Sunday, September 28, 2008

Discs re-create Music Hall magic

September 28, 2008
By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati Symphony and Pops orchestras have come out with two new albums, and they are both worth adding to your CD collection or iPod playlist.
Erich Kunzel's 86th album for Telarc of Ravel's "Boléro" is the Cincinnati Pops' first recording of Ravel's most famous orchestral piece. The disc, loosely wrapped around music of exotic cultures, also includes music from the Broadway show "Kismet" by Borodin, two suites from Bizet's tuneful opera "Carmen," and "Fete-dieu a Seville" from Albeniz's "Iberia."
Lovers of beautiful melody will gravitate to this collection, and Telarc succeeds in capturing the sonic splendor of the orchestra in Music Hall.
The orchestra, as the Cincinnati Symphony, has recorded "Boléro" two other times, in 2004 with Paavo Järvi and in 1998 with Jesus Lopez-Cobos. Kunzel's version, taken at a brisk clip, is not as sensuous as Järvi's nor as elegant as that of Lopez-Cobos. Ravel's sinuous theme flows along with note-perfect playing but little of the steamy quality that makes this a showstopper.
Still, there is something arresting about Kunzel's interpretation of this inspiring music, and ultimately, it works for its sheer intensity. William Platt's snare drum underscores it all masterfully.
Alexander Borodin ironically won a Tony for best musical score in a musical - 66 years after his death. Kunzel and the orchestra perform some of the most gorgeous melodies ever written with glowing expression. The medley, adapted by Kunzel, includes themes from Borodin's String Quartet No. 2 - ("And this is My Beloved" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads"), the Polovtsian Dances ("Stranger in Paradise") and others.
In their 14th collaboration for Telarc, a just-released all-Mussorgsky album, Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony have captured the electrifying performances they gave last season of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."
Järvi has a natural affinity for Russian repertoire, and this "Pictures" is an exhilarating view of the famous stroll through an art gallery. Each "portrait" is strongly characterized, and the Promenades are richly sonorous. "The Old Castle," with its haunting saxophone solo, has an aura of mysticism. "Tuileries" and "The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks" are engaging for their humor and lightness.
There is the awesome power of "Catacombs," spectacularly played by the Cincinnati brass, and the unforgettable "Hut on Fowl's Legs" - evoking the dreaded "Baba Yaga" of Russian folklore. The closing picture, "The Great Gate of Kiev," with its brass-filled splendor and tolling bells, is the next-best thing to hearing it live in Music Hall.
Järvi leads with an ear for subtlety as well as brilliance. The album includes a hair-raising rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov's tone poem evoking a witches' sabbath, "Night on Bald Mountain" (used in Disney's "Fantasia"), and the Prelude to "Khovanshchina," which paints a magical scene of dawn over the Moscow River.

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