“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 Overture 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 http://www.firstimpressionmusic.com/.