February 2001

Eric Kunzel conductor, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
Telarc CD-80547
Released: 2000

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]There are some certainties in this world: death, taxes, the sunrise each morning. I think we can add the charm of old Vienna's waltz music to that list, too. After all, who doesn't love the music of the Strauss family? It's one of those guilty pleasures we can't help partaking from every so often. And that's OK -- Telarc Records understands. They have now given audiophile waltz-lovers an album to cherish: Viennafest is pure fun.

Most of Viennafest should be recognizable to any waltz lover. The disc starts off with a rousing rendition of Johann Strauss Sr.'s "Radetzky March," the pièce-de-résistance of Viennese music. (It is said that no concert in Vienna may end without this selection having been played.) And Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra are right at home with music of this caliber. This recording marks the third time they have recorded the waltz music of the Strauss family in particular and Vienna in general.

Waltz is the pop music of the classical era, in that it is bouncy, light and easy to listen to. But whereas pop music goes out of fashion almost as fast as it arrives, the waltz has captivated audiences for generations with no signs of abating. And much like pop music's ability to put a bounce in your step, this disc will have your toes a-tappin' or possibly, lift you up out of your listening seat and send you dancing across the floor.

Lest you think that Viennafest is nothing more than another Strauss family lovefest, there are many other, possibly less well-known, composers whose works are also included here. Composers such as Franz Lehar, Joseph Lanner, Oscar Straus, Emerich Kalman, Robert Stolz and Rudolf Siecynski each offer the listener a taste of other viewpoints (musically speaking) of the waltz. Some, if not all, of the selections by these composers may well be familiar to you, as they were to me. For instance, Lehar's "The Merry Widow" or Oscar Straus' "Chocolate Soldier" should hit a resonant chord within you.

The sound of Viennafest, surprisingly, is something of a mixed bag. To begin with, it is recorded at a much lower level than I'm used to, forcing me to have to wick up the volume more than normal for comfortable listening levels. Also, the overall sound is somewhat soft and diffuse -- while the soloists sound correct, the ensemble work suffers most from these problems. On the plus side, the soundstage is commendably wide, with good depth and a sense of layering to the sound. I guess that, since this is another of Telarc's DSD recordings, I expected more. But don't take these mild criticisms as a reason to dismiss Viennafest, because that would deprive you of a very enjoyable experience, which is not my intention.

One very nice bright spot is the use of Johann Jr.'s "Voices Of Spring" about halfway through the disc. This vocal cut breaks up all the instrumental music and offers a wonderful counterpoint to the waltz music. Soprano Tracy Dahl is very well recorded, with her vocals soaring almost ethereally above the orchestra. My only complaint is that it ends too soon.

I can see (hear?) this disc enlivening many a celebratory evening. This music would be the perfect backdrop to a night's revels. Buy it, and you'll see why I found Viennafest to be over 77 minutes of pure fun.