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MUSIC REVIEW : Pops’ Patriotic Fare Proves Too Low-Cal

“Americana Salute,” the San Diego Symphony’s Fourth of July pops offering, is a decidedly low-calorie patriotic buffet. While this array of marches, homely variations and flag-waving odes may sate the appetite upon first hearing, this listener suffered musical hunger pangs less than an hour after the final march and firework fusillade disappeared into the night.

Guest conductor Carl Hermanns opened the program Sunday evening at Hospitality Point, and it will be repeated tonight through Saturday at the Mission Bay pavilion. Hermanns chose a chronological arrangement of his all-American survey, which started with William Billings’ Colonial-era hymn “Chester,” but didn’t get any closer to the present than Irving Berlin’s 1917 “God Bless America” and Aaron Copland’s mid-century “Variations on a Shaker Melody.”

This nationalistic concert would have benefited from more of Charles Ives’ Yankee humor. Compared to Victor Herbert’s mellifluous, fawning “American Fantasia” and Morton Gould’s over-orchestrated “Johnny Comes Marching Home,” Ives’ “Variations on America” was tonic indeed, rendered by the orchestra with linear clarity and light-hearted enthusiasm.

In lieu of a visiting soloist, the San Diego Sweet Adelines Chorus took center stage to serenade the audience with a pair of unaccompanied numbers, “Ladies of the Vaudeville Stage” and “Swanee,” and they remained on stage to lead the audience in the orchestra’s sing-along segment.

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This 50-voice women’s ensemble sang with military precision and a gusto that would make the typical door-to-door salesperson appear sedated. Choir director Kim Hulbert coaxed a seamless, sonorous blend from her charges, who took evident delight in transposing the traditional male barbershop quartet idiom up an octave.

Hermanns, who has been drafted for pops duty before, took his usual breathless approach to conducting. Sunday night he had some problems keeping the orchestra together, however, with the percussion and brass sometimes breaking out in disparate tempos. In various slow movements, he allowed his languorous melodies to droop, but his podium banter was definitely a cut above the typical verbal ramblings.


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