Mercury Living Presence

I have a few Mercury Living Presence label CDs. I've found I have an affinity for what I've heard on this label in terms of recording quality, in particular for the vintage of the original recordings. I was listening to the MLP recording of The Nutcracker recently and was semi blown away.

Does anyone else share my affinity for these recordings? Are they all equally well recorded? Which are the best?

What about the original vinyl recordings, which I have not heard. Are these any good?
4b9c724a 509c 4bb1 a384 a61b6782a9d0mapman
I agree that they're quite sonically special. Try the Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos 2-3 with Byron Janis, exceptional performance.

The vinyl is equally, or even surpassingly good with the right kit.
I like them, they are IMO dynamic but bright compared to many other high quality issues.
Mercury has been one of the prized classical music recording labels since it's first monoraural release in the early '50s. Here are two articles that will give you a lot of the background about this label:

The original vinyl is highly prized by many collectors. Speakers Corner is in the process of reissuing much of the Mercury catalog on vinyl, and the results thus far have been outstanding.
As Rushton noted, the originals are highly prized by collectors. A fine example of a very simple recording philosophy (3 mikes across the front of an orchestra) superbly executed by a producer with excellent musical taste. The recordings have a lot of the energy you might hear at a live performance (their reproduction of orchestral dynamics was probably the best of the era), but on the whole are on the bright side, as Chadlnliz points out; the first set of SACD reissues actually seemed to tame that brightness just a little, compared to the original CDs. The CDs were remastered under the direction and direct supervision of Wilma Cozart Fine, the original producer of the records, so they had a lot of care taken in their transfer.

Glad to hear from Rushton that the LPs are worth buying, I have held off, as a number of previous re-issues of some Mercury recordings, both on Mercury's budget labels and on the Philips label, have been either disappointing or a mixed bag (not the case, though, with the few Classic Records reissues, wehich are stunning).
I do not find the Mercury LPs or CDs to be overly bright, generally speaking, tho' there may be a few exceptions. they will challenge one's system. I like the Classic reissues quite a lot; some are quite remarkable.
I've found the MLP CDs I've heard to have a distinct timbre that is perhaps "brighter" than most modern good recordings, but I also find the recordings to be very smooth and dynamic and not "overly bright". I've always associated this distinct timber as being the "Living Presence" alluded to in the sereis name.

I'm sure different ears will hear different things though.

I've found the unique timbre of certain "Living Presence" recordings to be useful as a very unique reference source standard when auditioning digital sourced audio systems .

Does anyone think there are any modern recording series the equivalent or at least similar to the MLP recordings in terms of how the recordings are produced and mastered? I've never researched this but I can't think of anything I know of off the cuff.
I have many of their original Lps including a large amount of the Dutch pressings along with their box opera sets. I wish they would have reissued the opera sets on cd and sacd.
The LP's are great! Amazing quality. My only complaint is that you can tell that they used multiple tracks to record on. The separation between sounds is very exact at times vs blended.
You should hear a piano solo where they used multiple mics along the keyboard/harp. It moves across the room with utmost quality and amazing clarity.
In response to Mapman's question, not sure if you're referring more to the simple mike placement, but perhaps Telarc, in its pre-multi-channel days, was close to a mainstream record company using a fairly simple miking technique (spaced omnis as the main array) and taking great care in the mastering and production of its recordings. While many companies have produced fine classical recordings, such as Harmonia Mundi, Reference Recordings, Delos, Decca, etc., most of them use or used far more of a microphone array than Mercury did.
I have The Nutcracker on original vinyl and its very good. Also have seven others on vinyl and they are equally good, but i prefer the overall sound of RCA's Shaded Dogs and White Dogs, even though the Mercury's sound a tad more dynamic to my ears (IMHO). -Mrmitch

not sure I know what series/line you are referring to exactly by "shaded and WHite Dogs".

Can you elaborate?

White and Shaded Dogs refer to the labels on the RCA Living Stereo recordings from back in the 50s and early 60s. Both of the dogs were white, actually, but a Shaded Dog was a dog on a shaded background, while the White Dog is a dog on the plain red background. These were the earliest of the RCA Living Stereo issues, and were much better pressings than the later Red Seal reissues of those recordings that came from RCA later in time. The early RCAs are equally prized by collectors as the Mercs; a slightly different recording technique, but equally talented recording engineers and producers. Another plus of the series was that they got to record the Chicago Symphony at the peak of its powers under Fritz Reiner.
Thanks Rcprince, couldnt have explained it better than that!-Mrmitch
I have a sampler of Living is very dynamic me that is what makes it so good.....sadly, most recorded music is compressed so that it can play better on mediocre home hi-fi....compression takes the life out of the music.
As a avid audio/music fan, perhaps even audiophile, I'm increasingly becoming aware that despite the inherent dynamic range advantages of digital recording, compression is becoming more and more the norm with modern recordings due to mass marketing effects. It is perhaps the most disturbing and ironic trend I can think of in regards to the music industry and how it serves what I would call the high end listening community, as represented largely on this site. Its ironic in the sense that even as the technology to enable great recordings improves, the results, by design, are increasingly mediocre.

Unfortunately, I guess it is what it is. Thankfully there are still some niche recording shops that focus on producing the best sonic product possible.
Mapman--what you state is certainly the case with pop recordings, which are compressed so they will sound good on the radio. Most classical labels have less compression issues, unless you listen to them on your radio, in which case the radio station compresses the recording for you. Telarc is probably the modern label most akin to the spirit of the Mercuries in terms of trying to get the dynamics of a performance on tape uncompressed, but I tend to agree with Shadorne that most other companies' recordings sound dynamically compressed compared to the Mercuries. This is particularly true when comparing vinyl pressings; that was a hallmark of the Mercury label.

By the way, despite the theoretical advantages of the digital recording medium in terms of dynamic range over analog, for some reason the most dynamic recordings in my collection are the vinyl versions. Comparing the Classic Records re-issue of the Mercury Firebird against even the SACD of the same recording, the vinyl just seems to be more natural, vibrant and have more dynamic punch than the SACD or CD--more of a "jump factor", as we used to call it. Not sure why, but it just seems that way to me, and I think also to a lot of others.
Hear Hear RC !!!!
Nice to hear from you again, Detlof. I know I'm preaching to the choir with you and Rush!
Russ, it's been good to see you weighing in with comments on the recordings!

Another series of recordings that are well worth seeking out for a very direct and natural reproduction of an orchestra (provided you care for the music) are the Harmonia Mundi USA recordings engineered by Peter McGrath. These are beautifully recorded with a pair of spaced omni microphones. Examples:

..Mozart Horn Concertos, McGegan/PhilBarO, Greer -hn, HMU 7012
..Vivaldi Flute Concertos, McGegan/PhilBarO, See -fl, HMC 5193
..Handel Water Music, McGegan/PhilBarO, HMU 7010

And don't forget Robert von Bahr's work with his BIS label over more than 30 years (very natural sounding, simply miked recordings), and the early work Brian and Ralph Couzens were doing with Chandos.
On the Harmonia Mundi recordings, Linn did a ReKut record of the Corelli Concerti Grossi 1-6, a superb recording from that series by McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque.
I find the Mercs a bit more dynamic due probably to mike proximity and arrangement. Most RCAs seem kind of "mid hall" while the mercs are more "front row". Both display good hall ambience. The best of the RCAs are great, whereas the best of the mercs send shivers up my spine.
Heads Up!

Amazon has this currently for < $100.

I noticed it over the weekend. My copy is on its way....
Do you have a link to this recording? I have a lot of the Mercury recordings and enjoy them very much.
I have not found the MLP recordings bright in my system. This could a cabling issue -- one of the most common problems we face with digital recordings. It took me about 6 years to overcome this problem. In my system it comes from dirty AC. I am listening to a Starker recording at the moment. Smooth as silk without a hint of brightness.
Sabai, which recording are you referring to--the Harmonia Mundi on Linn ReKut? I'm not sure if they're still available.
I'm on the road now. My recollection is that it was the Harmonia Mundi.
Box set arrived. Have not opened yet.

My first real exposure to the MLP recordings where they caught my ear was back in mid 90's with the CD recordings of Leroy Anderson and another of Circus music using the 35mm film technology that I got from the local public library. I've been hooked since.

I think at least the Circus music CD is in this set.

I'm hoping for the Leroy Anderson as well. LA wrote some of the catchiest, most accessible and recognizable pop/classical music ever that many do not know about, but not sure if that one is in there.

If the box set comes anywhere near living up to my expectations, this could be the place I would recommend a newcomer in this hobby with any interest in classical music start out.
i own at least 20 mlp cds.

i would say, that i could name several labels which offer "better", i.e., more natural sound.

here is a list of some labels to consider.

alpha, naive, mirare, accent, astree,glossa, alia vox, harmonia mundi, and telarc.

the point is, the mercury cds are ok, but not of the caliber of many other labels.
MLP and Telarc is an interesting comparison that I am familiar with.

I do not think I would ever mistake any recording I have heard on either label for the other. Apples/oranges. I associate Telarc with mostly digitally mastered recordings whereas MLP in their day was 100% analog (with later masterings in the 90s to these CDs).

Fascinating how such different beasts can still both sound very good.

Analog warmth, soundstage and dynamics are the hallmarks of the best MLP recordings. I do not necessarily consider these to be more strictly natural sounding in timbre, but most enjoyable and involving regardless.

MLP recordings sound very good on my OHMs in particular due to the simple miking techniques used in most/many. The soundstage is absolute top notch in regards to size and positioning of instruments within and that allows a lot of natural detail and a high degree of musical involvement. In this regard, I would say the closest sounding modern recordings I know of are those on the Mapleshade label, which employs similar production values in regards to how performances are miked. Still I doubt I would confuse a Mapleshade with a MLP recording. Two different beasts from two different eras still.