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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)

Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) [3’19"]

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Danse Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah (1877) [7’29"]

Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)

Pines of the Appian Way from The Pines of Rome (1924) [5’36"]*

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Fantasia on Greensleeves (1934) [4’33"]

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901), arr. KUNZEL

Grand March from Act II of Aida (1871) [7’41"]*
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Fêtes from Nocturnes ((1900) [6’22"]

Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

Nimrod from Enigma Variations, Op.36 (1899) [4’14"]

Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Roman Carnival Overture, Op.9 (1844) [9’30"]

Jaromir WEINBERGER (1896-1967)

Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper (1927) [8’49"]*

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Festive Overture, Op.96 (1954) [6’54"]*
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/Erich Kunzel.
Items marked * also with the College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati Brass Choir
Recorded at Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, 10-11 May 2003
TELARC CD-80595 [65’00"]

The Cincinnati Symphony was founded in 1895, and is the fifth oldest orchestra in the United States of America, The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra is a direct offshoot of the Symphony, being founded in 1977, with Erich Kunzel as its founding and current conductor. It is widely known, and as the name implies was formed to perform the more popular pieces of the concert repertoire. Most of the members of the orchestra also belong to the parent body.

The items here are mostly extracts from longer or operatic works; I must say at the outset that I do not like this sort of programme of bits and pieces, but one must assume that the record companies find this type of presentation profitable. Again, I assume it is aimed at relative newcomers to classical music, who are looking for immediately identifiable and distinctive music. Alas, these interpretations I am afraid will not serve to increase their appreciation.

In virtually all the items, I found the interpretations bland, tending to slow tempi and without sparkle. The orchestra play well enough but with just that hint that even they find this repertoire tedious. The recording is adequate, but somewhat muted and this adds to the feeling of ennui; indeed I found that I needed higher than usual volume to hear the details. The booklet gives a sketchy outline of the story behind the music, or its history, but without getting to the pith.

As a few examples, in the Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah the middle section is subdued. At the end the music is not taut enough and the whole piece needs more atmosphere. Compare Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who are immediately more seductive and whose recording and playing are brighter. Beecham achieves a more Eastern sound from the score with virtually the same timing (EMI 567890-2). In the Pines of the Appian Way, Kunzel is positively pedestrian, and the weary legions plod their way into Rome. Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra first endows a sense of mystery followed by a much more threatening presence. This then swells to a triumphant climax with a much greater sense of pride and swagger (RCA-BMG 09026 68079-2). The Greensleeves fantasia is very relaxed, almost soporific, and the Grand March from Aida is also slow with an air of pomposity.

In the Debussy, the music seems without direction and meanders. Compare this with Giulini and the Philharmonia (EMI, alas nla) where there is passion and purpose, so giving the music more life. In Nimrod the tempi are so slow and the climaxes so drawn out that one wonders if it will ever end. Barbirolli and the Philharmonia were never of the quickest, but their reading is infinitely better and over half a minute faster at 3’35" (EMI Classics 566322-2). The same criticism can be levelled at the Roman Carnival, again pedestrian and without any fire, so much so that one’s attention begins to wander. Munch with the Boston Orchestra is fully 1’30" quicker (RCA-BMG 09026 61400-2). That wonderfully swaggering piece from Schwanda the Bagpiper has completely lost its Bohemian origins (and swagger) and again sounds very ordinary; try Kempe with the RPO on Testament SBT1280. The Shostakovich is passable - just.

I am sorry to be so negative about this selection. Anything which encourages growth in appreciation of classical music I would welcome, even a collection such as this, but one can do a lot better, particularly at mid-price.

John Portwood

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