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Vinyl Review: Chopin – Polonaises Nos. 1-7, Maurizio Pollini (Deutsche Grammophon 180g)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sound: 7.6
Pressing: 7.4
Value: 5.0

Deutsche Grammophon reissue released in 2016. 180g vinyl. Catalog Number: 479 6653. UPC: 028947966531. MSRP: $23. Buy on Amazon.com

Introduction

I’ve been on a Chopin rampage lately (if such a thing could ever exist). As far as solo piano works go, I spin Chopin more than any other composer. I also have a ridiculous number of Chopin LPs on the shelf — over 100. Why do I have every Chopin title Brailowsky ever recorded? I don’t know. For some reason, I can’t bring myself to get rid of a Chopin record.

The interpreters I reach for most often are Argerich, Arrau and Moravec. There is also a Connoisseur Society disc of the four scherzi by Antonio Barbosa that I find especially transfixing. Like Rubinstein, Pollini was second tier for me, but I’ve been listening to him a good deal more in recent months and have to say I like his no nonsense approach. Very solid and straightforward, which is sometimes exactly what is needed.

Deutsche Grammophon has been quietly reissuing a good number of classical titles on LP in the last few years. While I applaud the effort, I wish they would be clearer about sources, mastering engineers, and pressing facilities.

The source for this release and others like it is unclear to me. The sticker on the front cover says simply “mastered from original sources,” while the description on the Acoustic Sounds website says “remastered from the original Deutsche Grammophon analogue tapes.” One Acoustic Sounds commenter on another disc in this series says “they are sourced from 24 bit, 96 kHz masters (in turn created from the original analogue tapes),” so maybe that’s it? I asked my contact at Universal, Deutsche Grammophon’s parent company, but have yet to hear back. If the source for this reissue is a digital file, that may explain some of the sonic issues I encountered.

UPDATE: Sam Sklar at Verve Label Group emailed me back about my source question. She wrote: “All magnetic tapes (the original sources as quoted on sticker) have been digitally preserved exactly as they are onto a 24-bit system; this is effectively as close as we can get to the analogue original and ensures the analogue original no longer suffers deterioration from use.”

I compared the 180g reissue to a mint original 110g first pressing from 1976. I used a Signet TK7E moving-magnet cartridge with 0.2 x 0.7-mil nude square-shank miniaturized elliptical tip, mounted to a Technics EPA-100 arm. I adjusted VTA each time I swapped discs to account for the difference in record thickness.

Sound: 7.6

This is not a superlative piano recording in the first place. Both discs exhibited some glare, congestion, and hardness. However, the recording has admirable tone and dynamics, and is less ringy/buzzy than many solo piano titles from this era. I did find Pollini’s vocalizations in parts to be really distracting, though thankfully not as bad as Glenn Gould or Elvin Jones when they get going.

Here are my raw listening notes. Keep in mind, the differences were subtle in absolute terms but easily heard when switching from one disc to the other.

Original:

  • More harmonic content
  • More juice, more color
  • Some glare
  • More bloom, notes project out into space

Reissue:

  • Slightly veiled
  • Dimmer than original
  • More glare, hardness
  • Flat, notes stay pinned to a single plane

(See reference system for context on sound evaluation.)

Pressing/packaging: 7.4

Fairly flat and centered, heavy and nice looking vinyl. Appears to have been pressed at Optimal. Sadly, my copy has a few spots of non-fill on side two. High quality jacket on heavy stock. Includes insert with additional sleeve notes as did the original. Includes voucher to download MP3.

Value: 5.0

At $23, I guess you’d call this a mid-to-low-priced 180g reissue. Significantly cheaper than typical $35 audiophile titles, but more than, say, Blue Note’s 75th anniversary reissue series at $18 each (unfortunately, cut from digital files). Given the abundance of 1970s pressings on eBay for $5-10, I’d skip this one and go with an original pressing. If you get a NM original, you’ll save money and get a better sounding disc.

Deutsche Grammophon reissue LP on Amazon.com:

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ira June 21, 2018 at 4:36 am

Rubintein second tier Chopin? Really? News to me.

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