Mercury Living Presence was a dominant force in stereo recording from the mid 1950s until the mid 1960s. Renowned for its microphone tree similar to the later Decca set up, the label produced detailed and very fine early stereo recordings of many artists who didn’t fit into the EMI, DG or CBS stable but proved themselves worthy if not better recording artists than their rivals.
The reason I choose Volume 3 is because it contains some real gems from the Mercury catalogue previously unreleased on CD. Howard Hanson introduces a talk on the orchestra using his Eastman Orchestra and it is well worth exploring. The real gems for me are a superb Brahms cycle from Antal Dorati who excels on this label with both the LSO and Minneapolis SO and Paul Paray who’s Detroit orchestra is again a delight in Schumann and Berlioz symphonies. Both Dorati and Paray are presented in Wagner, and while some of the works overlap, they are superb recordings and finely played.
The Dorati set of the first three Tchaikovsky symphonies is superb and has remained a benchmark for the last 50 years. Other delights include Frederick Fennell in discs of Cole Porter, Gershwin and Victor Herbert – music that you don’t hear in orchestral arrangements any more.
Mercury also recorded for other labels and their fine disc for Philips with Richter in the two Liszt Piano concertos and together with Rostropovich in Beethoven Cello sonatas are dream couplings for any label and should be in all musicians’ chamber music and piano concerto collections.
For around two dollars a disc, this set is a must have.
Mercury Living Presence Vol 3
Mercury 478 7896 [53 CDs]