Old carols a wistful holiday offering

review

December 22, 2006|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,special to the sun

In a December that's beginning to not look a lot like Christmas, I decided a jolt of holiday music from the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra might help jump-start my holiday spirit.. An evening of being "Home for the Holidays" with Maestro Jose-Luis Novo and his players did the trick.

A touch of Christmas was what I wanted, and a touch of Christmas was what I got. The second half of last Friday's seasonal soire? at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, in fact, was devoted to such fares as Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," and two full suites of familiar carols.

There was also Mel Torme's wonderful "Christmas Song" delivered with a warm tone by the evening's principal trumpet, Chris Sala, and a snappy, brassy "Christmas Fanfare" by Jim Beckel that caught the glint of Christmas lights in sound.

Best of all was the warmly melodic "Noel" from the "Symphonic Sketches" of George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931), an American composer whose music deserves more attention than it gets. The interlude was background music for photographs of our area taken by high school students who re-created images of admirable clarity and depth. Some of the more wistful elements of the concert came across vividly in Chadwick's sumptuous melodies and the accompanying visual poetry.

For me, though, the greatest joy of this "Holiday Pops" concert occurred in the first half, which was a pops concert, par excellence.

Back in the day when Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra set the standard for the genre, pops concerts didn't dump classical music off the end of the sleigh as often happens today. Indeed, such concerts these days are likely to bring country artists, rock singers, television stars or Big Bird to center stage for a crossover event that attracts the stargazers. Great orchestras are reduced to playing schlock for the stars, in short, because it sells.

Thankfully, Maestro Novo and his orchestra would have none of it.

What we got instead was a succession of delightful works that celebrated the classical idiom instead of denigrating it.

There were more luscious melodies from Chadwick, this time his "Jubilee Overture."

Next came a "Canzon" by Giovanni Gabrieli, whose ringing works for brass were inspired by the pomp and pageantry of Renaissance Venice and the architecture of St. Mark's Cathedral, in which the choirs of trumpets, trombones and horns were placed antiphonally to create a 16th century stereophonic effect. Even the murky sonics of Maryland Hall couldn't dim the brilliance of this music.

Finally, since we were "Home for the Holidays," there were contributions from two of the home orchestra's finest. First, principal flutist Kim Valerio gave us a bright, chirpy account of Antonio Vivaldi's "Goldfinch"concerto.

Next came the orchestra's new principal cellist, Kerena Moeller, whose aristocratic tone summoned up the graceful swan from Camille Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" and a bright, tasteful reading of Camille's "Allegro Appassionato."

The concert ended with a taste of New Year's Day to come, as Novo whisked us off to Austria, courtesy of Johann Strauss' "Emperor Waltzes," one of the vintage works played by the Vienna Philharmonic every Jan. 1. I liked Novo's. The music spoke for itself, which is all I wanted for Christmas anyway.

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