Holiday concerts are among the most predictable performances on earth, but people love them all the same.
Especially if the performers are world class musicians playing in a world renowned orchestra.
That was the case at Proctors Theatre tonight when Keith Lockhart led the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra in a concert full of Christmas favorites. Appearing with “America’s Orchestra” was Gloriae Dei Cantores a splendid choral group of about 50 singers from Orleans, Mass., and directed by Elizabeth Patterson.
The concert opened with a Christmas fanfare based on “Joy to the World,” a complex work for orchestra and chorus. It was a perfect spirited opener, not for singing along.
Next on the program was “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” from Handel’s “Messiah,” a work with florid coloratura passages that were beautifully sung by the singers from Cape Cod. It was so good one wanted to hear a few more sections from the masterwork.
The orchestra followed that with a pretty, strings only setting of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” A solid and stirring chorus/orchestra performance of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” came after that.
“Waltz of the Flowers” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” opened with a swirling harp solo that was crisply played. Lockhart called for a brisk tempo and lots of emotion and the orchestra responded. It was not a “this is old hat” performance.
The highlight of the first half was a performance of “The Polar Express” (a world premiere on this tour). The “Express” is a touching tale about a kid believing in Santa based on the 1986 book by Chris Van Allsburg. Music by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard is from the 2004 movie inspired by the book.
The performance featured images from the book with expert narration by actor Will LeBow. Narrating and keeping pace with train music is no easy task and LeBow got the job done masterfully.
The second half of the concert opened with two sleigh rides, the first by Leroy Anderson (no Christmas concert ever happens without it). The second was a very jazzy arrangement of Prokofiev’s sleigh ride from the “Lieutenant Kije Suite.”
The chorus was outstanding singing “Good Cheer,” a tricky unaccompanied ditty with challenging modern harmonies and tricky entrances from start to finish.
The audience favorite of the evening, though, was a tongue-in-cheek orchestra and chorus arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The clever setting has everything but the kitchen sink tossed in including “Indian Love Call,” Beethoven’s Fifth, “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Oklahoma.”
Rex Smith of the Albany Times Union did a credible if a tad hammy job of narrating “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and the chorus, especially the ladies, had a chance to let their hair down in a sexy version of “Santa Baby.”
Santa made a guest appearance before the closing audience sing-along. He looked O.K., but his elves need to pack him a new bag of jokes.