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Pittsburgh Symphony Pops offers 'Valentine' to fans

| Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 12:24 a.m.

REVIEW

Valentine's Day comes a week early this year at Heinz Hall, where Thursday night the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops performed a concert offering many moods of love, often from a wry angle, under the leadership of guest conductor Michael Krajewski.

The program features two outstanding vocal soloists, Doug LaBrecque and Rebecca Luker, and the All-Star College Chorus, yet it gives the orchestra a prominent role reminiscent of old-time Pops programming.

Krajewski's career as a pops conductor is flourishing. He was named music director of the Philly Pops in November, a position he also holds with the Houston, Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla., symphonies.

His stage personality was fairly dry in off-hand humor and longer jokes, which were effective. His conducting was even-tempered as well.

LaBrecque and Luker brought winning Broadway presence to their performances, including the personalities in their voices. Luker's “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” was the evening's high point of joyful romantic intoxication. LaBrecque's “Sara Lee” love song, from “The Act,” was just Krajewski's kind of humor, delivered with wonderful timing and inflection.

Together the singers delivered a knockout performance of “Anything You Can Do,” which the conductor noted exemplifies a long-term committed relationship.

Giving the orchestra many pieces to play on its own, without singers, has the advantage of being able to savor its excellence. The richness of string tone, personality of the winds, and stylistic versatility and power of the brass and percussion were delights in themselves.

But the arrangements were often disappointing, prone to grandiloquent introductions and obscured melodies. This was true of a conflation of “That's Amore” and “Volare” called “That's Volare!” as well as “Everything's Coming Up Roses.” The Beatles medley that ended the first half was the worst because Hollywood, Las Vegas and Broadway are equally remote from the world of the Beatles, but pops arrangements of the Beatles are usually unsuccessful translations.

How refreshing it was, then, to encounter “When I'm 64” on the second half in a beautiful arrangement by Robert Page, who selected and prepared the members of the All-Star College Chorus.

Page's most beautiful work on the program was the way he harmonized George Gershwin's “Love is Here to Stay,” which was exquisitely sung by the chorus.

Pittsburgh Symphony Pops will repeat “My Funny Valentine” at 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

Admission is $20 to $75. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.

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