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POPS REVIEW : Reliance on the Obvious Makes for an Unusually Good Concert

San Diego Pops guest conductor Murry Sidlin provided a superb example of what summer concert life at Hospitality Point could be. His Wednesday night pops program relied on solid but well-known staples of the symphonic repertory, conducted with conviction, and played, for the most part, with stylish enthusiasm by the orchestra.

If this formula appears unremarkable at first glance, it is worthy of mention precisely because the symphony management sees this approach as the exception rather than the rule. Most of the summer, the orchestra noodles away accompanying alternately popular and obscure entertainers, or slurps its way through Viennese waltzes, banal medleys and marching-band leftovers. And the gentlemen hired for podium duty have tended to earn their distinction either from their collection of funny hats or their inventory of stale jokes.

Sidlin was more than a cut above such podium pranksters. From the opening measures of Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture, it was clear that the audience (a respectable midweek crowd of 2,094) was in for serious music making.

Solid attacks and tight ensemble characterized the overture, and Sidlin had no compunction about bringing the orchestra down to pianissimo dynamic levels. Even the pops waiters sensed that it was not business as usual, discreetly whispering the evening’s specials to patrons ordering while the orchestra was playing. Only the planes taking off from Lindbergh Field withheld their cooperation.

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Sidlin’s genial but thoughtful explanations of the compositions--a mixture of sound musical analysis and amusing anecdotes--won his audience immediately. He never talked down to them, nor did he take himself too seriously. As a conductor he may be a bit flamboyant, and his downbeat is surely peculiar, but it is hard to quibble with his vital musical product.

Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini” was the evening’s unexpected treat. Avoiding every hint of bombast to which the piece is frequently subjected, Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio, little-known in this country, made a favorable local debut. He gave the solo keyboard part a Mozartean clarity and liveliness; Sidlin and the orchestra responded with an entirely sympathetic accompaniment, well-tuned and engagingly lyrical.

Even Ravel’s “Bolero” sounded reasonably fresh. Sidlin took a measured approach, neither rushing the climax nor inflating it beyond tasteful dynamic limits.

The program’s only disappointment was Wagner’s “Tannhauser” Overture, which suffered from unstable intonation and some messy transitions. Tchaikovsky’s made-for-fireworks “1812 Overture” completed the evening.

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