These classic performances were recorded within four months of each other on different sides of the Atlantic, back in the days of performing giants and golden-eared engineers. Emil Gilels had just burst on the scene, and RCA wanted to team him with its best ensemble, the CSO, under the iron-hand leadership of Fritz Reiner. The result was a monumental, virtuoso performance that is at the same instant heroic and lyrical. Henryk Szeryng was also new to the scene and hailed as one of the most phenomenal violinists since Heifetz. Pierre Monteux, then in his 80s, had taken over the reins of the London Symphony. Their partnership produced a recording of the Violin Concerto in D that I come back to repeatedly as the very best of a distinguished list. It is warm and lyrical yet has plenty of bite when needed.
The producer-engineer teams for both recordings were as legendary as the artists: Richard Mohr and Lewis Layton for the piano concerto, and James Walker and Kenneth Wilkinson for the violin concerto. The perspective for both recordings is close-up, a little closer for the Violin Concerto. The frequency range is expertly balanced from top to bottom, with rock-solid bass that never booms. Presence is palatable. JVC has worked its 24-bit transfer sorcery on both master tapes to good effect. The piano sound in the Gilels recording is singularly solid and realistic. Szeryngs violin sound is as good, with remarkable presence, but the orchestral strings on that disc are a bit harsh on top.
These XRCD24s pose no sonic threat to the best SACD transfers, but they are considerably better than your average CD. The packaging is attractive, too.
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