Recording of October 1979: The Telarc 1812 Overture

Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture (Op.49), Capriccio Italien (Op.45 ), "Cossack Dance" from Mazeppa (LP), plus Marche slav, Op.31, Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin , Op.24, Festival Coronation March (CD).
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Kiev Symphony Chorus; Children's Choir of Greater Cincinnati, Erich Kunzel cond.
Telarc Digital DG-10041 (LP, CD-80041 (CD). 1979 (LP), 1984 (CD). Edited at Soundstream, Inc. Robert Woods, prod.; Jack Renner, eng. DAA (LP), DDD (CD). TT: 35:19 (LP), 60:23 (CD).

I must say I'm getting a bit bored with the 1812 Overture, but as long as there are audiophiles, it will be recorded due to the stringent demands it can make upon one's playback system. This version produced by Telarc is going to be hard to beat. The cannon fire is unbelievable.

Read the warning first, and then sit with your hand on the volume control. The gut-shaking thuds may well cause woofer bottoming or amplifier overload. (There seems in fact to be an overemphasis of bass, probably done during the tape/disc transfer.)

The cannons and bells were recorded separately and then mixed into the orchestral recording, a first in digital technology. Thomas Stockham and Soundstream have contributed greatly to the development of digital recording, but I still feel strings are not as well reproduced as they could be; there is a slightly thinned-out, wiry sound which seems an earmark of the Soundstream digital system.

The other side of this disc is not so challenging to speakers and amps as side one, nor did I like the performance of the Capriccio Italien. There is a static quality to the phrasing which even in excited passages lacks tension and gives a plodding feeling. In comparison with Dorati's old monophonic Mercury recording (MG50054), Dorati's interpretation wins out completely. However, the recording technique doesn't begin to approach Telarc's. Also, where, may I ask, are the kettledrums at the end of the Capriccio? Mazeppa, too, displays Kunzei's somewhat heavyhanded technique with Tchaikovsky.

Nevertheless, this record is a must for its 1812 with the impressive cannon fire. The liner notes indicate they even managed to destroy some windows during the firing of the largest charge! Buy this, but be careful: Don't destroy your system.—Margaret Graham

Editor's Note
Although the dynamic range on this disc sounds absolutely stupendous, it is only about 45dB between the softest and the loudest (bass drum) musical passages. This may seem absurdly low to those of us accustomed to thinking in terms of 110dB fortissimos, but it is roughly 15dB more dynamic range than is on the statistical average of symphonic LPs, and 5dB more than on any audiophile disc we have encountered! When we consider that a 10dB change sounds to our ears like a halving or doubling of volume, it is no wonder that this latest from Telarc sounds like such a blockbuster. Add to that the fact that the loudest parts are cut at extraordinarily high level (higher than on most 78rpm discs) for drastically reduced (by almost 10dB) surface noise, and it. becomes obvious that this disc has established a new high for analog-disc information capability. The fact that it will reproduce throughout without breakup (by some phono systems, anyway) is in its turn a tribute to the advances in cartridge design in the past few years.

Now, if someone could just develop a resonance-free phono system, and the audiophile community could see fit to adopt it as a standard, it might make digital audio look a little less attractive to perfectionists.—J. Gordon Holt

The 1812 CD (from June 1984, Vol.7 No.3):
This was reviewed in its analog form in Vol.4 No.5, and there is little to add to that review except to say that the hard-to-track cannon shots on analog are absolutely lethal on CD—though not hard to track! If your power amp is capable of ripping your woofers apart, the cannonshots will give it the opportunity to do so. Telarc's warning in the booklet (and on the album cover) should be heeded. Despite the in-house presence of two 200Wpc power amplifiers, I have yet to hear these appalling thuds reproduced at higher than modest levels without obvious evidence of something overloading. And if anyone can assemble a system that will reproduce those sounds cleanly, and without attenuating their low end, I would not at all be surprised to hear about broken windows.

The recording is typical Telarc, with all the positive and slightly negative things implied thereby. As usual there is that tendency towards steeliness when the whole violin section digs in, but considering the bulk of material released on CD to date, this is one of the best orchestral CDs you can buy. As with the analog version, this is still an almost ridiculous challenge to a reproducing system-a challenge which, if met, would prove nothing of musical worth about the system's fidelity.

The attention this recording has received because of the 1812 has tended to obscure the fact that the Capriccio is one of the best renditions of this warhorse that has been recorded in recent years—better in some respects than the one with Fiedler on the Crystal Clear label. The Cossack Dance, on the other hand, is a bore.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 1: Listening to the thuds and clangor of this nth rendition of the 1812, it occurred to me that audiophiles need some new musical works to show off their woofers and tweeters. How about someone commissioning the Choo-Choo Symphony, featuring a Mikado steam locomotive. Or the Thunder Overture: In Memoriam (for the recording engineer who stood on a high hill holding a microphone aloft). Better still, a recordist could be paid a year-round salary to camp right on the San Andreas fault, ready at the drop of a tremor to punch the Record button for The Earthquake, a work of truly shattering impact. Any other suggestions, People?—Margaret Graham

hnickm's picture

I read the warning and promptly ignored it. After all, I had a system that was... (insert hyperbole). At a pretty loud level, the output gave it up and the thermal protection kicked in. In my defense, I was much younger and was...(insert adjective).

As a demonstration for friends these days, I use Don Dorsey's Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565: Toccata from his 1985 Bachbusters. A HiRes version would be interesting to hear, but alas I suspect it will never happen.
Yes, I know it's a synth, but at a loud level, you can dust the furniture in your listening room.