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Pittsburgh Symphony Pops concert misses some notes in Beatles tribute

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 12:21 a.m.
John Brosnan as George Harrison, Tony Kishman as Paul McCartney, Chris Camilleri as Ringo Starr, Jim Owen as John Lennon in the Classical Mystery Tour. Photo credit: Pittsburgh Symphony.

Nostalgia can be an emotional blanket, but hearing so many great songs by The Beatles at Thursday night's Pittsburgh Symphony Pops concert aroused many different feelings. Some were in the variety of the songs themselves. Others arose from how much distance we've traveled since they we were written, and how we feel looking back.

We've started a seven-year stretch during which there will be a 50th anniversary every year for something significant in the history of this band and our shared cultural memory. In 1962, the band, in the midst makings its first recordings for an affiliate of EMI Records, hired drummer Ringo Starr and completed the roster which would carry it to unprecedented fame and success.

The Beatles were played at the concert by the Classical Mystery Tour band, four Americans who offer a good imitation, including costumes.

The program included a very generous sampling of songs, with the latter portion of the first half devoted to “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The second half featured songs from later albums, such as “Here Comes the Sun.”

Yet, the similarity to the original was less close than it had been three years ago when Classical Mystery Tour last played at the Pops. David John was new to Heinz Hall, playing George Harrison, but didn't contribute much to the show and couldn't fairly be said to be the difference.

There were high points to be sure. Jim Owen gave a persuasive account of John Lennon's “Imagine” and Tony Kishman as Paul McCartney did sing “Yesterday” beautifully. But, throughout the concert, there was a generic feeling, a lacking of nuance in both melodic and verbal inflection. The performances also dragged in places, while The Beatles had youthful energy.

The acoustical challenges of combining rock band with a classical orchestra were addressed by amplifying both ensembles. Plastic panels separated the band from conductor Fawzi Haimor and the orchestra, with the drummer in his own enclosure.

The sound heard near the stage downstairs was overblown, especially in “Yesterday,” but more agreeable at the back.

The Pittsburgh Symphony, just returned from its European tour with Manfred Honeck, was mostly irrelevant. There were some excellent solos, particular trumpet in “Penny Lane,” but the mix of sound from the control board left the orchestra in the background almost all night.

Haimor led the orchestra with confidence in the thankfully abbreviated Beatles Overture and during the rest of the show.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $98. Details: 412-392-4835 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.

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