Flags fly and bombs burst at BPO’s “Star-Spangled Pops’ - The Buffalo News

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Flags fly and bombs burst at BPO’s “Star-Spangled Pops’

This weekend, Kleinhans Music Hall is the home of the brave on a number of glittering levels.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is performing “Star-Spangled Pops,” and it is a tour de force. Friday morning, the volume called at times for earplugs, even though there were a lot of bodies to absorb the decibels. Guest pops conductor Jonathan Tessero is young and, while he shows talent, he has not yet learned where to stop.

And so we have a “Star-Spangled Banner” near the end of the concert that rose higher and higher. As soloist Jackie Stressman sang with gospel fervor, the cymbals clashed. The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, sounding magnificent, soared. The sound level built. Eventually the song sailed into a section I didn’t even recognize. The normally somber taps, of all songs, also got a “Glee”-like pop treatment. So did “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”

The good news is that the concert is an interesting, if gaudy, grab bag. Almost certainly one selection or another will not be to your taste. But something else probably will be.

One terrific addition is the Union Volunteer Fife and Drum Corps. They came from the back of the hall, on the lower level, and proceeded to the stage. Who would have guessed they were only two men? They sounded like 20. They reappeared now and then, playing stirring songs like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “The Battle Cry of Freedom.” In their historic Civil War uniforms, they added poetry and dignity.

So did an intriguing journey through the history of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Tessero began it by announcing that the men of the Philharmonic Chorus would sing “To Anakreon in Heaven,” the British pub song whose tune the anthem borrowed.

I wished for a brisker more raucous arrangement. This was a drinking song! But it was neat to hear it. Then soloist Michael Moore emerged and, in his fine tenor voice, sang a version of the song featuring early lyrics by Francis Scott Key. You couldn’t catch the words, a recurring problem. Still, it was a great idea.

Tessero, on the podium, cut a fine, impeccably starched figure. Though he seemed inexperienced as an emcee, his manner was engaging.

He gave us the old Richard Rodgers chestnut “Victory at Sea.” And Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” where, in a wonderful moment, the BPO flutists, playing piccolo, got a big hand.

But his forte seems to be pop music, not pops. And a big slice of this American pie was given over to country songs like “I’m Proud to Be An American,” Trace Adkins’ “Arlington” and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Some Gave All.”

The country hits, while well chosen, proved problematic. The drums were overpowering. Stressman seemed to be miked better than Moore, who was usually drowned out. Both singers could have enunciated their words better. If you’re not a WYRK listener you won’t understand the lyrics, which is frustrating, because the songs tell beautiful stories.

It was also frustrating that Moore, though I loved his voice, appeared unprepared. He sang from scores a lot of the time, and once he got out of sync with the orchestra and chorus. Stressman, though you couldn’t catch every word, seemed especially at home with the country hits. “Some Gave All” spotlighted her shining high notes. And it was poignant to hear Tim McGraw’s “If You’re Reading This” sung by a woman, making you picture a woman soldier.

The concert ended on a bright note. Just when you thought it was over, it turned out our flag was still there: Tessero and the BPO burst into Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

The bombastic adventure repeats at Kleinhans Music Hall on Saturday night at 8.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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