Music Review: Pops shows why songs of ’40s are unforgettable
Saturday, April 29, 2000
By Rebecca Redshaw
In the 1940s and ’50s it wasn’t unusual to find quality musicians, like members of the Pittsburgh Symphony, playing in radio or television “house” orchestras. Taking a musical journey back in time — and backward in time — from 1949 to 1940, Jack Everly led the Pittsburgh Pops Orchestra, acting as announcer and conductor for the “On the Air” concert at Heinz Hall.
Joined by a talented quartet of soloists and the Harmonies, a traditional quartet of backup singers, Everly stated that the program was “a transcription of actual radio broadcasts.” Filling the transitions between musical numbers were snippets of commercials and news flashes, familiar memories to many in the audience.
But mostly there were songs — songs of a decade dominated by songwriters such as Irving Berlin, who wrote lyrics and melodies that tugged at the heart strings of listeners. The emergence of a new era on Broadway led by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein offered countless musical memories.
Gwendolyn Jones belted out “I Got the Sun in the Mornin’ and the Moon at Night” from Berlin’s smash hit “Annie Get Your Gun” in a style that meshed the best qualities of Merman and Midler. Her rendition of “God Bless America,” complete with solo spot on the American flag, dramatized a patriotic fervor missing in recent decades.
Tenor soloist Tony Capone wore a couple of different hats during the course of the evening; the most memorable included items from the produce section at the grocery store. But in between the silliness, he ably crooned “Almost Like Being in Love” and “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Other quiet moments reflecting the seriousness of the time were Steven Stolen’s rendition of “There’ll Be Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover” and the Harmonies’ Mark Gilgallon’s version of the seldom heard “Russian Lullaby” by Berlin.
Offering the singers a brief respite and the audience a pleasant, toe-tapping alternative, the Pops orchestra took solo, instrumental stints several times during the “radio show.” David Rose’s “Holiday for Strings” and a rousing big band rendition of “American Patrol” proved the versatility of classically trained musicians.
What can you say about soloist Judy McLane? Only that every time she stepped to the microphone, she pulled the audience close to her. Yes, she was lovely to look at and yes, her vocal technique was effortless, and yes, it seemed each lyric had been written just for her. It’s an amazing accomplishment to hear “The Trolley Song” from the film classic “Meet Me in St. Louis” for the hundredth time and yet hear it for the first time sung with genuine sensuality.
McLane was featured on countless other ballads but changed gears easily, camping it up with Jones in a rousing version of “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon.”
The ’40s may not have been “the best of times” in the 20th century, but the decade produced a bunch of terrific songs.