Hanson / ERO – Sessions / McPhee: The Black Maskers / Tabuh-Tabuhan (180g pressing, from the 6LP box set)

# Composers: Roger Sessions, Colin McPhee
# Orchestra: Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra
# Conductor: Howard Hanson
# Vinyl (1957 / 2013)
# Number of Discs: 1
# Format: Flac
# DR Analysis: DR 12
# Label: Mercury Living Presence
# Size: 794MB (24/96) + 214MB (16/44.1)
# Recovery: 5%
# Scan: yes
# Server: FF, FP

The sixth album in the second Mercury Living Presence 6LP box set.

Box Set Overview:

UMG/Decca Classics has just released the second official, limited-edition vinyl reissue box-set containing five classic Mercury recordings pressed onto 180gram vinyl. This “Collector’s Edition” includes original artwork, quality packaging, and excellent liner notes containing Michael Grey’s essay on the history of MLP and an article by Thomas Fine detailing the Fine microphone technique (originally published in Tape Op Magazine).

There have been volumes written about the legendary MLP sound, specifically the three-microphone stereo recordings produced between 1956 and 1967. So, I will limit myself to the specifics of this particular box-set. The two essays included in the box-set provide detailed information that any Mercury enthusiast, or novice, will enjoy. Both essays revolve around the same axis; the Mercury recording team, led by Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart, took great pride in the quality of their recordings, cutting no corners to achieve the sound they desired. (Listening to these new Mercury LP’s, I realize how much pride recording engineers must have felt for their products during the early days of stereo.)

Mercury LP’s have always been known for their wide dynamics and lively presence. When Mercury went stereo, Mr. Fine fed his three-microphones into Ampex 300-3, three-channel tape machines. Two individual machines were always employed for stereo, resulting in A and B tapes – both first generation, just in case one tape was damaged – and another pair of tape machines used explicitly for mono (using the signal from the center microphone alone). Once Mr. Fine had set the microphones to the desired location, typically hung on ropes, the orchestral dynamics and balance would be in the hands of the conductor. Thus, the three-channel tapes were actually the “master tape”. To realize a stereo LP from these tapes, the three-channels would be directly mixed down to the first generation lacquer (this is the 3-to-2 mixdown process that Mercury always employed). When this master lacquer was being cut, Wilma Cozart (the original musical producer) would perform the (three-channel-to-two-channel) mixdown as if a live event.

This is as good a time as any to mention that the LP’s in this box-set have been sourced from the digital masters made by Wilma Cozart Fine. Yes, the original tapes still exist, but that would mean someone besides the original producer would have to perform the “live” 3-to-2 mix-down. Second generation stereo masters were made when the original LP’s were cut, and these are what Speakers Corner used as a source for their reissues, but these contain an added amount of tape hiss because they are second generation (the additional noise coming from the source alone). According to Tom Fine (son of Wilma Cozart and Robert Fine), the reissue team, including producer Raymond McGill, decided that “it was better to use the highest resolution 3-2 mix from the original producer” for these new LP’s, and that is exactly what they did.

In 1989, Wilma Cozart Fine started working with mastering engineer Dennis Drake to make digital masters of the Mercury recordings. After a year of research and testing, Cozart Fine finally found a digital recording chain that was up to her exacting standards. Cozart Fine used the first generation three-track source (either ½” tape or 35mm), played through the same Westrex mixing console she had used to mix the original LP’s decades earlier. The analog signal was sent through a dCS 9000 analog-to-digital converter at 24-bit/44.1kHz, then sent to a Harmonia Mundi Acoustica digital buss (with a re-dither module by Weiss Engineering) with an output of 16-bit/44.1kHz sent to a Sony 1630 recorder and eventually stored on U-Matic videotape. Therefore, the digital mix was first generation; no post-production editing or outboard effects used in the entire process. At some point in time, the master 1630 U-Matic tapes were converted and stored on hard drives. These are the last stereo mixes ever made by Cozart Fine and these have been used for all Mercury Living Presence CD’s and the first vinyl reissue; the Collectors Edition Box-Set #1. (Around 125 discs were released between 1990 and 1999.)

After listening to these new LP’s (and the Speakers Corner reissues), I can see why audiophile-quality reissues of Mercury Living Presence LP’s would be desirable. Although an original pressing captures that classic Mercury sound, there are noticeable weaknesses that have nothing to do with the recordings themselves and have everything to do with the quality of the vinyl technologies of the day (not to mention the poor monitoring systems). Of course, there will be analog freaks who will question the use of digital masters and I must admit that I love AAA recordings, but there is no replacement for the accuracy and authenticity of the mix. And the new LP’s happen to sound incredible.

The LP’s in this set were cut by Maarten de Boer (who also cut the first Collectors Edition box-set LP’s) at Emil Berliner Studios in Hanover, Germany. All of the LP’s in this collection benefit from an increased clarity, improved dynamic range, and a more developed lower register.

Album Review:

Originally written in 1923 for a small orchestra, The Black Maskers Orchestral Suite (1928), was intended to be incidental music for a performance at Smith College. The music was rearranged 1928 by the composer for a larger orchestra and with the eight original episodes condensed into four. On this lovely recording, the first thing you notice is that the instruments are located in a realistic perspective within the orchestra; the trumpets, the bass flute, the viola solo, everything is where it should be. As with all the other pressings in this collection, lower register information is richly textured; especially on the growling bass section at the start of the second episode and the powerful organ chords of the finale. These deep tones will test any system and on the right system, the organ is something spectacular to witness.

From the get-go, the McPhee recording shows off an expanded stage. The composition, Tabuh-Tabuhan, is a complex piece based on Balinese melodies. Making up what McPhee calls the “nuclear gamelan”, the core of the ensemble consists of a celesta, xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel and two pianos. McPhee also added Balinese cymbals, two Balinese gongs, triangle, bass drum, and sandpaper to the instrumentation. These percussive instruments were placed in front of the traditional Eastman orchestra, along the front of the stage.

Improved dynamics, more detail and more depth than the original LP; this pressing is also cleaner sounding and perhaps, even more full-range than ever before. This composition is epic and the complex instrumentation stretches the soundstage far and wide. The McPhee sounds better than the Sessions with its dynamic charge and highly detailed orchestration, but I prefer the Sessions musically. This new pressing is so quiet (like all the LP’s in the set) that the sound on the McPhee is nothing short of spectacular. Fine did a wonderful job capturing the wide-ranging textures of the extended orchestra and the sound of Rochester’s Eastman Theatre itself. The McPhee has long been a favorite; it’s a thrilling and explosive piece.

Track List:

Side One
Sessions: The Black Maskers (Orchestral Suite)
01 – Dance: Stridente-sarcastico
02 – Scene: Agitato molto
03 – Dirge: Larghissimo
04 – Finale: Andante moderato un poco agitato

Side Two
McPhee: Tabuh-Tabuhan (Toccata for Orchestra)
05 – Ostinatos
06 – Nocturne
07 – Finale

Executive Producer – Wilma Cozart
Recording Engineer and Technical Supervisor – C. Robert Fine
Musical Director – David Hall
Recording Location – Eastman Theatre in Rochester, NY, in January 1956 (McPhee) and May 5, 1956 (Sessions)
Recorded on 3-track 1/2-inch tape using one Schoeps M201 and two Neumann U-47 microphones.
Original catalog number – Mercury SR-90103

The full review from above can be seen here

Ripping Info:

All vinyl is cleaned on a VPI 16.5

Technics SL1200-MK5 (modified)
– Rega RB300 arm with RB700 wiring
– Michell Tecnoweight
– SoundSupports armboard
– Trans-Fi Audio Reso-Mat
Shure V15VxMR (with Jico stylus)
SimAudio Moon 110LP preamp
Native Instruments Audio4DJ USB interface

Processing: Sound Forge 10, ClickRepair (manual mode only)


Due to the recent policy change at RS, I will not be posting anymore RS links.
Please use FileFactory or FilePost.

All of the files are here



Password is SteveMTNO.

Do you like my rips?

If you enjoy my rips, please consider making a donation. All donations will go toward new music and/or equipment. Requests are always accepted.
Thank you!

17 thoughts on “Hanson / ERO – Sessions / McPhee: The Black Maskers / Tabuh-Tabuhan (180g pressing, from the 6LP box set)

  1. Good choices, 4 indispensible Mercury LPs. But, if Wilma used nothing above 24-bit/44.1kHz in her chain and the last stage was 16 bit , why would 24/96 be required for a vinyl transfer?

    I would think the CDs would be virtually identical to these LPs, but I am willing to be convinced otherwise. I can’t download today because quixotic FIle Factory failed to see my renewal as three months and only gave me one, but as soon as that is correct I will give it a shot.

    Do you know if the Speakers Corner discs are from analogue or digital masters?


    • I usually download the 24/96 versions for analog LPs, however in this case I downloaded the 16/44.1 since the masters are 16/44.1. The sound is superb, much better than I expected for 44.1!

      The Speakers Corner Mercury’s are remasters from the 2-channel analog mixes made back when these came out, as noted above Wilma Cozart Fine is no longer with us, so her son Tom used her remasters for the CDs as the older analog 2 channel mix-downs had more hiss.

      The Classic Records LPs were remixed from 3-channel to 2-channel using tubed analog by Wilma and Bernie Grundman.

      I much prefer the Speakers Corner and Classic Records versions, some of which are posted on this site. But I’m grateful for these as well.

      • I just wanted to add, that the Classic Records and Speakers Corner “pure analog” LP remasters are much better than these two 6 Mercury Living Presence LPs sets from Universal. I wish Tom Fine and Raymond McGill had decided to use the services of either Speakers Corner or Classic Records instead of using the 16/44.1kHz remasters Wilma Cozart Fine made for the CD versions.

        In other words, only get these only for works you are missing in your collection.

        They do sound better than any CD I’ve heard but a 24/96 rip from a pure analog audiophile remaster to me sounds worlds better.

Leave a Reply