Kunzel!

By Michael J. Legeros


Pops.  No, not Gramps.  Nor Satchmo.  Nor the alternate plural of
soda.  Pops, as in Boston Pops, as in anything-goes, orchestral
versions of rock, jazz, or classical music.  And every genre in-
between.  The late Arthur Fiedler, the most popular leader of the
aforementioned BP's, was a master maestro of the form; his suc-
cessors, however, film composer John Williams and current conduc-
tor Keith Lockhart, have been *far* less memorable.  At least on
the recorded output front.  (What can I say, I neither travel to
Boston nor watch PBS enough to advise on their *live* efforts.)
One person (plus ensemble) that *has* successfully kept the ball
rolling is Baton Twirler Erich Kunzel and his Cincinnati Pops Or-
chestra.  For close to twenty years on the Telarc label, they've
scored (ha!) both critical *and* financial hits, recording every-
thing from western themes to baseball music to a full-cast record-
ing of "The Sound of Music."  If you don't know Kunzel from Repun-
zel-- or are *already* a seasoned Cincy fan-- here's ten of their
best, as lovingly gushed-about by a longtime listener.  Enjoy!


  FIESTA! (1990) - Senor Kunzel goes South of the Border for
  twenty-one Latin classics, ranging from "Tico Tico No Fuba"
  to the "Chiquita Banana Song."  (The famous jingle and La-
  tin parody song was first published in 1946, note the lin-
  er notes.)  Nearly all are instrumentals, save for the Los
  Caminantes Mariachi Band that appears on the live-sounding
  "El Carretero."  (Complete with crowd and fireworks noise!)
  Or those occasional moments when the orchestra members col-
  lectively shout "Tequila!"  No Muzak on this one; these are
  infectious, mucho-energy renditions that'll turn any nearby
  surface into a bongo, conga, or timbale.  Even Barry Mani-
  low's "Copacabana" rocks!

  DOWN ON THE FARM (1991) - Country-style Pops, including
  kid's songs ("Old MacDonald Had a Farm"), folk songs ("On
  Top of Old Smokey"), TV themes ("Andy Griffith"), square-
  dance calls (!), and Roy Clark singing Hank Williams in a
  Ray Charles-style, big-band rendition of "Hey Good Look-
  in'."  (The grinnin' picker also performs the more-solemn
  "Yesterday, When I Was Young.")  Tom Wopat is the other
  guest; he joins on "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."  There's
  also a fiddle medley, an audience sing-along, not one but
  two duelin' banjos, and authentic barnyard sound-effects.
  Play it for your pet.

  MEREDITH WILSON'S THE MUSIC MAN (1991) - Concert-style cast
  recording compiling songs from several successive versions
  of the show, plus one added for the 1962 film, *and* the
  first public bow of a couple counterpoint duets as origin-
  ally conceived by Wilson.  Timothy Noble plays the Profes-
  sor.  No, he's no Robert Preston, but no one is.  Kathleen
  Britt as maid Marian.  And Doc Severinsen, of all people,
  appears as Marcellus Washburn.  The crystal-clear digital
  recording makes one of the Great American Musicals sound
  even *more* great.  With the Indiana University Singing Ho-
  osiers as the stubborn townsfolk of River City.

  BIG BAND HIT PARADE (1988) - The best of Miller, Goodman,
  Ellington, et al, as arranged for full, swingin' orchestra
  and recorded with superstar guests Ray Brown (bass), Dave
  Brubeck (piano), Eddie Daniels (clarinet), Buddy Morrow
  (trombone), Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax), Doc Severinsen
  (trumpet), Ed Shaughnessy (drums), and the late Cab Callo-
  way, singin' likely nobody else on "St. James Infirmary"
  and a long, improvised-sounding "When the Saints Go March-
  in' In."  If it gets any better that this, I can't imagine
  how...  Sixteen tracks total.

  YOUNG AT HEART (1992) - Children's music!  Bob McGrath and
  songs from "Sesame Street."  Patti Page asking about that
  "Doggie in the Window."  And the late Mel Torme crooning
  the ever-popular title track.  ("Fairy tales can come true,
  it can happen to you...")  Three choirs accompany the Pops
  on such all-ages fare as "I'd Like to Teach the World to
  Sing," "Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?," and the "A-B-C
  Song."  There's also a keen medley of (mostly) baby boomer-
  era cartoon themes.  Plus Brahms' "Lullaby," that jazzy mu-
  sic from "Charlie Brown," and... "The Muppet Show" theme.
  What more does a grown child need?

  EIN STRAUSSFEST (1985) - Why wait for New Year's Eve?
  Waltzes, marches, and polkas from that wacky Strauss fam-
  ily, most of 'em accompanied by digitally recorded sound-
  effects.  Translation?  Johann Strauss' "Explosions Polka"
  includes... an explosion.  And his "Champagne Polka" pops
  corks.  And his "Thunder and Lightning Polka" rumbles.  You
  get the picture.  Also present is the overplayed "Blue Dan-
  ube" waltz, heard in countless movies, TV shows, and "Bugs
  Bunny" cartoons.  Still, there *are* worse fates to suffer
  than hearing "Dun dun dun dun dun.  Dun dun.  Dun dun" one
  more time.

  WILLIAM TELL AND OTHER FAVORITE OVERTURES (1986) - Seven
  popular selections that are *still* good on the umpteenth
  listen:  Franz Von Suppe's "Light Cavalry," Daniel-Francois
  Auber's "Fra Diavolo," Louis Joseph Herold's "Zampa," Franz
  Von Suppe's "Poet and Peasant," Emil Von Reznicek "Donna
  Diana," Jacques Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld,"
  and Giacchino Rossini's "William Tell."  Really, where else
  can you dance a Can-Can, sit through a thunderstorm, *and*
  ride with the Lone Ranger all in the space of a mere fifte-
  en minutes?

  AMEN! (1993) - Gospel!  And rousing as Hell!  Three choirs,
  the Pops, and special guests Jennifer Holliday, Maureen Mc-
  Govern, and, ladies and gentleman, Mr. Deep 'n' Sexy him-
  self, the one, the only Lou Rawls.  (He smokes both the ti-
  tle track and a Christianized version of Three Dog Night's
  "Joy to the World."  Sample lyrics:  "Jeremiah was a pro-
  phet; postman for the Lord.")  The tracks range from cen-
  tury-old traditionals to contemporary pop songs, such as,
  yawn, "Lean on Me" and "Bridge Over Trouble Water."  Don't
  worry; the rest of the album'll wake you up.  Praise Kun-
  zel.

  PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ (1995) - Songs performed with vocals
  from "the great Hollywood musicals."  Jeremy Davenport
  eyein' "Blue Skies" is good.  Esther Mullens, Georga Os-
  bourne, and Valerie Wilson-- AKA The Osbourne Sisters--
  tootin' the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" is better.  But it's
  Leslie Uggams ridin' "On The Atchison, Topeka, and The San-
  ta Fe" that stops the show.  She wails as good as Judy Gar-
  land ever did.  The ensemble is strong, too.  They get ev-
  ery part perfect, from conductor to chorus girl.  Just set
  your player on repeat and enjoy.  Others include: "Cheek to
  Cheek," "Lullaby of Broadway," and "Thanks For The Memory."

  A DISNEY SPECTACULAR (1989) - Three choirs, two soloists,
  one barbershop quartet (His Master's Voice), *and* fuller-
  than-full orchestra performing both beloved songs and song
  medleys from "classic-era" Walt.  Included are suites from
  "Cinderella," "Mary Poppins," and "Snow White and the Seven
  Dwarfs."  Plus a rockin', rollickin' "Jungle Book" medley
  that's a must-listen.  The entire disc is simply splendid,
  but it's the big-finish finale that's the sock knocker-off-
  er-- a sixteen-song, "Disney Fantasy" medley that keeps ri-
  sing higher and higher until the nosebleed climax of "When
  You Wish Upon a Star" leaves you collapsed in a trembling
  heap of joy-tears.  Wonderful.

Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros

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