June 2008

Brahms - Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat
Emil Gilels, piano; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Reiner cond.
Cisco Music/RCA LSC 2219
Format: LP
Originally released: 1958
Reissue released: 2008

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Picking any of the RCA Living Stereo albums from Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony almost always guarantees a superb musical and sonic experience. RCA was nearly always on whenever Reiner and his Chicago boys hit the stage to record.

Emil Gilels, on the other hand, never quite caught the breaks needed to capture the attention that his talent deserved. Fortunately for both Gilels and us he managed to hook up with Reiner to record this fabulous interpretation of the Brahms No. 2 in B-Flat. Reiner demanded much of his orchestra (he was known to fire musicians he felt were shirking their duties right there on the spot), so you know that the orchestra is right on the mark here. Gilels memorable in his playing as well. All of this adds up to an album that brings out the best in the performer and orchestra.

But all of this wouldn’t matter one iota if Cisco didn’t take the proper care in remastering this LP. Gilels' piano is situated just left of center and front row. Its sound is big, bold, full, and percussive, but not overblown (think of the RCA Heifetz for an example of a soloist presented as larger than life). Cisco got it right. The Chicago Symphony is spread out on the wide but not deep stage that is Orchestra Hall, and you can easily get that sense from this reissue. Each section is clearly delineated. Cisco has presented a full audiophile-listening experience here.

While I can’t compare this reissue to the original -- I can't afford one in the requisite shape -- in comparison to other original Living Stereo LPs I own the Cisco is clearer, more extended, more precise, and more exacting in its portrayal of the musicians. What this reissue lacks (and this holds true of all RCA Living Stereo reissues) is that sense of burnished glow that infuses all originals I’ve heard.

On the other hand, if you want to hear as much of the master tape as the LP process can offer, then you’ll want to hurry and pick up a copy of this LP. Why hurry? Because Cisco has announced that they are getting out of the LP business, and many outlets are selling out of this wonderful release. So get your butt in gear and search until you find one -- and then buy it. It marks the end of an important source of great music on LP -- and it’s that good.