Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture (CD review)

Also, Romeo and Juliet; Capriccio Italien; Dance of the Tumblers; Marche Slave. Theodore Kuchar, National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Naxos 8.555923.

This disc was something of a puzzlement to me when I first received it some ten years ago. Why in the world, I thought when I first saw it, would Naxos believe anyone needed another 1812 Overture? Likewise with the attendant material on the program. I mean, even at a low Naxos price I can't imagine too many people willing to invest in something of which they probably already have multiple copies. Of course, there may be young people who have just bought their first audio system, who don't own Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, and who want something to show off their new gear. But in that case, why chose this particular 1812 or this particular disc?

The album begins inauspiciously with Maestro Theodore Kuchar's somewhat prosaic, almost lackadaisical rendition of the Capriccio Italien. Part of the fault here may lay in the Naxos sound, which for the first three-quarters of the piece sounds as though someone had turned off the bass. Then the highs start to come forward and recede as though the engineer were fiddling needlessly with his mixing board. Only by the last notes does the piece come to life and does the bass finally make an appearance. Odd. In any case, to my ears Kuchar's interpretation seems far too underpowered to be of much value to the seasoned listener.

Theodore Kuchar
In the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture Kuchar and his ensemble come off a little better, although the music doesn't evoke the all-out sensuality of some of the finest competitors in the field. Then, the "Dance of the Tumblers" from The Snow Maiden appears more loud and boisterous than anything else, but that's probably as much the composer's fault, so I can't blame Kuchar. After that, the March Slave makes an appearance, but it, too, comes in sound so soft and round it seems almost lifeless.

Finally, the 1812 closes the show, and, lo and behold, it's passably good. Maybe the audio engineers were saving the best for last. The sound here appears closer and more robust than on the preceding pieces; the bass, while still not very deep, at least makes a small impression; the dynamics increase slightly; the pacing picks up, also slightly; and the music ends decently enough with real cannon shots. Unfortunately, the cannons are not particularly forceful, and the accompanying bells are so muffled they sound more like crowd noise than musical instruments, but that's neither here nor there.

Overall, one can do better than this Naxos release, even at budget price.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa