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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
"1812" Overture, Op. 49 (1882 ) [15:34]
Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 (1879) [15:13]
Cossack Dance from Mazeppa (1884) [4:18]
George GERSHWIN (1898 - 1937)
Rhapsody in Blue* ( 1924) [16:26]
An American in Paris (1928) [17:23]
*Eugene List, piano
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Erich Kunzel
Recorded Cincinnati, Ohio, 1978 (Tchaikovsky); 1981 (Gershwin)
TELARC SACD-60646 [69:19]

You will see on the cover of the CD an imitation yellow sticker bearing the challenge, "CAUTION! Digital cannons"; a marketing ploy to sell a disc of popular classics in Super Audio Sound (SACD).

It is not the first time these recorded performances from between 24 and 27 years ago have been recycled. For example, the Rhapsody in Blue recording first appeared as an LP. In following CD reincarnations the pianist, Eugene List, is variously identified as playing with the "Cincinnati Pops Orchestra" and the "Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra". Will the marketeers stop at nothing? Here, Telarc is re-launching the same 1981 recording with the cannons of 1812 in super sound.

The cannons were well thought of when the 1812 recording came out in 1978 and if you have the speakers to cope, and an SACD player, they will give you a good thumping if thatís what you enjoy. What I thought more impressive than the decibels though was that they fire, more or less, on the beat rather than in what often sounds like a random firework display. This adds a rhythmic punch you donít always get.

Such precision is a hallmark of the conducting. Erich Kunzel has made this orchestra his own for nearly forty years and it is a highly successful partnership. I believe he is one of those conductors who are sometimes described as the supreme "Kapellmeister", the main characteristic being that he will produce very reliable, well played interpretations of any music you throw at him. That is what is represented on this disc: utterly dependable, immaculately played performances of some of the most recorded music in the repertoire. Being free of indulgent mannerisms they are performances that can stand up to repeated listening without irritation. The downside is that some of the fire and excitement that these works can generate is not fully realised. Just to take one example; Tchaikovskyís Capriccio Italien inherently contains both Russian orchestral excitement and Mediterranean passion. To get both those qualities you might have to go to a Russian orchestra. Alexander Lazarevís recording with the Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra, for example, has fire in its belly and can have you on the edge of your seat. There is some waywardness in tempo but I prefer this to Kunzelís more polite approach even though the playing is more beautiful.

Kunzelís precision, however, is suited to the late Eugene Listís playing in the Rhapsody. Accurate and crisp, List gives a zip to the performance that you do not always get. But, in common with all the pieces on this disc, there are other recordings about that have more fire and abandon about them.

The Super Audio Sound, good though it is, cannot disguise the fact that the original recording has a rather tight, close-up acoustic. This does not matter in the Rhapsody but the Tchaikovsky is big music that needs a big ambience. Even the cannons donít echo.

John Leeman

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