Ravel: Bolero; Borodin: Music from Kismet; Bizet: Suites from Carmen (CD review)

Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Telarc CD-80703.

I read someplace that Erich Kunzel was the number-one most-recorded conductor in the world. And that was, like, ten or fifteen years ago! Today, he's undoubtedly got as many Telarc recordings to his credit as most conductors have compiled in a lifetime. The back page of the disc's booklet insert lists Kunzel's Telarc recordings, and you have to use a magnifying glass to read them all.

This latest release is "Bolero," a disc dedicated to the music of exotic lands. It starts with Ravel's celebrated piece, yet it is the least-effective reading on the album.  Ravel once said that his Bolero should take about seventeen minutes to get through; Kunzel does it up in just over thirteen minutes. I have to admit that in Kunzel's last few Telarc recordings with the Cincinnati Pops, he seemed less than animated, but I wasn't expecting him to fly through the Bolero quite so quickly. It may sound a bit more exhilarating than most other interpretations, but it robs the music of its sensual qualities. Plus, there was one moment in it that made me laugh out loud, something I doubt Ravel intended.

Next, Kunzel does a medley of excerpts from the music of Alexander Borodin, music which the album proudly announces as "popularized in Kismet." I'm not sure if Telarc or Kunzel realize that most listeners today probably no more recognize this fifty-odd-year-old musical than they recognize the name Borodin itself. In any case, we get passages from the Symphony No. 2, "In the Steppes of Central Asia," the String Quartet No. 2, the Symphony No. 1, and the Overture and "Polovtsean Dances" from Prince Igor. Kunzel handles them in his usual perfunctory style.

The best section of the album, however, is devoted to the music of Georges Bizet's Carmen, the Suites Nos. 1 and 2, which come off quite well--dramatic and voluptuous, exciting and sensitive in all the right places. You might want to consider the disc for these two suites alone. Then things finish up with Isaac Albeniz's "Fete-dieu a Seville" from Iberia, which seems a bit anticlimactic after the Carmen music, but it's OK.

Telarc's sound is quite good. It is especially impressive in its spatiality, naturalness, and ultra smoothness. I thought the top end seemed a little recessed, though, especially compared to a number of other recordings to which I compared it. So don't expect too much glamor in the highs, just a sweet sonic realism throughout the rest of the range.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa