Seasonal cheer from the Virginia Symphony, Choral Guild

Last weekend was filled with music of the season, both festive and reflective, thanks to the efforts of two of our mainstay organizations — the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the Williamsburg Choral Guild.

Assuredly, Friday's VSO Holiday Pops program was an all-out endeavor to generate seasonal cheer. The Ferguson Center's stage sported two Christmas trees, festive banners, and lights and a giant wreath hanging from the rafters. Not that it needed it, but it also included a lighting design that had lights going on and off and constantly changing background colors, reminding one of those color wheels that turned silver aluminum Christmas trees (remember those?) into kaleidoscopic objects.

It ended up being a bit excessive and occasionally distracting. But, hey, it's the season of jolly and by golly, jolly we got. Conductor JoAnn Falletta, dressed in a sparkling red and green jacket, programmed 20 varied selections, all of which were played with expected brightness, sensitivity and spirit.

Opening with a snappy "We Need a Little Christmas," the extensive fare included other such upbeat works as the Polonaise from "Christmas Eve" (Rimsky-Korsakov), selections from "The Nutcracker Ballet" (Tchaikovsky), Carol of the Bells, and Fanfare: Joy to the World which was an arrangement of just about every carol ever written. Balancing the upbeat was the sentimental and touching, among the delights White Christmas (Berlin) and the Hallelujah Chorus from "Messiah" (Handel).

A special treat was guest vocalist Aundi Marie Moore, a soprano of compelling presence whose lyrical, focused, textured voice brought meaning and substance to such tunes as "Silent Night," "The Christmas Song" (Torme), Chanukah Lights (Hamlisch), and a knock out "O Holy Night." Without doubt, Moore's every moment on stage was engaging and totally captivating.

Rounding out the fun was baritone Gregory Gardner, dressed as Santa, who sang "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch," and members of southside's modern dance company, Todd Rosenlieb Dance. The latter was a good idea that didn't work. The talented dancers had limited space on which to perform which effectively prevented the movement in "Winter" from "Four Seasons" (Vivaldi) to breathe and take shape. The effort worked better in a cute "Skater's Waltz."

The VSO Chorus was in tiptop voice throughout, as was the audience which got to close the program with an audience sing along, spirited by the effervescent Moore.

Also singing in the season was the Choral Guild at St. Martin's Episcopal Church Sunday. Director Jay BeVille chose familiar carols and songs for this "Christmas with the Guild" event, among them "O Come, All Ye Faithful," a light-hearted "Shepherd's Pipe," a rhythmically and harmonically interesting take on "Do You Hear What I Hear," and a calypso-styled "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy." Two selections from "Messiah were also offered, "And the Glory of the Lord" and "For Unto Us a Child is Born," the running passages of the latter, even at a restrained tempo, proving a challenge that could have been avoided by not programming it.

Of the fare, the most poignantly done moment came with the thoughtful and moving Holst setting of Christina Rossetti's poem, "In the Bleak Midwinter." This was the Guild's best moment, its delivery of the lines and carol sensitive and caring.

Throughout the event, which closed with an audience sing along, Jane Alcorn provided solid and supportive piano accompaniment that added to the holiday spirit.

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