Mercury Living Presence Recordings are Now All on CDs!
In the glory days of the long playing record, certain labels with catch phrases shone bright: London FFRR, RCA Living Stereo, and Mercury Living Presence are three that graced my collection. From the 150 or so of the Mercury LPs, almost all were reintroduced on single CDs. And now that the third volume of the “Mercury Living Presence, The Collector’s Edition” is out (as the press release puts it), “almost every single album ever made and released under the Mercury Living Presence label is now available.”
For starters, there are 53 discs in this cubic boxed set (some are albums of two CDs), each in its own cardboard sleeve with the original artwork on the front and the tracking list on the back. A 130-page booklet gives the complete timings and technical information about each recording. I have counted only four discs that are in mono; and they are part of the 10 MLP vinyls that appear on CD for the first time here.
The major conductors represented are Antal Dorati, Frederick Fennell, Howard Hanson, Charles Mackerras, and Paul Paray. Among the symphonies are those of Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, and Mendelssohn. To balance the “warhorses” of the symphonic genre are selections by Hindemith and Stravinsky.
Among the more rarely heard orchestral pieces are the four Suites by Tchaikovsky and Ernest Bloch’s “Concerto Grosso 1, 2.” Although it is in mono, the “1812 Overture,” with original scoring, brass band, bronze cannon, and Yale University bells, will blow your socks off
The lighter side, pop music if you will, is found on programs devoted to the music of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Victor Herbert (in 1960s arrangements that might or might not please all). There are the “best of” type discs with shorter works by the same composer: Rimsky-Korsakov, Richard Strauss, and Richard Wagner.
And there are “genre” collections such as “Kaleidoscope” (fast paced music), “Wienerwalzer” (waltzes from Vienna), and “World of Flamenco.” Among my favorite tone poems are those of Ottorino Respighi; and two of them, “Church Windows” and “Roman Festivals,” are found in this collection, the exact recording I heard so many times on my LP player!
But what was the fuss all about when these recordings were first released? Some critic, hearing the vinyl discs, used the expression “living presence”; and the Mercury publicists were not slow in picking it up. The microphones and tapes used are discussed in the program notes for those interested. But I remember how good they sounded, even with my not-quite-state-of-the-art equipment.
And if you want an incredible introduction for someone to classical music, it would be hard to beat this as a very generous gift.