Years ago, I was in the market for an alternate CD of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, the "Pathétique." I wanted to supplement the old Ormandy/Philadelphia recording. Being a subscriber to a classical music review magazine -- The American Record Guide -- I would spend months reading and thinking about a CD before purchase. Not having a lot of money, I couldn't take a chance on buying anything that was not the best. There were three or four staff reviewers whose judgment I learned to trust. Their taste seemed to always match my own.
I kept coming back to one review of the symphony. But I hesitated time and again. The review was glowing, but what the hell? The reviewer was strongly recommending Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra on an extreme budget label -- ENCORE, a subsidiary of EMI. I was used to laying out $18 for the finest performances in the best sound. This thing only cost $3.98!
Well, finally snobbish reluctance gave in to trust in the reviewer's words. I ordered it. When I opened the package, I wasn't sustained in my trust. The cover image of a large ugly pink flower bloom screamed: "I am going to suck extra bad!"
When I put it in the player, I could not believe what was happening. With my eyes open, a huge raised stage appeared in front of me. I was sitting about 20 rows away in an auditorium seat. The orchestra was RIGHT THERE! The sound was so full, pervading, resonant. Every detail emerged in sparkling clarity. This wonderful symphony was being performed by ghostly doppelgangers right freaking there in my room. I had never really heard this symphony until then. Not like that. Pastel and primary colors leapt from the speakers, taking the melodic lines into chromatic space. And propelling those lines in rhythmic aural dance. I'm talking real magic here, folks. And again, the fullness, the warmth, the power. Yes, the crescendos were explosions of sonic bliss.
I think I'm going to listen to this thing again before I go to bed tonight!
I just checked Amazon.com, and my CD is no longer available. But it looks like the same performance is now issued by EMI in a two-disc set. Besides the 6th Symphony and Romeo and Juliet (from my disc), you also get the 2nd Symphony with Francesca Rimini. Sounds damn good to me for the asking price of $8.97. And the CD cover is really nice this time: