Spokane Symphony Holiday Pops Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Spokane Opera House
“Serious” and “somber” are not words which can totally capture the mood of a concert in which Santa Claus conducts “Sleigh Ride.”
But most of the rest of this Holiday Pops concert was a bit more stately than usual, which, from an aesthetic standpoint, proved to be quite satisfying.
For one thing, it gave the entire evening a spiritual, peaceful mood. Many of us need that in this frenetic time of year. For another, it put the spotlight directly onto the musicianship, as opposed to the showmanship.
And the musicianship was outstanding. The Spokane Symphony Chorale was in especially fine voice. I especially loved its powerful and monumental version of Bach’s Recessional from Cantata 140 (“Zion Hears the Watchmen Singing”). The chorale moved off the stage and into the side aisles during this piece, giving the audience the sensation of surround sound.
We also got some surround-sound action during the big finale, Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” This time, we heard the massed voices not only of the chorale but also the Spokane Area Children’s Chorus - hundreds of voices. It was a truly stirring way to send us out into the night.
The Spokane Area Children’s Chorus was also in excellent form, and it had a big part in what I felt was the highlight of the concert: Pietro Yon’s “Gesu Bambino.” A group from the children’s choir sang from the balcony while director Tamara Schupman sang an absolutely exquisite soprano solo. The effect was ethereal - enough to bring tears to the eyes.
The children’s chorus was also sweet and moving during John Rutter’s stately “Nativity Carol” and “Star Carol.”
The Spokane Symphony Orchestra also exhibited some outstanding musicianship, which requires some aplomb when an elf (Miss Spokane) is jamming a Santa hat on your head during a rollicking version of “Sleigh Ride.”
The orchestra was especially fine in the aforementioned Bach recessional, and also during excerpts from Gian-Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” It also did a fine pops version of “The Christmas Song.”
Conductor Randi Von Ellefson once again proved himself to be a genial host. Just as important, he has a good ear for finding Christmas music that has not been overexposed. Poulenc’s Rondeau was especially bouncy and refreshing, and the Mack Wilberg arrangements of “Away in the Manger” and “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In” were enjoyable. The only piece I was less than enthusiastic about was a hyperactive version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
Overall, this was another successful version of one of Spokane’s best Christmas traditions. , DataTimes
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