Notes on Vinyl: Sonic Blockbusters #1

We all know why we originally got into ‘Hi-Fi’. It was our love of music. And over time, as our systems got better (and more revealing), we found ourselves immersed in the glory and pure enjoyment of the music. But, being totally honest, many of us began to also become impressed with the technical side of our equipment. The hardware that lifted the veils gave us greater insight to the music and became part of the quest. At some point, we wanted (needed?) to share the capabilities of our endeavors with our friends to show them how wonderful our systems could present the music.

I don’t know about your experiences, but in my many years in this ‘hobby’ I can’t remember someone ever inviting me to listen to their system and demonstrating it’s majesty with solo guitar or a Mozart Quartet. Beautiful as the music might be, it is not designed to impress or prove the capabilities of our  sound systems. Here enters what I call the ‘Sonic Blockbusters’.These are pieces that were written to evoke great emotions through the sheer awesome power of the music. They may not be the best musical compositions ever written, but they really can show how powerful music can be, as well as how powerful and awe inspiring our systems can sound.

I thought we might start with that most venerable warhorse for the first in our series of ‘Blockbusters’,  the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. This piece has it all. Blasting cannons, massive Carillon Bells, full orchestra, and in some performances, complete with a full choir.

The ‘1812 Overture’ is an overture written by Tchaikovsky in 1880 to commemorate Russia’s defense of the motherland against Napoleon’s invading Grande Armée in 1812.  The piece debuted in Moscow on August 20th, 1882 and it was personally conducted by the composer himself in 1891 when it opened at Carnegie Hall. The overture is remembered for its climactic volley of cannon fire, ringing chimes, and brass fanfare finale. This is the music you here while the fireworks are overhead on July 4th.

There have been numerous recordings of this great work. But the Mercury Living Presence Stereo recording (SR 90054) is what started it all. Especially, in the competition to press the most impressive version on vinyl. The Mercury held that honor until (questionably) the release of the Telarc LP with it’s massive cannons which could only be tracked by a select few tonearm/cartridge combinations. Many still maintain that the Mercury is much better over-all, with the Telarc besting it only in the “Cannons” category. This Mercury recording had all the characteristics of the justly famous ‘Mercury Sound’ – huge, un-compressed dynamic range with lush mid-range and very open, natural highs with a very high level of detail (missing in the all-digital Telarc).

If you wish to truly challenge your system’s resolving power and at the same time demonstrate your dynamic (slew rate) capabilities, than this is the premier recording to use. It will leave you (and your friends) breathless, especially the Finale, if your system is up to reproducing it properly (or even closely). Be warned though, this recording (and even more so the Telarc) can leave your woofers lying on your listening room floor if you get too aggressive with the volume control.

Dave Biagi is a Classically trained musician, Music lover, avid record collector and audio enthusiast for the past 40 years. His passions are ‘Golden Age’ vinyl recordings, ‘Classic’ tube preamps and Planar speakers.

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