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Album Review

Patriotism is standard fare in symphonic "pops" concerts — which figures, since the summer seasons are usually in full swing around July 4 — and everything on this Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops disc will eventually turn up in your local outdoor bandshell sooner or later. Well, almost everything, since Kunzel does venture outside the safe, crowd-pleasing flag-wavers in this spaciously recorded collection of Americana. While the name Charles Ives still scares off queasy orchestra managers, Ives' organ piece "Variations on 'America'" (as cleverly orchestrated by William Schuman) is one of his milder attempts at ear-stretching — and Kunzel exuberantly gets the jokes. "Cakewalk," Hershy Kay's marvelously witty ballet orchestrations of music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, isn't played very often these days — and after hearing Kunzel's sumptuous performances of three choice excerpts, you wonder why. George Whitefield Chadwick's high-spirited, Tchaikovsky-like "Jubilee" from "Symphonic Sketches" is another underappreciated rarity — and it probably sounds better here on a good home system than it ever does outdoors. Otherwise, except for a brief detour into a swatch from Copland's "Appalachian Spring," the program aims more toward elaborate manifestations of mainstream patriotic tunes. Indeed, this CD has the tried-and-true structure of a symphonic "pops" concert, beginning with a typical John Williams wake-up call ("Liberty Fanfare"), getting most of the classical stuff out of the way first, proceeding to the bread-and-butter tunes and marches, getting serious down the stretch with "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful," and closing with — what else? — "The Stars and Stripes Forever," complete with chorus. And it's a good concert, though more rare classical Americana would have made it even better. ~ Richard S. Ginell, Rovi


Formed: 1977 in Cincinnati, OH

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s

The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra has roots going all the way back to the 1870s, but was not officially distinguished from its parent organization, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, until 1977. The early Cincinnati orchestra society programmed popular music concerts and that continued with the Cincinnati Symphony, particularly under conductor Max Rudolf, who became its director in 1958. In 1965, Rudolf hired Erich Kunzel as assistant conductor and asked him to conduct the first "8 O'Clock Pops" concert....
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