"The Royal Ballet" Re-pressed And Immediately Sells Out!

Originally licensed in 1959 from British Decca and issued by RCA Victor in America on its lavish Soria series as LDS-6065, the "Gala Performances" performed by The Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Gardens conducted by Ernest Ansermet continues to draw new enthusiasts to what many consider one of legendary engineer Kenneth Wilkinson’s most spectacular recordings.

Original pressings of the two LP boxed set in good condition regularly go for around $1000. In the 1990s Classic Records reissued this as a double LP in a gatefold jacket with booklet and as a multi-LP 45rpm single-sided box set, first on 180 gram vinyl and later on 200 gram vinyl. Classic also issued in a very limited edition a slipcase replica of the original.

Analogue Productions’ Classic Records buyout brought with it metal parts for many albums, cut by Bernie Grundman, including for this record, though other Decca licensed RCA titles were re-cut from the original master tapes, with Analogue Productions then having the luxury of choosing the best for release.

To press the first fifteen hundred, AP chose to produce a new stamper using the “mother” cut from the original master tape by Bernie Grundman. The Kingsway Hall remains astonishing in every way, every play.

The perspective is closer than mid-hall, which produces an enormously wide stage, and sensational front-to-back instrumental separation. Hyper-transparency and full bandwidth help create a believable (if not somewhat unbelievable) soundstage.

The hall “rumble” is fully present so if your system goes really low you may at first think you’re hearing turntable rumble. The in-between band silence lets you know it’s the recording not the pressing or your turntable.

I am not a musical expert here who’s spent time comparing Ansermet’s readings of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, La Boutique fantastique (which had a profound impact on the film scores of Bernard Hermann) and the rest of the ballet favorites here with other performances on record so I can’t tell you how they compare but I seriously doubt any of them better or even match the sonics.

I did compared this 33 1/3 reissue to the Classic 33 1/3 reissue and to an original pressing that I’m lucky to own and what I found shouldn’t have been surprising. However, this was the first time it was possible to compare pressing plants because both the Classic pressed at Record Technology (RTI) in Camarillo, California and the Analogue Productions reissue pressed at QRP (Quality Record Pressing) in Salina, Kansas were sourced from the same metal parts.

The only variable was the plating of the mother to produce the new stamper used here, which was done at QRP’s plating facility. While both records were sourced from the same metal parts, and while both sounded superb by any standard, the two sounded very different.

It’s also important to note that records can vary sonically, even when pressed from the same stamper on the same press, depending upon a variety of factors, with which you are no doubt familiar.

I visited QRP when it first opened and I was shown a few of the innovations and modifications done to the presses. Record-to-record consistency had been greatly improved thanks to Allen-Bradley temperature control units that had been installed within the press tools along with temperature controlling and monitoring functionality.

The “why didn’t anyone else think of that?” moment came when I was shown that the presses sat on large damping wafers instead of on the cement floor as they are just about everywhere else, and more significantly, the hydraulic assembly that shakes, rattles and rolls had been removed from the press chassis and placed on the floor.

One can only imagine the sonic difference that might result from the press not shaking and vibrating as the press closes and the soft, partially melted vinyl puck spreads across the stamper surface.

I was assured during my visit that it did make a difference but other than hearing and enjoying QRP’s mostly really quiet pressings, how could one be sure it had anything to do with the hydraulic decoupling?

Well, though I can’t be certain the differences I heard between the two BG mastered pressings were attributable to the press modifications, it made sense that they were.

The QRP pressing was definitely more open, extended and focused on top and transients were sharper though in a completely natural way. The Classic sounded somewhat softer and veiled. If you’ve got both, you’ll hear it in the percussive transients first and then consistently throughout.

It’s what you would expect to hear if the press wasn’t violently shaking as it pressed a record. Skeptics might say that the enormous press mass, especially of the moving parts, would reject such vibrations and if that’s so, it’s up to them to explain the so easily audible sonic differences.

Nonetheless some might prefer the Classic’s more “romantic” sound, but not me! As for the original it has its own spectacular qualities, especially in terms of the air, space and nuances only “fresh” tape can produce but the vinyl was far noisier as was the mastering chain.

If this is one of your “go to” sonic spectaculars and you have other versions, you ought to consider adding this one, though you'll have to wait for the re-re-press. Both the sound, including dead quiet vinyl, as well as the packaging are first-rate.

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COMMENTS
Jon's picture

Michael,

You are the best! I know your musical heart belongs more to the popular scene than it does classical and I also know that despite your subscriptions to classical concerts you selflessly admit that you are not necessarily "the" expert in the subject. But your coverage of classical vinyl has been extremely good and keeps us dedicated classical fans happy.

After reading this article I hurried to Acoustic Sounds to check my rather long wishlist (titles that have come out since my previous order last year). Currently they still have the title in stock. Sadly though, being an antipodean I only order twice per year during the Autumn (Fall) and Spring solstices (to avoid potential temperature stresses to the vinyl). I half expect with this title it will be gone before I order in April. Bummer. But I do have the Speakers Corner Ansermet performances on Decca with the Swiss Romande.

tparker14's picture

I wish I could be more sanguine about QRP, but I've had some pretty significant problems with their pressings - excessive surface noise and warping and dishing of the LPs. I actually stopped buying from them for a good long while because I was so disappointed with what I received from them. One notable exception was the 45 rpm "Ella and Louis" release, which was commendably well made. I don't know if they're just bumping up against production demands, but I really got quite a few dogs from them at one time.

readargos's picture

Heavyweight vinyl seems more prone to production problems. The 180g and 200g reissues I have typically exhibit at least mild imperfections. For starters, the lip is almost never perfectly flat. Even if the record is flat, the lip will vary in thickness, with some of the edge being round and smooth, and other parts being almost sharp enough to cut something. Whereas pretty much all the 150g pressings appear perfect.

rshak47's picture

I played my (APO) copy of this excellent title only this morning. I agree the sonics are off the chart. I subscribe to the RCA/Decca reissue series, and the sound quality of the titles reissued thus far is superb.

PAR's picture

The " Hall Rumble" mentioned by Mikey isn't actually the hall itself. It is because the KIngsway Hall was built above the Central underground line. The rumble is the trains. There is a legend that the record producer would have a train timetable to hand and would stop the session if he knew that one was scheduled. Something I thought was apocryphal until I attended a Decca session there in the 1970s and witnessed it.

The train problem was exacerbated by the low frequency response of digital recording and this otherwise acoustically wonderful venue was abandoned.

Michael Fremer's picture
The trains can also be heard but the rumble is constant and I believe not related to the trains...
PAR's picture

Thanks Michael. I would guess then that the overall rumble could have been caused by London's traffic. The hall was situated on Kingsway, a major road in the West End, though traffic noise can communicate over long distances. So if this was the problem it would have made use of it untenable now considering the traffic flow these days.

Air Studios faced a similar problem at their original site at Oxford Circus and solved it by suspending their facility from rubber girders within the structure of the host building.

Jon's picture

When the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (SXL2238) was recorded!! :)

gsbischoff's picture

But it's still BG mastering? Would you say the different mastering he did was worth it? For instance, how would you rate the previous versions on your "sound" rating scale?

Just curious!

Also, don't you have the classic CD version? How does that sound compared? (I am a mythical CD nut, very scary, wooOOOOOoooo!)

Tyson Wahrenburg's picture

Hi Everybody, just a note to Jon - I've had some subscriptions with Acoustic Sounds, and being Canadian, would get hit with high shipping brokerage fees each month. I simply contacted the nice folks at Acoustic Sounds to ask if they could hold my shipments a few months to save on the fees. They were more than happy to oblige, and contacted me prior to shipment to be sure there weren't other titles I wanted to add.

Contacting them with regards to this release might be worth while for you, rather than missing out on a coveted purchase. Chad has built his business on great sound, and equally great service.

As always Michael, great reviews in all genres.

Jon's picture

Hi Tyson,

I tried to reply a couple of days ago but for some reason it never appeared. I contact Acoustic Sounds and they are happy to have that arrangement for me as well. I am most grateful for this as I really have no desire to have titles shipped more than twice per year but I'd say a couple of titles I want come out every month or so - it's been pretty steady like that for the last couple of years since my collection "caught up" to what had been released to the market up to that point.

So I am very thankful for you mentioning this to me. You've save me a lot of anxiety and angst and I no longer need to fear missing out or having to order more often than I would like. I did actually place the order for the Ansermet yesterday along with 10 other titles - it was only 6 weeks before I would normally order anyway - and for me 11 or 12 titles is a comfortable limit for an order.

Thanks again

readargos's picture

"The perspective is closer than mid-hall, which produces an enormously wide stage, and sensational front-to-back instrumental separation. Hyper-transparency and full bandwidth help create a believable (if not somewhat unbelievable) soundstage."

Mikey is right: This is one of the most astonishing recordings for feeling like you are not only the presence of the orchestra, but in the presence of the hall, as well. As Sam Tellig would say, "See, toljus."

jonahsdad's picture

I ordered it the day of Mikey's original post, it arrived March 9. It's back in stock now, $15 more expensive.

It's a great sounding record. Super familiar material, perfect as a demo disk for your friends who "don't like classical music."

39goose's picture

The rumble on the first track is almost unbearable on my Soundlab "Majestics". I'm sure Fremer has the 45rpm edition from Classic and I wonder if it is the ultimate version.????

Jenn's picture

I just obtained a copy and listened for the first time. The sonics are truly astounding, and the playing is great. I didn't need another recording of this repertoire, and if I have to (get to) play Nutcracker one more time in my career, I may hurl. But I'm VERY glad that I bought this recording. I almost never buy a recording for sonics alone, but based on your recommendation, I did so this time, and I'm very happy. Thanks, Michael!