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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Wellington's Victory, Op. 91 (1813) [15:20]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Battle of the Huns (Hunnenschlacht) (1885) [15:28]
Hungarian March to the Assault (1843, 1875) [4:39]
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Erich Kunzel
rec. 10 September 1982, Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio. DDD
TELARC CD-80079 [35:41]


Reviewers were not queued up to tackle this disc. It smacks of an earlier age when enthusiasts – usually male – wanted to show off the capabilities of their hi-fi set-up. We are talking here LPs and turntables. As for the classical repertoire the works of choice would be Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture with Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory coming a poor second.

I am sure there are dissertations written already and yet to be written about battlefield music. Albert Petrak’s notes make a good start.  It is interesting though that the Beethoven and the Tchaikovsky works, appropriated as gaudy audio showcases, commemorate the same battle. Tchaikovsky had the decency to offer choirs and bells as well as cannon-shot. No wonder there are far more recordings of 1812 than of Wellington's Victory. That said, the record industry, often slow at recognising a glut, have stemmed new productions over the last twenty years. A moratorium was long overdue.

Wellington's Victory symphony is an interesting partner to the the same composer’s Eroica, the latter written to extol the glorious Napoleon and then recanted while the former, shallower work, was written as a celebratory extravaganza. The present recording was made using the rattle of authentic musketry and the crump of a twelve pound cannon from the North-South Skirmish Association. Authentic it may be but presumably the Association had to discard their usual Civil War weaponry and track back half a century to use the sort of muskets and cannon that were deployed at Waterloo.

Stereo effects are full exploited and similarly with the orchestra. Rabble-rouser that it is, it makes use of God Save the King and Malbrouk to represent the British and the French but why is it that the Prussian Blucher does not get a look-in? Still the results here are spectacularly clear and the performance is extremely musical so all praise to Cincinnati and Kunzel.

The Liszt Hunnenschlacht is a wild romp and sometimes a bit of a brawl but Kunzel does an excellent job of preventing the whole thing turning into a gabble. The downside is that it is a bit tame for a fully faithful portrayal of the subject as reflected in Wilhelm von Kaulbach’s fresco of the same name. Actually he brings out the musical threads of this work far more adeptly than Haitink and Mehta in their Philips and Decca recordings respectively. Kunzel is the antithesis of Golovanov whose mono Melodiya cycle of the Liszt poems will appeal to tolerant-eared music-lovers who value the elemental force that the Russian conductor finds or infuses into these scores. At its peak (13:10) there is grandeur and even bombast aplenty. As for the Hungarian March to the Assault this is a fun work written originally for piano in 1843. Liszt orchestrated it in 1875. Is that a zither I hear amid the conflict?

Just to be clear, the musketry appears only in the Beethoven. I should also add that the gunshots were recorded separately and mixed in as part of the Soundstream digital process.

This disc is very short value at only just over 35 minutes so you will need to want the Beethoven – though you’re not spoiled for choice – or be a passionate Liszt completist. Just as well this is a further example of Telarc dropping the price of premium CDs sitting on their warehouse shelving.  If the idea appeals now is the time to move.

Rob Barnett




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