Erich Kunzel and NSO Pops
Erich Kunzel's pops program with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap Thursday night was billed as a "Symphonic Spectacular"--a diverse collection of crowd pleasers that make their points concisely and end when the points are made. It's easy to demean it as symphonic lite, but such works require the same interpretive and technical sensibilities as any other music. Kunzel conducted with the same conspicuous flair that informs his many celebrated Telarc recordings; the NSO sounded energized, alert and powerful; and the program--a 90-minute grab bag--was structured for maximum contrast.
Kunzel gradually built Respighi's "Pines of the Appian Way" to a molten intensity that potently and literally evoked the splendor of Caesar's legions marching into Rome laden with treasure. Verdi's "Triumphal March" from "Aida" had the NSO's brass stationed in the aisles of the amphitheater; the inevitable sacrifice in precision was more than compensated by a wall of sound that enveloped the audience. NSO Associate Concertmaster Elizabeth Atkins was the violin soloist in John Williams's "Theme From 'Schindler's List.' " She played simply and elegantly, with purity of line and sweet melancholy of tone that paradoxically caught the horror lurking just underneath the melody. More film music followed, expertly shaped and delivered.
Two Leopold Stokowski arrangements--Bach's ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-sharp Minor--were done with the same romantic fluorescence that Stokowski himself once brought to them: abrupt tempo changes, grand swells and retreats within phrases, violent crescendos and flocculent textures. Working within this barnacled tradition, Kunzel got what he wanted, but the Bach seemed hectored and the Rachmaninoff scalped and bombastic. A rousing encore, "Stars and Stripes Forever," ended the evening.
Fountains of Wayne at 9:30
When an enraptured fan flopped off the stage during "Leave the Biker," it may not have been the first incident of crowd-surfing at a Fountains of Wayne show, but it was certainly something that wouldn't have happened the first time the band played the 9:30 club. Two years ago the audience wasn't dense enough to cushion a stage diver, and the band wasn't spirited enough to incite anyone to such abandon.
Fountains of Wayne is known for its ironic distance from the tradition it plunders--among the songs it played Thursday was one titled "Please Don't Rock Me Tonight"--but most of Jody Porter's guitar solos didn't sound ironic. In 1997 Porter and drummer Brian Young were provisional members of the quartet, which started as a joint venture between songwriters Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, but now they're clearly full partners. The difference was evident in a show that was looser, livelier and, yes, more rocking.
The group showed a slight bias toward the first of its two albums but did justice to both sides of its style: the lushly melodic rue of "Troubled Times" and "Sick Day" and the wry swagger of "Red Dragon Tattoo" and "Radiation Vibe," the latter outfitted with musical quotations from Joe Walsh and the Cars. Despite such playful moments, the band's performance was no joke.
CAPTION: What a difference two years makes: Fountains of Wayne returned to the 9:30 club Thursday.