Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra – Tchaikovsky 1812/Capricio Italien Op. 49/“Cossack Dance” From Mazeppa  – Erich KunzelTelarc Records TEL00009/Concord Music Group (1979/2018) [distr. by Universal Music Group] 180-gram stereo vinyl, 35:11 ****1/2:

Tchaikovsky’s National overture sounds vibrant on this 180-gram digital vinyl!

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky has been regarded by many as the greatest Russian classical composer. He is widely known for scoring ballets, assimilated by orchestration (Swan Lake, Romeo And Juliet and the unforgettable Nutcracker). Music like Marche Slav is appreciated worldwide.. Additionally he gained renown for the 1812 Overture, as well as 6 symphonies, various concerti, chamber music, compositions for piano and chorale music. Tchaikovsky’s unique musical style drew from 19th Romanticism and traditional 18th century forms. He experimented rhythmically with unusual meters, differentiating himself from traditional Russian composers. He adopted the Western embrace of modulation, bur also used the whole tone scale in a rare agreement with The Five, Russia’s composer hierarchy. Tchaikovsky experimented with timbre and doubling two or more instruments playing a melody simultaneously.

The 1812 Overture (The Year Solemn Overture Op. 49 in Eb Major) was commissioned to commemorate the Russian defense against Napoleon’s “Grande Armee”. Utilization of cannon volley fire, ringing chimes and a overpowering brass  finale has endeared this overture to the world. It is a staple accompaniment to fireworks in the U.S. on Independence Day. Recorded as early as 1916 (78 r.p.m.), it was immortalized by the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra in 1954, partially recording at West Point and Yale Memorial Carillon. The scoring included brass, woodwinds, percussion and strings. At times, tubular bells, church bells, sledgehammers, bass drums or gong tam-tam are added. Telarc’s 1979 album of Tchaikovsky 1812 – Capriccio Italian – “Cossack Dance” From Mazeppa has been reissued by Concord Music Group. Featuring The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Eric Kunzel, the production (Robert Woods) and sound engineering (Jack Renner) were heralded as state-of-the art. The trend-setting Soundstream Digital Recording System consisted of custom high frequency payback heads and a Digital Equipment PDP 11/60 computer that ran Digital Audio Processor editing software that produced a digital mix.

Tchaikovsky Portrait

Peter Tchaikovsky

The Cincinnati Symphony performs a spirited and faithful adaptation of “1812 Overture”. From the sorrowful resonance of the opening “Oh Lord Save Thy People”, the composition builds and decreases intensity with interludes. The instrumental arrangement is visceral. Strings and flutes denote pastoral contexts. Steady cello notes have an ominous tone with woodwinds and violin shading. Then after a key modulation and a booming single drum, the “main theme” is presented for the first time. The fury of the battle is depicted in the dramatic strains of “La Marseillaise” (considered anachronistic) as the brass offers prominent accents. There is a shift to a reprise of the folk music. Then after the 12:00 mark there are five dramatic cannon shots (authentic19th century cannons). As the battle rages, there is a counterpoint and sequencing of “La Marseillaise” and “Oh Lord Save Thy People”/“God Save The Tsar!”. The “running” violins portray the French getting chased off the battlefield (not necessarily accurate from a historical perspective). For a full minute, a collage of bells (Emery National Carillon) signal the impending victory. The finale has “God Save The Tsar” prevailing over “La Marseillaise” as a volley of 10 cannon shots punctuates the moment. It is stirring with the full orchestra.

Side Two switches gears with “Capricio Italien, Op. 49. Tchaikovsky wrote this piece on vacation in Italy. His intention was to assemble a “fantasia of local folk songs” and conform this to orchestral arrangement. After a short brass fanfare (which echoed the bugle calls heard from his hotel room), the strings inject a lyrical melody before a transition into accessible 3/4 time. The orchestra is adept at various percussion (triangle, tympani, tambourine) and the use of English Horn, oboes and bassoon add a “street” band vibe. After a march-time break, they break into a sprightly tarantella. This free-form track is captivating and accessible, with an accelerated conclusion. “Cossac Dance” (from Mazeppa,)  a lesser known opera  that was not very successful.  “Cossack Dance”, which has an effective and high-energy mixture of strings and reeds has a folky undercurrent but with some of the melodramatic pretension and motifs that adorn opera,

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra – 1812 Overture/Capricio Italien/“Cossack Dance” from Mazeppa is a great recording. The two-channel digital stereo is powerful with a determined commitment to sonic acoustics. The cannon fire is speaker-rattling, as is the bass drum. But there is significant precision in small details like a triangle or flute. The overall mix is fluid. Quiet moments have a warm glow, and when the more dramatic moments occur, they are more than emphatic. The 12” gatefold boasts a striking image of miniature cast iron army figures and the signature technical notes are intriguing.

TrackList:
Side One: “1812” Overture
Side Two: Capriccio Italien Op. 49; Cossack Dance from Mazeppa

—Robbie Gerson