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Review: Loh-conducted Symphony soars with 'Wizard of Oz'

Lawrence Loh Credit: Dan Loh

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Friday, March 15, 2013, 10:24 a.m.
 

In presenting “The Wizard of Oz” with live orchestral accompaniment, the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops offers its audience this weekend not only an enhanced experience of a beloved film but also a sample of programming we're going to see more of in the future.

The show is part of the Symphonic Cinema project of John Goberman, who also created the award-winning Live from Lincoln Center television broadcasts. He's already prepared the complete “Psycho” in the same way as “The Wizard of Oz,” following up on earlier work on excerpts from other films.

For many in the audience, just seeing “The Wizard of Oz” on a big movie screen will be a big improvement over a television screen, let alone the smaller screens of iPads and cell phones. The print of the film is exceptionally fine. The real world at the beginning and end are crisp in sepia tinted black and white, while the colors and textures of Dorothy's dream world could not be more vibrant.

The symphonic orchestrations for mid-20th century films make them a natural fit for live orchestral performance. The orchestral part of the soundtrack of “The Wizard of Oz” was removed in this production, leaving the original singing, dialogue and sound effects.

Thus conductor Lawrence Loh and the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops accompanied Judy Garland in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on Thursday night at Heinz Hall. Coordinating with a film is tricky business, especially given the brief rehearsal time for Pops concerts, but Loh and the orchestra were superb in this Oscar-winning song, as they were throughout the film.

There were a few glitches, as when Dorothy's home hits the ground after the tornado before the orchestral thud, as well as a few stretches where the orchestra was too loud for the dialogue.

While the visual quality of the film print was exemplary, the remaining portion of the soundtrack was variable.

At its best, it is remarkable for a recording made 76 years ago, and the best fortunately is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The sound quality of nearly all the singing is very good, and the songs are the best part of the film score.

Spoken words often come through less cleanly. You shouldn't need to have your memory help out with the dialogue.

Harold Arlen wrote the great songs. The film also won an Academy Award for best score. Herbert Stothart wrote an effective score for the rest of the film, except for the tornado scene where the music is feeble but the visuals and sound effects carry the experience. His music later in the film includes paraphrases from not only “Night on Bald Mountain” but also the Lt. Kije Suite and Galanta Dances.

Next season the symphony will present two sets of concerts with the orchestra accompanying films: Bugs Bunny at the Pops and “West Side Story” on the classic music subscription series.

“The Wizard of Oz” with Lawrence Loh conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops will be repeated at 8 p.m. March 15, 2:30 and 8 p.m. March 16, and 2:30 p.m. March 17 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $98. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghymphony.org.

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

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