Boston Pops opens a festive and inclusive holiday program

December 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm

By Keith Powers

Keith Lockhart and a special guest at Wednesday’s opening night of Holiday Pops. Photo: Stu Rosner

It’s a journey that will dwarf Santa’s overnight jaunt around the globe. Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops launched its Holiday Pops season Wednesday evening at Symphony Hall, the first of a mind-numbing 39 performances in 19 days.

The Pops entertained a sold-out, festive audience with an inclusive program that lacked star power but made up for it in enthusiasm. Selections included a Hanukkah medley, seasonal settings, celebrity (sort-of) narration and the annual appearance by a round guy in a red suit.

The real star of this show was the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Normally heard molding dissonant Stravinsky into musical shape, or emoting a noble oratorio with grandeur, the TFC donned holiday accessories for the performance and brought genuine spirit and gifted voices to the proceedings.

Most seasonal music gets so overplayed it’s annoying, but the TFC’s lively singing in clever arrangements by John Rutter of What Sweeter Music?, the klezmer-infused Songs Mama Taught Me, and most especially David Chase’s over-the-top Twelve Days of Christmas were impossible not to like.

Lockhart began with brisk readings of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and the Hallelujah Chorus, a rather regimented (no dancers to worry about) Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker, and a sweet orchestration of Mel Tormé’s Christmas Song, featuring a crisp solo by concertmaster Tamara Smirnova. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ sentimental Fantasia on Christmas Carols received workmanlike service from baritone James Demler, who, despite being miked up, still seemed to struggle with the volume requirements of singing in front of the big band and chorus.

Santa showed up after intermission, perking up the snazzily dressed kids in the audience. He was helped by easy listening settings like Holly Jolly Jingle, a jazzy orchestral Good Swing Wenceslas featuring a sit-in rhythm section (Bob Winter on piano, James Gwin on drums and the instrument-swiveling BSO bass section), and Chase’s spectacular Twelve Days of Christmas, a musical travelogue that references Beethoven’s Fifth, the Nutcracker, Messiah, and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (among many other familiar works) with laugh-out-loud cleverness.

There was also the requisite narration of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. For this performance the Pops employed Boston Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton, a curious choice on many levels, except for the fact that the popular bad guy is currently “in between fistfights,” one might say, due to hockey’s work stoppage.

Thornton’s recitation could have used a little of the TFC’s infectious energy, but accompanied by friend-of-the-orchestra and celebrated children’s author Jan Brett’s wonderful illustrations, by the end everyone was looking forward to Christmas Eve. Perhaps nobody so much as Lockhart and the Pops, whose holiday marathon won’t end until Santa comes down the chimney.

Holiday Pops runs through Dec. 24.; 888-266-1200.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Boston Pops opens a festive and inclusive holiday program”

  1. Posted Dec 08, 2012 at 10:04 am by Stephen H. Owades

    One small clarification: John Rutter’s What Sweeter Music is not a “clever arrangement,” but rather a new composition, setting an old poem by Robert Herrick. The music is Rutter’s own.

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