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Thread: Phase 4 Stereo

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    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    Phase 4 Stereo

    From 1961-1979 Decca Records had a special sub-label called "Phase 4 Stereo" which released over 200 records. Despite the name, they were not quadraphonic records but rather state-of-the-art stereophonic recordings, utilizing three omni-directional microphones hung 1.5 meters (a mere five feet) above the orchestra (Decca tree). Because the mics were hung ABOVE the orchestra -- not in front of it -- you get a super-wide stereo image that goes all the way from the far, far left to the far, far right. This makes them, pursuant to discussions we've been having on imaging and derived phantom channels, relevant.

    Phase 4 Stereo's orchestral recordings featured conductors like Leopold Stokowski, Stanley Black, Antal Doráti and Herbert von Karajan, conducting first-rate orchestras like the LSO, Netherland Radio Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic and L'orchestre De La Suisse Romande. The dynamics, performances, interpretations and yes, stereo imaging on these recordings still remains state-of-the-art in the CD age. MOST of these productions have been reissued on CD.


    The label also released -- as was popular at the time -- a lot of easy listening versions of popular music. These, he is quick to point out, have not "stood the test of time" (shall we say) nearly as well....
    Last edited by rcarlberg; 02-26-2020 at 11:02 PM.

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    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Interesting!
    A purist would probably say that an audience was sitting in front of the orchestra not above, thus...

    As I recall it from the 80'ties -
    The Decca vinyls from the 50'ties-early 60'ties were in high regards, and the story was that they were mostly recorded with tube technology and this made the sound superior to later recordings.
    Some time in the 60'ties Decca sold the equipment to the Sovjet state radio and changed to solid state technology. Not many in the 50'ties had HiFi at home that could actually reproduce the quality of these records, but later when we all got richer HiFi-enthusiasts discovered, that the tube recorded albums were different.

    I remember hearing a Decca version of Sullivans Pinafore that was truly amazing. (I think it was this one: Gilbert & Sullivan - H.M.S. Pinafore - 12" LP Double 1961 - Decca ACL 1054/1055).

    Of interest
    https://books.google.dk/books?id=CC8...0state&f=false

    https://books.google.dk/books?id=r76...nafore&f=false
    Last edited by Zeuhlmate; 02-27-2020 at 01:44 PM.

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    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zeuhlmate View Post
    A purist would probably say that an audience was sitting in front of the orchestra not above, thus...
    David Chesky is of the opinion that the best seat in the house is not 5th row center, but the conductor's stand.


    When you think about it, jazz isn't recorded from 30 feet away. Rock isn't recorded from 30 feet away. Why should classical be?

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    I used to have a few of these releases. I remember an Elgar release. Wonder if the cds recreate the sound truly or not.


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    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    Yes, only better.

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    The big 4 on the front of the album is how I knew "Pass In Review". It was one of my Dad's albums that we played often as little kids and it amazed me that the military bands basically marched in on the left and out of the right speaker. My first intro to stereo. I think it was the first of the Phase 4 albums. Got lucky and picked up a near mint condition LP about 20 years ago and it gets a spin or to a year, especially on Memorial or Labor day. The amazing thing about this release is that it made headway on the Billboard charts in 1962. I don't remember the ranking but it was in the top 100. I want to say it was in the top 20 but I wouldn't put any money on that. Whatever the ranking, I can't imagine that happening today.

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    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    Yes, “Pass in Review” was 1961 so it must be one of the first. Military marches. Not my thing.

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    During the 60s and into the 70s, my parents were members of the RCA Record Club (I think that's what it was called), so there are loads of these Phase 4 LPs still stacked up back at the homestead. All are of classical titles, and most of them are pretty well-worn. My personal favorite: Leopold Stokowski and the New Philharmonia Orchestra conducts Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Opus 64. It's from 1967 and is my hands-down favorite version of that particular work for several reasons: as you pointed out, the sound of this recording technique really does bring out the richness of the various instruments. The stereo field is both very wide and completely natural-sounding. It's worth noting that, to the best of my knowledge, Stoki recorded the orchestra in sections rather than as one unit. I'm not sure how common that practice was at the time. (FYI, the same procedure was used on Tony Banks' "5".) Finally, there's the fact that Leo took a few liberties with the score and tempi, as was his tendency, and on this recording, his intuitions did the score well (IMHO). Of particular note is that he eliminates the "pregnant pause" near the end of the final movement by having the tympani roll right through without stopping. I think this may have also been a practical change as audiences often thought the work was finished and would start clapping at the spot. He also pulls some fine performances from his players on this. For instance, he gets the low brass to sound uncharacteristically bright in a couple of key places where it truly benefits the music. Thus, to me, this is the definitive version of Symphony No. 5, and it is made all the more dazzling in Phase 4 sound.
    Last edited by Koreabruce; 02-27-2020 at 07:29 PM.

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    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
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    My dad was a big fan of these, although except for a pretty bitchen Stokowski-conducted Firebird, he made some less than exciting choices. I had a couple of my own--a weird mix-and-match Borodin program, and a version of Pictures at an Exhibition orchestrated by someone other than Ravel.
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    I bought the Stokowski Phase 4 box. After listening to several of the discs I wish I'd not spent the money. Some of them sound pretty bad.

  12. #12
    I think the closest Phase 4 came to “prog” was a late entry in the series, Sometimes Words Just Get in the Way credited to Orion, from 1975. It’s basically Ron Frangipane and a few other session heads having a bash at some current-ish hits and a few originals, guitar/synth/Mellotron style. Not really worth recommending, though, and featuring ghastly cover art:



    Somewhat embarrassingly, this is the only actual London Phase 4 stereo album I own:

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    Quote Originally Posted by rcarlberg View Post
    Yes, “Pass in Review” was 1961 so it must be one of the first. Military marches. Not my thing.
    Thanks for the correction on the release year. I pulled out the album and the inner gatefold has the catalog numbers for the first 75 Phase 4 releases and it is the first one, SP 44001. Love a good marching band in small doses. I found the billboard chart with the highest chart position for Pass In Review. Judy, Mitch, Sinatra, Welk but NO prog

    BILLBOARD (USA) MAGAZINE'S STEREO ALBUM CHART FOR WEEK OF:November 6,1961
    TW LW
    1 1 JUDY AT CARNEGIE HALL-JUDY GARLAND
    2 2 Stereo 35/MM-Enoch Light
    3 5 The Sound Of Music-Original Cast
    4 3 Camelot-Original Cast
    5 4 Stars For A Summer Night-Various Artists
    6 9 Never On Sunday Soundtrack
    7 6 Your Request Sing Along With Mitch-Mitch Miller
    8 13 Yellow Bird-Lawrence Welk
    9 21 Sinatra Swings-Frank Sinatra
    10 10 Jump Up Calypso-Harry Belafonte
    11 16 Victory At Sea Volume III-Robert Russell Bennett
    12 11 Persuassive Percussion Volume I-Terry Snyder & The All Stars
    13 15 Calcutta-Lawrence Welk
    14 7 Portrait Of Johnny-Johnny Mathis
    15 14 Exodus To Jazz-Eddie Harris
    16 29 Belafonte At Carnegie Hall-Harry Belafonte
    17 28 Pass In Review-Bob Sharples Orchestra
    18 12 Sing Along With Mitch-Mitch Miller
    19 17 Time Out-Dave Brubeck
    20 24 Music From Exodus,And Other Great Themes-Mantovani
    Last edited by Tangram; 02-28-2020 at 02:14 AM.

  14. #14
    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Koreabruce View Post
    My personal favorite: Leopold Stokowski and the New Philharmonia Orchestra conducts Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Opus 64. It's from 1967 and is my hands-down favorite version of that particular work for several reasons: as you pointed out, the sound of this recording technique really does bring out the richness of the various instruments. The stereo field is both very wide and completely natural-sounding. It's worth noting that, to the best of my knowledge, Stoki recorded the orchestra in sections rather than as one unit. I'm not sure how common that practice was at the time. Finally, there's the fact that Leo took a few liberties with the score and tempi, as was his tendency, and on this recording, his intuitions did the score well (IMHO). Of particular note is that he eliminates the "pregnant pause" near the end of the final movement by having the tympani roll right through without stopping. I think this may have also been a practical change as audiences often thought the work was finished and would start clapping at the spot. He also pulls some fine performances from his players on this. For instance, he gets the low brass to sound uncharacteristically bright in a couple of key places where it truly benefits the music. Thus, to me, this is the definitive version of Symphony No. 5, and it is made all the more dazzling in Phase 4 sound.
    Thanks for the review & recommendation; I have added a THIRD version of the 5th to my collection (Szell/Cleveland, Ormandy/Philadelphia and now Stokowski/New Philharmonia). I don't really mind as Tchaikovsky's Fifth is one of the great pieces of Western Art.

    FWIW, I think Tchaikovsky is nearly ideally suited to the Phase 4 treatment. It's already big, brassy, bold, stirring and very Russian. And Stokowski plays the hell out of it. I have a Phase 4 recording of his Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty excerpts, and for the CD they added Marche Slav and the Romeo and Juliet Overture. Quite the program!
    Last edited by rcarlberg; 02-28-2020 at 06:31 AM.

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    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rcarlberg View Post
    Thanks for the review & recommendation; I have added a THIRD version of the 5th to my collection (Szell/Cleveland, Ormandy/Philadelphia and now Stokowski/New Philharmonia). I don't really mind as Tchaikovsky's Fifth is one of the great pieces of Western Art.
    Is it in the box?
    I think it only exist as second hand vinyl.

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    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    Yikes, you might be right. I ordered it on Amazon. The cover image was Stokowski/New Philharmonia, but looking at my order, it defaulted to Maazel/Cleveland. I've asked the seller to verify.

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    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rcarlberg View Post
    Yikes, you might be right. I ordered it on Amazon. The cover image was Stokowski/New Philharmonia, but looking at my order, it defaulted to Maazel/Cleveland. I've asked the seller to verify.
    You may be in luck - just found this - it indicates a CD or at least a download


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    At 4:16 and again at 7:23 are examples of the bright low brass in the far left channel as I mentioned above. I first heard this version when I was 9 years old (1969), and because of that, I've since intuitively expected it to sound that way each time I hear other conductors and orchestras perform this work, but it never does.

    Stokowski really hit a home run on this one. His tempo choices - and especially his selective use of rubato on certain passages - are executed in a way that has the maximum impact on the listener without being excessive.
    Last edited by Koreabruce; 02-28-2020 at 08:04 AM.

  19. #19
    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zeuhlmate View Post
    You may be in luck - just found this - it indicates a CD or at least a download
    Correctimundo! It was disc 34 in the boxed set.

    https://www.iomoio.com/album/377211_...stokowsky.html
    Last edited by rcarlberg; 02-28-2020 at 11:41 AM.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by rcarlberg View Post
    Tchaikovsky's Fifth is one of the great pieces of Western Art.
    Tchaikovsky once asked Stokowski which symphony of his he preferred the most.

    Stokowski replied, "I'll take the Fifth."


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  22. #22
    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    216 pounds??? Oof.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rcarlberg View Post
    Correctimundo! It was disc 34 in the boxed set.

    https://www.iomoio.com/album/377211_...stokowsky.html
    Is that site legit? Hmmmm...

  24. #24
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rcarlberg View Post
    216 pounds??? Oof.
    Must be good

  25. #25
    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    Nah. Just means it's rare. Not necessary well done.

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