The Decca Phase 4 label began as part of London Records, Decca’s American branch, to specialise in sonic spectaculars. The opposite of Mercury, which employed two microphones, the Phase 4 engineers multi-miked orchestras and highlighted instruments and sections at the mixing desk. From 1964 to 1978 they recorded classical music, often hiring famous but neglected conductors.
This anthology gives a wide cross section, from Robert Merrill singing American patriotic songs with soupy arrangements, to Paco Peña’s flamenco guitar, to Orff’s Carmina Burana. Much is no longer popular, nor does it have the ‘cool’ factor to warrant a revival.
Stokowski conducts Berlioz, Russian music and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the end of his career, but is far better served by his 1950s EMI recordings. (His best Phase 4 disc, coupling Ives and Messiaen, is absent!) Stokowski’s Beethoven 9, along with Leinsdorf’s Mahler 1 and Doráti’s New World Symphony are comparatively successful, while Stanley Black is a good conductor of light music. The most interesting recordings are of Herrmann and Rósza conducting their film scores, but these are more extensively covered in Eloquence editions.
Decca’s English executives pooh-poohed the Phase 4 sonics, and they were right. The sound is dry, unnaturally close, and one-dimensional. Marilyn Horne’s huge voice breaks up whenever she turns on the juice (in excerpts from Carmen). Buy the two Decca Sound anthologies ahead of this.