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Pops "Animals" a Delightful Bestiary

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Feb 4, 2015 - 12:13:22 PM in reviews_2015, commentary

Inspired by Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals,” the Cincinnati Pops latest release is a delight.

Entitled “Carnival of the Animals,” it is a musical bestiary, complete with sound effects, that includes animal-themed works by a variety of composers. Released on the orchestra’s own Fanfare Cincinnati label and distributed by Naxos, it is conductor John Morris Russell’s third CD with the Pops (no. 93 for the Pops itself).

Central to it is Saint-Saëns’ suite. Originally written for two pianos and chamber ensemble, it is heard here in a sparkling new arrangement for full orchestra by Russell. Each species, from the lordly lion to the humble donkey, is vividly portrayed, with actual animal sounds inserted between movements (bird calls, roars, etc). Ten of the work’s 14 movements are included, making one wish for the complete set (perhaps Russell will add arrangements for “Wild Asses,” “Tortoises” and “The Cuckoo,” for instance).

Among the many highlights: “The Elephant,” a dandy waltz for double basses; the shimmering “Aquarium”; “Donkeys” (“Personages with Long Ears,” thought to be Saint-Saëns’ commentary on music critics) with its dejected little slide at the end; “Aviary,” which featured agile solo work by principal flutist Randolph Bowman; and “Fossils,” with principal percussionist David Fishlock front-and-center on xylophone. For sheer beauty, however, nothing beats principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn’s exquisite rendition of “The Swan.”

Rounding out this splendid album are tributes to furred, feathered, gilled and antennae-ed creatures by Percy Grainger, Leonard Bernstein, Anatoli Liadov, Modest Mussorgsky, Ottorino Respighi, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Edward Elgar, George Gershwin and Aaron Copland, again with animal sounds interspersed (even a cuckoo clock).

Given its world premiere recording is “Waiting for Wings,” an overture for orchestra by Georgia Stitt and Jason Robin Browne, inspired by the children’s book by Lois Ehlert. Orchestrated by Jason and Nolan Livesay, it is soaring, cinematic, and tenderly melodic.

My favorites include: Grainger’s “Shepherd’s Hey,” a pastorale with an attitude; the sassy “Turkey Trot” from Bernstein’s Divertimento for Orchestra; Liadov’s “The Mosquito” from Eight Russian Folk Songs with its irresistible “smack” at the end; Respighi’s characterful “Cuckoo” from “The Birds”; Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous “Flight of the Bumblebee” where flutist Bowman and the CSO strings buzz briskly; Elgar’s “Wild Bears” from “The Wand of Youth Suite No. 2 with its wonderfully growly trombones; Gershwin’s “Walking the Dog” promenade with principal clarinetist Jonathan Gunn’s jazzy inflections; and who could resist Copland’s exuberant “Happy Ending” from “The Red Pony?”

In short, this album is a must for young and old. Available at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Bravo Shop at Music Hall.