February 2002

Music of the Beatles
Telarc SACD-60540
Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
Discrete multichannel surround
Released: 2001

by John Potis

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

[Reviewed on multichannel SACD]When I was a kid, I bought a 12-string acoustic guitar and a copy of Beatles Complete, a 479-page anthology of Beatles sheet music, and taught myself how to play rhythm guitar. I couldn’t have picked up a better primer on the subject -- just as their songwriting changed the face of popular song, the Beatles' music, from the very beginning, was sophisticated and subtly complex. Unusual voicings and diverse chord-progressions punctuated even their simplest love songs.

So it's not surprising that these Beatles songs prove amenable to these arrangements by Eric Kunzel. If the thought of orchestrated Beatles tunes brings to mind an image of dynamically flattened, one-dimensional elevator music, I urge you to think again. Anyone familiar with Kunzel knows his zeal for the dynamic, his penchant for the theatrically dramatic, and even his fun-loving taste for the occasional cheese.

From the opening arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby," which bears a stylistic similarity to Stauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, to the Bobby McFerrin-meets-Manhattan Transfer version of "When I’m Sixty-Four," as performed by the King’s Singers, to Kunzel’s interpretation of "Michelle," which brings to mind the theme from the Godfather, Kunzel takes the listener through a creatively diverse trip back through Beatlemania that only the most hard-core Beatle traditionalists could fail to enjoy. There are several tracks on the disc that may give one reason for pause -- for the first few moments, that is -- but I urge you to keep an open mind and go with the flow. The first few bars might seem to be headed in the wrong direction, but within moments I inevitably found myself enjoying the trip. The tracks alternate between large-scale orchestral pieces and the small-scale a cappella arrangements that take a little getting used to.

The recording is clean and clear. The vocal arrangements are intimate, with the images of the individual voices spread evenly across the room. The bass vocals were particularly captured with real warmth and power. The orchestra is equally well recorded and with a more appropriate distant perspective. The multichannel mix is tastefully done, with the rear channels, for the most part, filling in ambiance. One notable exception is the prelude to "Octopus’s Garden," where the listener is initially surround by the gurgle of bubbles floating to the ocean surface. In other words, the surrounds are used for supplemental fun, which never intrudes on the music. Well done!

All in all, Music of the Beatles is a disc long on familiarity and fun and a good introduction to the high-resolution and multichannel SACD format.