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1812 Overture
Erich Kunzel/ Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/ Kiev Symphony Orchestra

Review by Karl Lozier
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Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture

DVD-Audio Stock Number: DVDA-70541


  This, one of the only two Telarc DVD-Audio discs ever released, is of course an updated rerecorded version of their famous 1978 recording of the 1812 Overture. That recording featured the first live digitally recorded sound effects - cannons. It became Telarc's best-selling recording ever. No wonder they figured it was time to have another go at it. Not just it; also on the disc is a fine selection of other Tchaikovsky pieces including two of my three favorites, Capriccio Italien and Marche Slave. The latter title does not refer to any slaves, but to the Slavik people. It starts out dirge-like but eventually works into a bit of folk music rhythm and into strong resemblances of the national anthem as heard in his 1812 Overture.

The beautiful, showy and at times folk-like simplicity and gaiety of the Capriccio Italien is fairly well captured here by Kunzel, but my very favorite of the couple of dozen recordings I've heard or have, is conducted by Kenneth Alwyn with the London Symphony. It's understandable if you've never heard of him. This was his first recording ever and overall it borders on greatness and it's possible he may have made only one more nationally distributed recording. I've seen and have it in various forms on both Decca and London regular and economy releases. All have fine sound and are fairly common at used record dealers and at shows. The featured titles are usually Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture or The World of Great Classics Vol. 8. His performances of the Marche Slave and the 1812 are also outstanding though there is no cannon heard. Tchaikovsky planned to have the initial performance in front of a Moscow Cathedral, which was also being dedicated. Because of that he tossed in an extra brass band, the church's bells and being outdoors live cannon, for really noticeable punctuation.

Unfortunately, the premiere presentation was performed in a concert hall without any of those additions. In this Telarc recording all these things are present and then topped off with both an adult chorus and a children's choir. It is really great fun and adds beautiful touches to the sometimes slightly bombastic composition. Here and in most of the album, the bass drum is a bit overbearing, impressive but just a bit too much if your speakers really go deeply and really cleanly.

Listen carefully near the end of the beautiful Capriccio Italien as the bass drum is progressively tuned a bit lower in pitch. See if your system clearly reveals that. Charles Gehardt's version with the National Philharmonic Orchestra has all that going for him also with the Classics for Joy Stereo Sound Spectacular Vol. II recorded in England. Dorati's well known version for Mercury records does not have a chorus but is one of the more popular versions as are both Previn's and Mehta's well recorded versions. As I looked through my collection I found that I have not yet opened Reiner's newly remastered CD recording of the short lived (and rather rare) LP recording now available in a "Living Stereo" [CD 09026-61246-2]. I have just been too busy with new recordings in all sorts of formats to have gotten around to it. Many people are very impressed with Kondraschin's version of the Capriccio (plus Rimsky's Capriccio) for RCA, but it's not quite my cup of tea, but a fine pairing never the less.

Both the Polonaise and Waltz from the opera Eugene Onegin are very adequately done on this Telarc DVD-Audio recording. They make attractive changes of pace and are beautifully and relatively subtly recorded. The Festival Coronation March seemed to suit Kunzel's conducting style extremely well and wound up being very impressive. The brass and horns seemed particularly well blended here and seem to be "just right". The final and very well done selection is just about the only thing remaining from the opera Mazeppa by Tchaikovsky. It is a relatively well-known piece entitled the Cossack Dance and will almost assuredly sound familiar to you; if not, you'll probably learn to love it. This album is highly recommended, even if you don't care for the 1812 Overture. The other selections offer a variety that is at times beautiful, other times lyrical or sometimes a bit show off, but great music making. Highly recommended, but with the caveat that the bass drum may be a bit, or more, intrusive at times.











































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