Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Christmas Concerts

(the program listing for this concert may be found at the conclusion of this post)

The Cleveland Orchestra Christmas concerts have become a bit of an accidental tradition. And I was starting to wonder if it would become rote. To the contrary, both the orchestra and chorus seemed very fresh. Though there were some staple pieces, much of the material was new to me or at the very least lesser known.

The concert began with candle-holding choristers taking the stage and brightly lit garlands hanging from the Box and Dress Circle levels brightly glowing and lead into the happy Presonent hodie which ended with an explosion of voices. That lead into The First Noel where, although the chimes seemed a bit loud the mechanical precision with which the violinists bow strokes alternated was like watching a perfectly tuned 4-stroke engine in action -- but it sounded much better. The third piece in the program was actually a suite of three five carols, two featuring the Chorus, and one each for strings, woodwinds and brass. The story behind these carols was interesting, as was the very different texture given to the first  -- Caroling Carolling, and fourth -- Away in a Manger was interesting with the first being bright and cheerful, as if a group was caroling, and the fourth being quiet and delicate.

The first half of the program ended with two more well-known pieces, Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker, where the introduction didn't strike me as familiar, but as the piece progressed it was the "a ha" moment.  The longest piece from the first part, this was also my favorite. While I love The Nutcracker (and would like to see more classical ballet in general) scheduling conflicts made it impossible to make it to PlayhouseSquare's one-weekend-only presentation of the Nutcracker this year, so this partially helped to fill the void. Last in the first half, the Hallelujah chorus from Messiah which included the obligatory crowd-standing. This year I've managed to avoid hearing the unabridged Messiah, and unlike The Nutcracker this completely filled the void.

I was sharing my box with a mother and daughters having a girls night out and during intermission offered to take their pictures in our box -- their first time at Severance Hall.

Part Two included the obligatory (I swear there's a law requiring its performance) Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson, and the traditional-for-orchestra Twelve Days of Christmas with audience singalong. John William's Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas from Home Alone 2 where the chorus glistened and both chorus and orchestra in a very festive piece.

Walking In the Air from a 1951 short movie about a snowman that comes to life and takes a boy flying up in the air and was a particularly fresh addition to this year's program, and may have been my favorite piece for both chorus and orchestra.

While Jingle Bells at first glance on the program seems overdone, this particular arrangement was a delight to the ears.


The Program:
Traditional: Personent hodie (arr. Lara Hoggard)*^
Traditional: The First Noel (arr. Carmen Dragon)^
A Suite of Carols:
- Burt: Caroling, Caroling (lyrics Wihla Huston)*
- Traditional: Bring a Torchm Jeanette Isabella (arr. Leroy Anderson for strings)^
- Traditional: Coventry Carol (arr. Leroy Anderson for woodwinds)^
- Traditional: Away in a Manger (arr. John Rutter for chorus)*
- Traditional: I saw three ships (arr. Leroy Anderson for brass)^
Traditional: Suo-gan (arr. Mack Wilberg)^*
Menotti: Introduction, March, and Shepards' Dance from Amahl and the Night Visitors^
Traditional: Hark the Herald Angels Sing (arr. David Willcocks)^*&
Tchaikovsky: Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker^
Handel: Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah^*
Williams: Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas form Home Alone 2^*
Tchaikovsky: Final Waltz and Finale from The Nutcracker^
Blake: Walking in the Air (arr. Paul Bateman)^*
Traditional: The Twelve Days of Christmas (arr. John Rutter)*^&
Pierpont: Jingle Bells (arr. Morton Gould)^
Anderson: Sleigh Ride^
Martin and Blane: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (arr. Randol Bass)^*
Unannounced Encore 1: Silent Night^*
Unannounced Encore 2: We Wish you a Merry Christmas^*
With the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Cleveland State University Chorale
Robert Porco, conductor
^ - With Orchestra
* - With Chorus
& - Audience Participation

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