PSO performs Mancini

Spiffed out in white jackets and black bow ties, the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops, along with vocalist Monica Mancini, evoked an aura of ’50s Americana Saturday night at Heinz Hall. The concert was part of a series of performances called Mancini at the Movies, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Conductor Richard Kaufman led the musicians in a whirlwind tour of the distinctly American music of Henry Mancini: rambunctious marches, cinematic movie scores, and smooth jazz.

Kaufman was a personable host and animated conductor, introducing pieces with anecdotes. He stirred up a raucous big band sound from the ensemble as a whole, while still stepping aside for solo improvisations. Monica Mancini, the daughter of Henry Mancini, sang a pleasant, albeit predictable, medley of some of her father’s most popular works.

Of music from Mancini’s era, any listener would expect a ’50s stage band sound, complete with romantic strings sliding into silky upper ranges, swelling horn solos, and the occasional Latin beat; Saturday’s Pittsburgh Symphony Pops performance delivered exactly that. “Ohio Riverboat” from Mancini’s Beaver Valley Suite inspired images of rural America. During the song, the musicians of the orchestra were all of the sudden transformed into a hoe-down ensemble, traveling down a river on a raft with Huck Finn.

The Pops are versatile in style, as demonstrated in the transition to the solemn, reflective music from Enrico Morricone’s The Mission, which Mancini orchestrated. Mancini’s music is naturally cinematic, a quality which the oboe soloist and the orchestra elegantly portrayed.

For a note of old-fashioned romance, Monica Mancini sang a pleasing rendition of “Two for the Road” atop oscillating piano chords. During the song, movie clips of the dramatic lovers from the film of the same name were projected onto a screen above the orchestra. Other special effects included colored lighting reflecting the essence of the music.

Though, in general, her vocals were pleasing, Mancini’s performance was easily at its most expressive and heartfelt in “Music on the Way,” which she introduced as “a love letter to my dad.” In addition to her vocals, Mancini’s stage persona engaged the audience in an informal manner, anecdotally recalling stories of the collaborations between her father and his contemporaries. Her stage presence was its own brand of unique, making light of a wardrobe malfunction involving her earring; she humorously handed the rogue earring to Kaufman, who attached it to his lapel.

Overall, the performance, though it did not showcase virtuosic qualities, was enjoyable and engaging.