Artist: VA.
Title: Phase 4: Stereo Concert Series
Year Of Release: 2014
Label: Decca
Genre: Classical
Quality: FLAC (Tracks)
Total Time: 01:18:42:47
Total Size: 12,2 GB (+3%rec.)

DeccaΓÇÖs legendary Phase 4 series started off in 1961 with a number of gimmicky titles designed to showcase their bold new approach to stereo. The company had already set new sonic standards with their Ernest Ansermet/Orchestre de la Suisse Romande recordings from the 1950s and early 1960s; those pioneering efforts, reissued countless times, sound wonderful in their most recent re-masters. In contrast to that emphasis on high seriousness ΓÇô both musical and technical ΓÇô Phase 4 was aimed at a broader, less demanding audience in search of aural excitement and adventure. Indeed, the word ΓÇÿSpectacularΓÇÖ appeared in both the Phase 4 logo and in several album titles.

In 1964 Decca launched their Phase 4 Concert Series with a string of safe bets. These included Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite with Stanley Black and the London Festival Orchestra (PFS 4036) and an all-Tchaikovsky disc from the same ensemble conducted by Robert ‘Bob’ Sharples (PFS 4044). The LFO, a mainstay of the Phase 4 project, was set up in the 1950s as Decca’s ‘house orchestra’. Meanwhile, as composers, arrangers and band leaders both Sharples and Black had an established reputation that made them an ideal ‘bridge’ between the light catalogue and the more serious one. Black is particularly well represented in this new Decca box; Sharples leads the charge in the bonus disc, Battle Stereo (PFS 4034).

Once the Concert Series had gained traction Decca introduced some heavyweight conductors, among them Antal Doráti, Leopold Stokowski, Arthur Fiedler and Bernard Herrmann; they hired high-profile orchestras too, notably the Royal Philharmonic, the New Philharmonia and the London Symphony. Even their roster of soloists improved, with mezzo Marilyn Horne singing excerpts from Bizet’s Carmen, violinist Ruggiero Ricci in Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn concertos, and pianist Ilana Vered in Mozart, Stravinsky and the faddish Yellow River Concerto.

So, what was special about Phase 4, which came to an end in the late 1970s? Decca made use of 10-channel recording equipment ΓÇô later increased to 20 channels ΓÇô that allowed a great deal of aural manipulation; this wasnΓÇÖt confined to the simple ΓÇÿping-pongΓÇÖ effect of passing sounds from one speaker to the other ΓÇô stereo was still a novelty in the early 1960s ΓÇô but extended to spatial trickery as well. The results were mixed to say the least, and in later years Phase 4 became a synonym for weird balances and all manner of sonic silliness. In mitigation collectors agree that the quality of Phase 4 pressings was better ΓÇô and more consistent - than most.

Many of these Phase 4 releases have appeared on CD over the years - Decca even released a Phase 4 Experience sampler – so this nicely packaged tribute set is long overdue. The discs and chunky booklet - contained in a sturdy, top-loading box – are presented in replica LP sleeves. That includes the notes on the back, which are all but impossible to read without a magnifying glass. (I created PDFs, which are a doddle to read on-screen.) Like most things from the 1960s the Phase 4 artwork is terribly dated; indeed, the designers seem to have run riot with their Big Book of Funky Fonts. As for some of the album titles – The Immortal Works of Ketèlbey, for instance – they’re somewhat cheesy. Still, it’s all good fun, and a nostalgia trip to boot.

Several of the original LP programmes ΓÇô such as the Sousa marches ΓÇô are reprised exactly on the corresponding CDs. ThatΓÇÖs fine in selected cases, but in others Decca have combined programmes to make full use of the silver discΓÇÖs longer playing times. Some of the choices are a little odd; for example, HorneΓÇÖs Carmen is now bundled with TchaikovskyΓÇÖs Pathetique, her then hubby Henry Lewis the only common link. The upside is that the CD plays for 84:22, which is at the very edge of the Red Book spec. Others spin for 70 minutes or more.



Tracks:


CD-1 The Band Of The Grenadier GuardsΓÇô Sousa Marches
CD-2 Stanley BlackΓÇô Gershwin: Rhapsody + American In Paris + I Got Rhythm Variations
CD-3 Stanley BlackΓÇô Khachaturian: Spartacus & Masquerade Suites
CD-4 Stanley BlackΓÇô Spectacular Dances
CD-5 Stanley Black– Ravel: Boléro & Borodin: Polovtsian Sances; Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol & Tchaikovsky
CD-6 Ivan Davis, Edward DownesΓÇô Liszt: Piano Concertos 1 & 2; Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto 2
CD-7 Antal Dorati– Dvorák 9; Kodály: Háry János Suite
CD-8 Antal DoratiΓÇô Orff: Carmina Burana
CD-9 Antal Dorati, Sean Connery– Prokofiev: Peter And The Wolf & Britten: Young Persons Guide + Prokofiev: Lieutenant Kijé
CD-10 Antal DoratiΓÇô Rossini-Respighi: La Boutique Fantasque & Suite Rossiniana
CD-11 Eileen FarrellΓÇô The Magnificent Voice Of Eileen Farrell
CD-12 Arthur Fiedler– Encores: Sibelius / Grieg / Dvorák, Etc.
CD-13 Arthur FiedlerΓÇô Gershwin: Overture
CD-14 Arthur FiedlerΓÇô Strauss: Waltzes & Nutcracker Suite
CDs-15-16 Anatole Fistoulari, Ruggiero RicciΓÇô Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake
CD-17 Jean Fournet, Ruggiero RicciΓÇô Tchaikovsky & Mendelssohn Violin Concertos
CD-18 Bernard HerrmannΓÇô The Great Hitchcock Movie Thrillers
CD-19 Bernard HerrmannΓÇô Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, Etc.
CD-20 Marilyn Horne, Henry LewisΓÇô Bizet: Carmen + Tchaikovsky: Symphony 6
CD-21 Henry LewisΓÇô Beethoven: Symphony 6 + Till Eulenspiegel
CD-22 Lorin Maazel– Strauss: Tod Und Verklärung & Tchaikovsky: Francesca Da Rimini; Prokofiev: Piano Concerto 3
CD-23 Erich Leinsdorf– Mahler 1; Wagner: Tannhäuser Overture & Venusberg
CD-24 Robert Merrill, Stanley BlackΓÇô Americana
CD-25 Charles MunchΓÇô Bizet: L Arlesienne & Carmen Suite
CD-26 Charles Munch– Offenbach; Gaité Parisienne; Respighi: Fountains & Pines
CD-27 Paco Pe├▒aΓÇô Flamenco Puro Live
CD-28 Eric Rogers– Ketèlbey + Violin Encore
CD-29 Mikl├│s R├│zsaΓÇô Ben Hur
CD-30 Leopold StokowskiΓÇô Beethoven: Egmont Overture & Symphony 9
CD-31 Leopold StokowskiΓÇô Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique + Daphnis Suite 2
CD-32 Leopold StokowskiΓÇô Mussorgsky: Pictures + Boris Godunov Symphonic Synthesis + Night On The Bare Mountain + Tchaikovsky 1812
CD-33 Leopold StokowskiΓÇô Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade + Capriccio Espagnol + Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances
CD-34 Leopold StokowskiΓÇô Tchaikovsky: Symphony 5 + Glazunov: Violin Concerto
CD-35 Leopold StokowskiΓÇô Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake & Sleeping Beauty Selections + Romeo And Juliet + Marche Slave
CD-36 Leopold StokowskiΓÇô Vivaldi: Four Seasons
CD-37 Leopold StokowskiΓÇô Wagner: Orchestral Music From The Ring
CD-38 Leopold StokowskiΓÇô Bach Transcriptions (+ Other Transcriptions)
CD-39 Ilana VeredΓÇô Yellow River Concerto + Mozart K467
CD-40 Ilana VeredΓÇô Beethoven: Waldstein & Schubert: Wanderer; Stravinsky: 3 Movements From Petrushka
CD-41 Bob SharplesΓÇô Bonus CD: Battle Stereo