Tuesday, September 01, 2009

RIP Erich Kunzel

Via Andrew Druckenbrod, I see that Cincinnati Pops director Erich Kunzel has died. The Cincinnati Enquirer's obituary gives a sense of how prolific a conductor he was.

I feel it's worth mentioning because a couple of Kunzel's Cincinnati Pops recordings were a big part of my entrance into listening to classical music (this should be the case for Jack and maybe Pete as well but I'll un-presumptuously stick to the singular first person, mostly). I know only a few albums from his rather massive discography on the Telarc label but I've always found them aptly programmed and well engineered, no small thing if you're looking a bit blindly for collections of frequently recorded fare. The rendition of Berlioz's Rakoczy March on Kunzel's "Pop & Pizazz" album was a minor epiphany when Jack and I listened to it for the first time after getting it (I think) as a 14th-birthday gift from our grandparents -- we knew the piece already from an anonymous, sub-budget level, two-disc collection of The Great Marches but Kunzel's much snappier recording woke me up to this idea of, "Hey, the performance has a lot to do with whether a piece of music is actually any good to listen to or not." It also helped set the tone for what we listened to in the house or on car trips when Jack and I were 14 and 15, namely a light-orchestral slurry of Sousa marches, Strauss waltzes and miscellaneous 19th-century excerpts that exasperated our mother more than any kind of popular music we could have dragged home. I also have a lot of fondness for "Symphonic Spectacular", which gave me my first dose of Shostakovich's music (the "Festive Overture", a charmingly bombastic little piece that improbably opened me up that composer's much deeper body of work, which has been my most enduring cultural interest over the past 14 years or so), back at a time when I probably would have listed Tchaikovsky's "March Slave" among the top five works in the history of musical composition.

A couple of other isolated, high school-vintage Kunzel album memories: I have a pretty strong sensory association between his Henry Mancini greatest-hits set and being in our friend Eric's basement during an overnight visit -- we had picked up the album at Ross Park Mall, I think, that afternoon in between school and a marching band show -- trying to get its gummy "Peter Gunn" track to play back correctly on his family's Gateway PC. Also, in ninth or tenth grade Jack and I bought our friend Nick (then aspiring to be a Naval officer; currently in fact a Naval officer) an album of military movie themes. The CD's traditionally cheesy cover art features a painting of a warship; Nick was in art class with one or the other of us; we predicted before giving him the gift that a rendition of the cover art would show up in his sketch book eventually. In fact within a couple of months Nick made a pretty sizable oil painting based on it.

Within about three years of that I started to hear Kunzel's interpretations as too lightweight and soft-edged (i.e. too quintessentially pops-orchestra in style) for regular use but it still works for me as an occasional listen. And I don't think you really lose affection for work that had an early, formative impact on your current tastes.


Blogger Jack said...

I was going to write something like this same post, unsurprisingly, although I'd forgotten the Mancini and "Victory at Sea" connections too. "Symphonic Spectacular" still includes my go-to recording of Enescu's Roumanian Rhapsody. But yeah, exactly like Nate says, this stuff was really formative to our early classical listening. You've got to love a conductor who can reach out like that.

9/01/2009 9:20 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home