Recorded at Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 13 and 16, 1988.
With the unmistakably sneaky lope of the notorious "Pink Panther Theme," Erich Kunzel's survey of the music of Henry Mancini begins in the best possible way -- perhaps the only possible way for some. Yet the misadventures of Inspector Clouseau play only a small part not only in this album, but also in Mancini's gigantic film output, which includes marches on par with any -- zany scherzos, injections of jazz, outbreaks of a lively musical wit, and, of course, a massive quantity of memorable tunes. There is no specific credit in the booklet for the arrangements, but they sound like Mancini's own, especially the cooing choral charts. However, some of the identical titles that Mancini recorded with the RPO Pops for Denon a year earlier are markedly different from these arrangements, while others ("The Thorn Birds") are virtually the same. The film themes, some of which are among the most inventive ever conceived for celluloid, come at you in airplay-sized shots, seldom over three minutes in length -- and when they are, sometimes it's because Kunzel's tempos are slower than those of Mancini himself. At times, this could have been a sequel to Mancini's long string of best-selling easy listening RCA Victor albums of the mid-century -- albeit with larger orchestral forces (the Cincinnati Pops) and really superb digital sound in a fine concert hall (the Cincinnati Music Hall). Yet, Kunzel does take listeners off the beaten path now and then in order to include some of Mancini's short, symphonic concert pieces like "Symphonic Soul," "Strings on Fire," and "Drummers' Delight" -- pleasing miniatures that are not all that removed in style from his film scores. The irrepressible Kunzel is able to persuade his large orchestra to swing the jazzier numbers, and they give the big tunes their lush due. ~ Richard S. Ginell