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

Review by Wayne Donnelly
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Tchaikovski 1812 Overture

SACD Stock Number: Telarc SACD-60541


  Well, here it is, the super gangbusters 1812 Overture for the new millennium. This is not just SACD, it's multi-channel SACD. Second-generation multi-channel surround-sound SACD players have now been out for about a year. The big marketers, I guess, see this technology as the yellow brick road to the high-volume consumer market.

Unfortunately, as an habitual late adapter, I am not equipped to play this disc in its full six-channel glory -- nor, according to my informal survey, are any of my audiophile acquaintances who live within driving distance. For now, I'll have to content myself with evaluating 1812 as a two-channel recording. Not to keep you in suspense, let me affirm up front that this is indeed a sonic spectacular in the Telarc tradition.

They pulled out all the stops for this 1812 Overture. Two choruses, cannons and carillons -- hell, at one point I was almost sure I heard the kitchen sink in there somewhere. The Telarc team has done a great job of putting all these sonic elements together with commendable textural clarity and system-endangering dynamics. (Telarc warns you not to have the volume up too far at the beginning, and they're not kidding.) If you like cannons, this is your disc -- the cannons are great -- and so are the bells. The orchestra (let's not forget them) delivers a sturdy, spirited, well played performance.

The booklet waxes nostalgic about the label's 1978 Kunzel/Cincinnati recording of the 1812, calling it "the recording that launched a company." I don't know about you, but what I remember most about that record was witnessing it virtually throwing styli out of the groove when marginal tone arms/cartridges tried to track that Telarc bass drum -- and of course, the 1978 cannons. If perchance you've been worried that Telarc classical recordings are getting a little too dainty, you can relax. The killer bass drum is back with a vengeance, ready to launch your woofer cone into your lap.

The other music offered here is a veritable Tchaikovsky's Greatest Hits: Capriccio Italien, Marche Slave, the Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin, the Festival Coronation March and the "Cossack Dance" from Mazeppa. All of these pieces receive enthusiastic if somewhat unsubtle performances, enjoyable enough especially if you're attracted to the sound -- this isn't interpretive rocket science. I have a problem though with that unrelenting big bass drum. It's so prominent in every piece that I find it distracting, and after a while, downright irritating. The graceful Onegin excerpts suffer most from this percussive excess.

The final six tracks are devoted to surround sound speaker setup. You'll have to check those out for yourself. Meantime, if you want the undeniably impressive powerhouse sound of the fully tricked-out 1812 Overture, and your system can handle the dynamics, buy this SACD and have some fun with it. The same goes for those who haven't yet taken the SACD plunge -- the standard CD sound also has plenty of impact.











































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