one to point this out, but the headline 'pops' in a rather unfortunate manner.

Rodan's picture

Testament reissued this record a while back and my copy's pretty darn good. I think it's out of print, but, even so, I'd be willing to bet that it would run a lot less than the the ERC version.

I picked up the Testament because there was no way I was going to shell out the specie for the original, which went for around $1,500-2,000 (I think) at the time it was issued. Although I'm sure that the Electric Recording Company's Kogan/Brahms LP is as awe-inspiring as its price, I for one am just too parsimonious to spend $555 for a single disc. Call me a tin-eared lunatic, but that's the way it is.

Rodan's picture

If you have more Brahm's Violin Concerto LPs than you can shake a bow at and you're interested in Kogan's take on music that's interesting, accessible, and a bit more modern, try the Vainberg Violin Concerto (along with Vainberg's 4th Symphony) on EMI ASD 2755. It's somewhat hard to find and therefore usually requiring a bit more coin than something that's more common, but the LP's certainly worth checking out. The music's "Shostakovich-ian" and well recorded (not necessarily the norm for EMI/Melodiyas), if that piques your interest.

Wymax's picture

I can understand that those who are able and/or willing to pay that much will appreciate the exclusiveness of it... But as a music and vinyl lover, I would appreciate if music and sound quality were more approachable. I am readily prepared to pay 100 USD and perhaps a little more for something of really high quality, if the music also intrigues me, but over that is too rich for me. I can afford it, but I don't want to - I simply cannot justify it.

Which then makes me miss what might be excellent music, and I find that sad... Culture must be for everyone, not only the elite.

ViciAudio's picture

Pete Hutchison is a mastering engineer?

PeterPani's picture

so what's the definition of a mastering engineer? He produces nice vinyl from old tapes.

Michael Fremer's picture
That he does the cutting. I really should ask him, so I will....
vinyl1's picture

....is someone with Fremer's ear and vinyl playback system compare the original Kogan Brahms on blue-and-silver SAX from 1960 to this reissue. I am sure there are many audible differences in the mastering, and the tape may have deteriorated a bit in the past 55 years.

As everyone as learned from the experience of the Chesky Brothers/Mike Hobson/Chad Kassem reissues of the Living Stereo series, classical reissues often sound different from each, and from the original. The only way to find out if a current reissue is really good or not is to do these comparisons on a state-of-the-art vinyl playback system.

vinylmaven's picture

As someone who admires Kogan the artist, I’ve found the ERC reissues to be the best and only practical way to hear what the EMI master tapes have to say. For the Brahms, I had the privilege of doing a comparative audition of my ERC with an original EMI UK pressing, made possible by a generous collector buddy. The ERC is clearly a couple of points or more ahead in sound quality and is notably quieter. Hall ambience and soundstaging are better defined, so realism benefits. When you consider the cost of the original and the quality and detail of the whole ERC production, I believe it’s worthwhile, although I can sure understand the complaints about pricing. One more note: Michael mentions this as the 3rd ERC Kogan reissue after the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky concertos. Actually, it’s the 4th since ERC also did a reissue of SAX 2531, a chamber music disc Kogan made with his wife, Elisabeta Gilels. It probably has the best sound of any of the series, except perhaps for the Tchaikovsky, and at least deserves a mention. I think the 5th and last of the EMI UK stereo Kogans (Lalo-Symphony Espanol) is about to be released by ERC. I’m watching for it.

Eusabius's picture

Gosh. I wasn't aware of the 'kult of Kogan'. I have the original Columbia mono version in excellent condition. Maybe I need to get it insured....