Telarc's first surround SACD is unlikely to be ignored. By choosing the 1812 Overture - a sonic crowd-pleaser that has long challenged recording engineers - as the focus of its disc of Tchaikovsky selections, Telarc is sending a loud and clear message that it means business. And I meant business, too, in my efforts to determine the disc's level of success. With the assistance of the editors at Sound & Vision, those efforts involved three listening rooms, three surround systems, and three multichannel SACD players - in fact, all three multichannel players then in production. And while the sonic experience improved somewhat through a reference system including B&W Nautilus 803s for the front left and right speakers and a 15-inch B&W subwoofer, all in all this recording by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra under Erich Kunzel was disappointing (Performance , Recording ).
The cannons and bells may thrill fans of this stirring piece, but there is music, too - and when it is effectively performed, it creates the emotional atmosphere that makes those sonic effects meaningful and truly spectacular. Here and elsewhere (in the polonaise and the waltz from Eugene Onegin, the Cossack Dance from Mazeppa, the Capriccio Italien, the Marche Slave, and the Festival Coronation March), the music all too often falls flat. Telarc has opted for the use of a chorus in the 1812, both for the opening hymn "God Preserve Thy People" (Kiev Symphony Chorus) and later on (Children's Choir of Greater Cincinnati), and whether or not this addition is preferable to the original version, the choruses perform well and are nicely recorded. But the orchestral sound seems compressed and is burdened by overprominent bass. Following Telarc's warning to set a "safe level" for the volume because of the cannons, it's impossible to reach an acceptable level for enjoyment of the actual music. The bells get lost in the din and never achieve their effect. And even the cannons, while realistic, fail to be truly exciting. Perhaps the use of the recommended but optional "height channel" would have helped, but for most listeners, mounting one or two additional speakers overhead is an impractical solution.
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