Tchaikovsky: 1812 (UltraHD CD)

Also, Capriccio Italien; Cossack Dance. Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati
Symphony Orchestra. LIM UHD 052.

“Caution! Digital
cannons. The cannons of the Telarc Digital 1812
are recorded at a very high level. Low listening levels are recommended for
initial playback until a safe level can be determined for your equipment.”

How many discs do
you know of that warn you in advance they can destroy your sound system?

As of this writing,
it’s been over three decades since Telarc first released its celebrated digital
recording of the 1812 Overture. That
was back in 1979, and it’s the recording with the big cannons that helped put
the company on the map. Telarc Records had already released several other vinyl
LP’s before then, but none of them had made the impression the 1812 did. Now, the folks at LIM (Lasting
Impression Music), the affiliate label of FIM (First Impression Music), have
used some of the world’s most-advanced audio techniques to remaster the work on
CD in their Ultra High Definition, 32-bit mastering process. If you’re an
audiophile, you probably already have a few of producer-owner Winston Ma’s FIM
and LIM discs in your collection, and you know what they can do. If so, this
Telarc remaster might be just the thing to show off your system.

Anyway, Peter
Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) wrote his 1812
in 1880 to commemorate Russia's defense of Moscow against
Napoleon's advancing army at the 1812 Battle of Borodino. As usual with the
composer, he didn’t think much of his own work. He complained that he was
"not a conductor of festival pieces" and that the Overture would be "very loud and
noisy, but without artistic merit because I wrote it without warmth and without
love.” Be that as it may, along with a couple of his ballets, it has become his
most-famous and most-performed work.

The 1812 opens softly with low cellos and
violas playing the introduction. Be sure to keep the volume low or you may be
sorry later on. The dynamic range is huge. This is one of the late Maestro
Erich Kunzel’s more-animated performances, so you’ll enjoy how he creates,
expands, and releases some finely tuned outbursts of energy. This is
celebratory music, after all, and Kunzel makes sure we understand that.
Overall, though, I admit I am still not quite as thrilled by Kunzel’s approach
to the piece as most listeners, my finding it too often a little pedestrian and
middle-of-the-road. I prefer the greater excitement of Andre Previn and the LSO
(EMI), Sian Edwards and the Liverpool Philharmonic (EMI), or Antal Dorati and
his old Minnesota players (Decca/Mercury). What I liked most on Kunzel’s disc,
though, was his sunny yet urgent reading of the Capriccio Italien; and the listener might find the disc worth its asking
price for that alone. The other track is the “Cossack Dance” from Mazeppa, which is quite brief.

Nevertheless, this
Telarc recording is really about the sound. It’s an audiophile disc of the
first order, and the more-than-acceptable performance of the 1812 is merely a secondary
consideration. As we would expect, Telarc’s patented big bass drum does its
best to keep our attention, and the cannons go off loudly enough to rupture a
speaker cone. Indeed, as I mentioned before, Telarc and LIM warn us throughout
the packaging to keep the volume initially low until we can determine a safe
level of playback for our system. However, they don’t exactly clue us in as to
what that safe level may be, as the cannons don’t come into the picture until
the very end of the piece, by which time it may be too late. Then, Telarc/LIM
exacerbate the problem with a lower-than-average playback level to begin with,
about six or eight decibels lower than the output of most other classical CD’s,
which may encourage some listeners to turn things up too high in the first
place just hear it. Remember, there is an enormous dynamic range involved,
meaning the difference between the softest and loudest notes. So if it starts
quietly, you can be assured it will get louder before long.

Telarc recorded the
album at Music Hall, Cincinnati, in 1978, releasing it the following year. LIM
remastered it in their Ultra High Definition, 32-bit processing format in 2011,
releasing it in 2012. The remaster is as free from distortion as anything you’re
liable to hear, reproducing Telarc’s already splendid sound to the fullest and
most natural. Not only is the bass deep (a booklet note says the cannon fire
dips down as low as six cycles), the imaging is excellent, left-to-right and
back-to-front. What’s more, we get wonderfully clear, clean, extended highs,
especially evident in the Capriccio.

In addition, given
its lovely, high-gloss, hardcover packaging, its twenty-page bound booklet, and
its static-proof inner sleeve, the LIM product is about as audiophile as they
come. Just don’t think it comes cheap. For a complete listing of FIM/LIM
products, you can visit their Web site at


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