The Great Fantasy Adventure Album (UltraHD CD review)

Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. LIM UHD 069.

Here’s Erich Kunzel (1935-2009) and his Cincinnati Pops Orchestra doing what they did best, presenting an album of short clips from famous fantasy and adventure movies. Kunzel sold a ton of this stuff, making him one of the best-selling conductors of all time. Telarc originally issued the disc in the early Nineties and the audiophile label LIM (Lasting Impression Music, a subsidiary of FIM, First Impression Music) remastered and released it in 2013. For the kind of thing it is, it’s pretty good.

Maestro Kunzel knew exactly what his listeners wanted and gave it to them, producing over ninety albums of short classical, jazz, and pop-orchestral material for Telarc Records alone. One wonders how he might have fared had he applied himself more often to longer classical works, but we have what we have. In the case of the present album, its presumably tongue-in-cheek title tells it all: The Great Fantasy Adventure Album. Well, maybe not quite all because a lot of what audiences might have considered “great” in 1993-94 we hardly remember today. For instance, can you even recall much about Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves, let alone its theme music? And although I consider myself a fairly well-informed movie and TV guy, I had trouble placing a short-lived television show called Wizards and Warriors. Nevertheless, there are a few choice items on the program that make the project worthwhile, Kunzel throws himself into the music with enthusiasm (if not always with the best results), and there’s no denying the fine quality of FIM’s remastered Telarc sound.

While much of the music is bombastic and, frankly, noisy, we probably wouldn't want our movie music any other way. The first few things on the program, for instance, are rather blustery affairs: Miklos Rozsa's El Cid "Fanfare and Entry of the Nobles," James Horner's Willow, Lawrence Rosenthal's Clash of the Titans, and John Williams's main themes for Hook seem equally inflated. Yet there are truly inspiring moments on the disc as well, Williams's music for Jurassic Park being one of the best scores he wrote.

And so it goes through twenty-one selections, a few of them purely sound effects, like a dinosaur tromping around and cyber technology ("T-Rex," "Jurassic Lunch," "Cybergenesis"). Among my favorite musical items: selections from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Henry V, The Rocketeer, Beetlejuice, The Princess Bride, The Hunt for Red October, and The Terminator.

Whether you find yourself attuned to Maestro Kunzel's handling of the themes is another story, though. He's certainly more than competent, but inspired? I dunno. Like you, I vividly recall that moment in Jurassic Park when we first saw those amazing CGI dinosaurs on the big screen, Williams's music soaring in the background in glorious Dolby Surround. Today, we take such matters for granted, but back then it was all quite astounding. Maybe it’s the passage of time that has blunted Kunzel's rendition; it doesn't seem to have the same impact I remember from Williams's own interpretation.

Telarc producer Robert Woods and audio engineers Jack Renner and Michael Bishop recorded the album in 1993-94 at Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, and LIM producer Winston Ma and mastering engineer Michael Bishop remastered the tapes in 2013. Yes, Mr. Bishop had the chance to do up his own project utilizing even better mastering methods and equipment and rereleasing the disc using even better transfer technology. The sound is big and bold, like the music, so everything works out well. Telarc's famous bass drum gets an expected workout, and the dynamic range shows off the various special aural effects pretty well. However, even remastered with meticulous care using FIM's UltraHD 32-bit "PureFlection" processing, there's a small degree of upper midrange forwardness I noticed in some tracks, as well as a small degree of thickness around the middle. Still, it's negligible, and I don't think anyone will care. Best of all for me was the newly minted high end, which sparkles, shimmers, and shines.

As always, LIM provide packaging worthy of the product (and its dear price): a glossy, hard-cardboard, Digipak-type folding case; an inner sleeve for the disc, with a static-proof liner; and a bound booklet of notes on the music and its production.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 Jon 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa