November 2002

Erich Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Scary Music
Telarc SACD-60580
Released: 2002

by John Potis

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

Not knowing exactly what to expect, I slipped home early one afternoon so I could give Telarc’s new Scary Music release a listen before the wife and kids arrived home from school. Just a few cuts into the new multichannel SACD, I happened to glance out the window overlooking the carport to see six-year-old Danielle making a beeline back to the safety of the car, where her mother and her younger sister already were. I jumped from my listening seat, calling to her through the open windows. I ran out the door, encouraging her to come back to me, insisting that it was just music and nothing to be frightened by. Danielle turned about and at the same time little Gracie saw me. Throwing their hands in the air, both came running to me yelling, "Daddy!" All of the sudden, all hell seemed to be breaking loose in the listening room, and it came spilling out through the windows. The next thing I knew, both girls were bidding a hasty retreat back to the car and Mom.

Is Scary Music scary? Please don’t ask the girls -- they don’t need to relive the experience.

Speaking for myself, with the exception of one cut, Scary Music was a lot more fun than it was fear provoking. But I will admit that "Haunted Fun House" sent a mild shiver up my spine. On this cut, Telarc’s effects gurus put us listeners in the head of a young carnival-visiting woman who stands outside said fun house enduring the haunting hyperbole of the barker who stands outside. Unfazed and unimpressed, she enters and we tag along. Suddenly we find ourselves surround by some genuinely macabre mayhem, which coincidentally contains enough subsonic energy to melt your woofers. Add to the mix of ghostly chaos the menacing of real shaking window frames and anything else in the room that isn’t secured down. I won’t say too much or oversell the cut, but heed Telarc’s warnings and exercise caution until establishing a playback level that won’t cause the destruction of your speakers -- and test it before your kids get home from school.

But for sure, having fun is the name of Scary Music’s game. The disc starts out with the headless horseman of Sleep Hollow circling the room on his steed. Suddenly you hear him draw his sword and then heads start hitting the ground around you as you head into the "End theme from Sleepy Hollow." A quick detour for Danny Elfman’s "This is Halloween" from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the next stop is for some "Themes from Beetlejuice." Alarming yet charming, familiar tunes from The Exorcist, Ghostbusters and even the "Theme from The Munsters" follow before "They’ve Landed," where we experience the landing of a Martian spacecraft, right between the speakers, which segues into Steven Rappaport’s "Martian Hop." Other menacing memories from the past include "The theme from Tales from the Crypt," "Opening from The Shining," " The theme from The Addam’s Family," "The Carousel from The Haunting," and "The theme from Dark Shadows." Fantastic fun continues with "Beware of the Blob" from The Blob, "The theme from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" and finally: "Tomatoes on the Rampage" -- another fun and system-wrenching sound effect.

Typical of Kunzel arrangements and performances, the music is lively and full-out fun. The recording is top-notch, and as usual for the Telarc multichannel SACDs of a classical nature, the surround mix is tasteful and appropriate: The music remains up front with the surrounds used for ambience and sound-effect fun.

I deduct one-half a point of overall enjoyment because, obviously, this SACD is rather season dependent, and I doubt it will be part of the Christmas mix. But it’s a great-sounding disc with fun and, more importantly, approachable music that will appeal to a wide variety of listeners -- even those not yet enamored with the classical form. It may even be the perfect introduction to the genre.

So, is Scary Music scary? Maybe, but mostly it’s just fiendish fun.