Since the San Diego Symphony’s summer season was announced last spring, the theme for this week’s pops program vacillated between the overtly militaristic and the benignly nautical.
It started out with a military emphasis, but when the pops program book went to press last month, “Splash on the Bay” was the chosen theme. Then, in light of the recent military deployment in Saudi Arabia, guest conductor Andrew Massey took the opportunity Wednesday night to stress the military character of the pieces still left over from the original plan. He also dedicated the concert to the men and women of the American armed forces. Richard Rodgers’ “Victory at Sea” and Franz von Suppe’s “Light Cavalry” overture were prominent on the list of military salutes.
Patriotism did not ensure good music, however. Rodgers’ smug orchestral suite, written for a 1952 television documentary depicting the glories of the American naval forces during World War II, was the kind of facile, jingoistic music contrived long after the grim realities of combat had faded. The symphony’s seamless performance did justice to the composer’s style, but such musical platitudes rang false with the threat of war looming in the Persian Gulf.
The orchestra’s most respectable offering Wednesday was Wagner’s overture to “The Flying Dutchman.” Despite Massey’s ponderous tempo, the orchestra infused the tuneful composition with shapely melodies and an unusually expansive air. The brass section, bolstered by the return of principal trumpet Calvin Price, supplied apt Wagnerian grandeur. Massey and the orchestra also played marches by Edward Elgar and John Philip Sousa, choices appropriate to the guest conductor’s English origin and his current post as music director of the Fresno Philharmonic.
On the lighter side, the program included unobjectionable renditions of Percy Grainger’s string arrangement of “Londonderry Air,” Lee Holdridge’s “Love Theme” from the movie “Splash” and a pastiche of motion picture themes from the pen of Franz Waxman.
Alan Menken’s five-movement suite from “The Little Mermaid,” a saccharine grab bag of insipid cliches, marked the absolute nadir of pops programming this season. “The Little Mermaid” should carry a warning label advising its lethal threat for anyone with so much as a diabetic symptom.
The attendance at Hospitality Point was reported at 1,895.