The Three Faces of Power: Leibowitz' "Power of the Orchestra"


This legendary record was issued as part of a package with another LP entitled "The Power of the Organ. While that LP has faded into obscurity, the former has been a sensation since it was released in 1963 as part of RCA Victor's Living Stereo classical series. Although it bears the famous "Nipper" logo, this is actually a Decca production produced for RCA by Charles Gerhardt, and engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson, who is the man behind the sound of the top rated Decca recordings as well as the superb recordings from the superb Reader's Digest omnibus sets "Treasury of Great Music" and "Festival of Light Classical Music" Perhaps because it "Power of the Orchestra" was issued only as part of this special package, it didn't remain in print for very long. As far as I know, there are three stamper variations and all are shaded dogs pressed in Indianapolis, the 1S/1S, 1S/7S and 5S/5S. all are from the A1 mother. At any rate, according to an article published in The Absolute Sound, longtime collector and RCA expert Carol Kessler states that the 1S/7S is the pressing to own, and that is the one I've been listening to for years.

If you are a fan of Moussorgsky-Ravel's "Pictures at an Exhibition" or "Night on Bald Mountain" you simply shouldn't be without this record! It's virtues have placed it in HP's "Top 12 Best Sounding LPs of All Time", as well as earning a 10+ from J. Mitchell, author of "The RCA Bible". Does it live up to all the hype? Yes, and then some!

I've heard just about every recording of "Pictures" from the stereo era, and in my opinion, in both performance and sound, it is the best. And although I love Fritz Reiner's (RCA LSC-2446) interpretation as well as I do Leibowitz', sonically it doesn't quite reach the heights (or depths) of this recording. Just listen to the enormous crash that follows the introduction, and the awesome sense of space that the reverberation and decay reveal. I am quite sure that this was recorded in Kingsway Hall, London. Everything here is superb. Dynamic shifts are staggering, with a deep bass foundation that suggests the real thing, and the noise floor is low enough to reveal pages turning, chairs shifting, etc. The soundstage is vast and expansive in both width and depth and images within it quite distinct. "Night on Bald Mountain" is extremely evocative, if not downright chilling in it's ferocious intensity. Don't miss the unusual addition of a wind machine towards the end of the piece, an effect you will not hear anywhere else.Even if you've heard these pieces a hundred times, I guarantee you will be emotionally drained by the end of this record, and in awe of the artistry involved with every aspect of this production. Top recommendation.


About a decade ago, Chesky Records reissued "The Power of the Orchestra" on 180 gram vinyl. This, along with Munch's earlier reading of "Daphnis et Chloe", the earlier "Gaite Parisienne" with Fiedler, and Oscar Danon's "Petroushka" are considered the best of Chesky's vinyl imput. These particular titles, unlike the earlier LPs, were mastered by Tim de Paravicini through custom built tube equipment at his own facility, and pressed on 180gm vinyl.. Although "Daphnis" and "Gaite" have been reissued by Classic Records, "Power of the Orchestra" is not on the agenda. Perhaps one reason may be that the superb Chesky release is a hard act to beat. Unlike many of their earlier Living Stereo reissues, which were criticised for their sonic shortcomings, the "Power" reissue won instant acclaim, finding it's place on the top of many critic's lists. Many feel that it surpasses the original, and short of a mint 1S/7S from Indianapolis, I agree. As is the case with many reissues of RCA material, it seems there are losses in ambient air, the shaded dogs possessing a glow that is somewhat reduced in the reissue. The debate rages on as to why this might be so. Certainly the age of the tapes involved us a factor. Tape is a somewhat fragile medium for long term storage. Some of these tapes are 50 years old, and extreme high frequency information (where the "air" is) is the first to go. Different objectives also play into the results. Where the shaded dogs were tailored to sound good on the hi-fi equipment of the day, the goal of today's remastering engineers is to reveal what is on the master tape, not to emulate the sound of the shaded dog. Chesky's philosophy is in line with this approach, so compression and equalization are not employed. This leaves a lot of the responsibility to the quality of the master tape. Fortunately, in the case of "Power" the master was exceptionally good, and probably required little touching up when the original engineers made the production master.

The result? Chesky has produced a superb disc, that rivals the shaded dog in many respects. It surpasses it in it's extension of the frequency extremes. The deep bass whacks are startling in their realism and the orchestral crash at the end of the Promenade section of "Pictures" will shock you with it's intensity. The original is no slouch either, but on these counts, I prefer the Chesky. Soundstage and image placement are very good, but this is one area where the original shines. On the original, I can clearly hear deep into the soundstage, and hear the space between the instruments. The illusion is remarkable, if not downright spooky! The Chesky doesn't render this quite as clearly, and the open space is somewhat obscured. To me this is a major failing, and once heard in direct comparison, it is impossible to ignore. If you haven't heard the original, you'll be very impressed with the Chesky. Overall this is a fine reissue, and considering the rarity and price of a near-mint original, it is an absolute must have. Grab it now, as Chesky is out of the vinyl business and supplies are starting to dwindle (and prices rising).

I must mention that there is a budget alternative available. It involves searching out a copy of Quintessense PMC-7059, which was released in 1978, and includes both Moussorgsky pieces from "Power", plus an equally stunning version of Saint-Saens "Danse Macabre". Quintessence was a division of budget label Pickwick Records. They released three interesting series of records. "Critics Choice" featured critically acclaimed recordings of the basic repertoire that belong in every library of great music. "Classics for Joy" featured all the easy listening classics you know and love, which included a "Stereo Sound Spectaculars" series. The label drew heavily on RCA's Reader's Digest recordings, many engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson, as well as EMI's early stereo catalog. These reissues are also remastered from the original master tapes, re-cut on the lastest Neumann lathes and pressed on virgin vinyl. These were unfairly ignored by the audio press and deserve your attention. They are usually priced at $10.00 or less - often much less. Definitely worth exploring.

One last thing: The stunning artwork on the original "Power of the Orchestra" has yet to be reissued. Perhaps one day we will see it again if Classic decides to go for it!