Tchaikovsky: 1812 Festival Overture

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Mariinsky
WORKS: 1812 Festival Overture; Moscow Cantata; Slavonic March; Festival Coronation March; Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem
PERFORMER: Lyubov Sokolova (soprano), Alexey Markov (baritone); Mariinsky Theatre Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: MAR 0503 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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There’s no shame in writing music to orders from on high, but it’s going a bit far to say – as does Leonid Gakkiel in his booklet note for this new recording – that Tchaikovsky, a ‘monarchist’ whose loyalty was ‘unconditional’, ‘accepted commissions and the result was inspired’. No, the results were a great composer doing his best under the circumstances. And, being Tchaikovsky, that of course is a considerable best. Yet Valery Gergiev seems anxious to press on through the religious hymn and battle of 1812, not helped by a close and airless recording, though he does come into his own as he builds nimbly to a victory complete with the usual bells and cannons (source, presumably mixed in, uncredited here).

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The cantata Moscow starts poetically before descending into a competent foursquareness; still, it couldn’t be done more fervently than it is here, backed up by the best of choruses and two unmistakeably Russian solo voices. Slavonic March, the most individual of all the pieces, gets the liveliest, quirkiest performance and the best sound. The later Coronation March is effective but stiff in its outer portions, and it’s hard to understand why Tchaikovsky preferred his earlier Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem (and the Russian one, yet again) to 1812; its construction is far looser, its themes less memorable than the admittedly borrowed ones for the more famous pageant. David Nice