- Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – this Decca recording of the 1812 from 1958 is the only one we know of that can show you the power of Live Music for this important work
- This UK pressing is BIG, lively, clear, open and resolving of musical information like no copy of the 1812 you’ve heard
- The two coupling pieces, Marche Slave and the Capriccio Italien, also have rich, powerful, weighty brass and lower strings
- The most exciting and beautifully played 1812 we know of – we encourage you to compare this to the best orchestral recording in your collection and let the chips fall where they may
There is some noticeable low frequency rumble under the quietest passages of the music for those of you with the big woofers to hear it!
The lower strings are rich and surrounded by lovely hall space. This is not a sound one hears on record often enough and it is glorious when a pressing as good as this one can help make that sound clear to you.
The string sections from top to bottom are shockingly rich and sweet — this pressing is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago.
The 1958 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.
What the Best Sides of Our Favorite Performance of the 1812 Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1958
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Amazing Brass Reproduction
The 1812 Overture on this pressing is dynamic and exciting! The brass is big and clear, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.
Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Alwyn is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)
Marche Slave/Capriccio Italien is every bit as good!
What We’re Listening For on Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original won’t sound as good, having been cut on cruder equipment.
And two, no modern recutting of the tapes (by the likes of Speakers Corner for example, but you can substitute any company you care to name) could begin to capture this kind of natural orchestral sound.
I have never heard a Heavy Vinyl pressing begin to do what this record is doing. The Decca we have here may be a budget reissue pressing, but it was mastered by real Decca engineers, pressed in England on high quality vinyl, from fairly fresh tapes (twelve years old, not fifty years old!), then mastered about as well as a record can be mastered. The sound is, above all, REAL and BELIEVABLE.
A Must Own Orchestral Record
This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Orchestral Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.
1812 Overture, Op. 49
Capriccio Italien, Op. 45
Marche Slave, Op. 31
Our Story From Many Years Ago
On well-known works such as these we started by pulling out every performance on every label we had in our backroom and playing them one after the other. Most never made it to the half-minute mark. Compressor distortion or inner groove overcutting at the climax of the 1812? Forget it; onto the trade-in pile you go.
A few days went by while we were cleaning and listening to the hopefuls. We then proceeded to track down more of the pressings we had liked in our preliminary round of listening. At the end we had a good-sized pile of LPs that we thought shootout-worthy, pressings that included various Decca and London LPs.
Tchaikovsky cranked out the 1812 Overture in six weeks, cutting his imagination loose with every note and theme designed to tug at Russian heartstrings. And although the most celebrated section of the work is inevitably Tchaikovsky’s flamboyant, proto-cinematic finale, its opening passage is equally spectacular – albeit spectacularly understated.
Needing to ground the music in some fundamental truths about the Russian mind and spirit, Tchaikovsky opens by recalling a soulful Orthodox hymn, Troparion of the Holy Cross. A lesser composer might have sentimentalised the harmonies, but Tchaikovsky places this objet trouvé delicately on four violas and eight cellos, like an ethereal and wistful sound borrowed from the memory bank of history.
And now two things have become clear – that the 1812 Overture is better than Tchaikovsky realised and, despite the indignities and abuse it has suffered in the name of entertainment, his score is robustly constructed and has maintained its compositional integrity.
Because the opening sets the scene so powerfully, Tchaikovsky has access-all-areas to go anywhere musically as he begins to portray the shattering impact of the French invasion on his country. A Russian folk dance, At The Door, At My Door, trumpets national pride; pride that is rocked by the first appearance of The Marseillaise, characterised as mocking and provocative, which Tchaikovsky shoots down with five strategically aimed cannon shots.
In a late, great symphony like his Fifth or Pathétique No.6, Tchaikovsky’s melodic invention rises to the surface as his themes are combined in counterpoint: polarised logics of the symphonic argument made to coexist or not, and Tchaikovsky’s genius for eloquent counterpoint is woven into the fabric of the 1812 Overture at a deep structural level too.
With the battle gathering force, another Russian theme emerges, God Save The Tsar!, which he manoeuvres into a contrapuntal skirmish with The Marseillaise: two nations fighting it out in music, the composer never allowing the contour of one theme to nestle too cosily against its adversary. Enemy lines are kept tautly demarcated. A plunging, descending string line symbolises the Russian retreat; cannon shots and cathedral bells peel over a victorious roar of God Save The Tsar! from the orchestra.
So what are the lessons of the 1812 Overture, much loved by an eager public but often mocked by musicians who play it, and even by its own composer? Perhaps that the person who wrote a piece of music cannot be trusted to give a reasoned opinion on it. Tchaikovsky failed to realise that it is impossible to take a piece back, or impose a view upon it retrospectively, once it leaves the composer’s desk. The material with which you once shared an intimate one-to-one relationship is in the public domain. It’s gone.
But here’s an intriguing concluding idea. Manfred Honeck, principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (and a Tchaikovsky obsessive) remarked that most conductors play the March section of the Pathétique Symphony too triumphantly, when Tchaikovsky meant it to sound ambiguous and questioning. There’s nothing ambiguous about the 1812 Overture of course; could that be why Tchaikovsky couldn’t comprehend the forces he had unleashed? For the rest of us, the 1812 is to be enjoyed in all its noisy, vulgar splendor.
For the Marche, Tchaikovsky drew upon folk materials of the strongest Slavic character, beginning with the dirge-like main theme taken from a Serbian folk song. In the agitated, dynamic middle section, the composer quotes the Russian national anthem, “God Save the Czar,” a theme which also figures prominently in the 1812 Overture. Russians hearing the Marche in 1876 could hardly have failed to respond to Tchaikovsky’s fervent emotionalism as conveyed by his orchestral brilliance, and the piece was, of course, an immediate success.
Tchaikovsky possessed a remarkable talent for instrumentation, instinctively scoring his works to obtain a maximum variety of color and the widest possible range of tonal effects. His “Capriccio Italien”, vibrant with the raw colors of its Italian song and dance rhythms, is one of his most popular works and shows the composer’s complete mastery of orchestration. Its music passes vigorously from the opening trumpet call (echoes of the Cuirassiers) through a slightly melancholy phase to a climax of power and brilliance reminiscent of the popular Italian dance, the Tarantella.
From the liner notes
Same recording, different covers.