March 2009

Fiesta in Hi-Fi
Mercury Living Presence/Speakers Corner SR90134
Format: LP
Originally released: 1956
Reissue released: 2008

by John Crossett

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

Two labels that epitomize the golden age of classical-music recording are RCA and Mercury Living Presence. Reissue label Speakers Corner has dipped its toes into the Mercury catalog on occasion and does so again with Fiesta in Hi-Fi. Living Presence recordings are highly prized by audiophiles because of the exacting standards with which recording engineer Robert Fine, his future wife Wilma Cozart, and mastering head George Piros went about their work. Those standards brought forth recordings with a closer, more intimate and realistic sound perspective prized by audiophiles of yesterday and today.

Fiesta in Hi-Fi showcases works from four different 20th-century composers that all have the joyousness of a fiesta imbued within them. The album starts off with "Mexican Rhapsody" by Robert McBride and follows with Ron Nelson’s "Savannah River Holiday." Side two kicks off with Lyndol Mitchell’s "Kentucky Mountain Portraits" and closes with Charles Vardell’s "Joe Clark Steps Out." All this musical merriment is brought bubbling forth by gregarious conductor Howard Hanson and his merry band, the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra, which sounds like it had fun making this music.

Making an LP look like the original is all well and good. Many companies can do that. Making it sound close to, or better than, the original is another matter entirely. Speakers Corner holds to the same high standards as the original Mercury team. Fiesta in Hi-Fi is a sterling example, as it’s brimming over with top-quality sonics. The soundstage is wide and deep -- held back only by my stereo equipment and room. The tone and timbre of each instrument in the orchestra is nearly spot-on. The resolution is superb -- I could hear into the back corners of the auditorium and follow each section of the orchestra -- and image placement is rock solid. Speakers Corner uses the Pallas pressing plant and pure virgin vinyl for its LPs, so there’s no surface noise to mar enjoyment of these fine works.

As I’ve come to expect, Speakers Corner has done its usual excellent job, producing a facsimile that is fully the equal of the original LP. This one sounds just as up-close and exciting as any Living Presence LP in my collection.