Every Christmas season finds chestnuts roasting by an open fire and being played in concert. This time JoAnn Falletta, along with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, tossed a slight wrinkle into proceedings and it helped differentiate it from other seasonal offerings they’ve performed in the past.
Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet and Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” are concert hall staples, both in their full dress and parsed out in “greatest hits” snippets. Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is a perennial hit and selecting the “Winter” concerto from the composer’s op. 8 set was a natural inclusion.
Clarence native Charles Wetherbee was the honorary concertmaster and delivered a solid performance as the featured soloist in the Vivaldi concerto. Another highlight belonged to the orchestra’s new harpist, Cheryl Losey-Feder, who led off the “Waltz of the Flowers” portion of Tchaikovsky’s ballet with a solo displaying considerable grace, garnering acknowledgement from Falletta and applause from the audience.
The BPO Chorus performance showcased the “Hallelujah” chorus from the “Messiah,” a work that was delivered with suitable pomp and volume from the full-throated choir. The chorus was also featured in a couple other works in the program – the opening section from J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” (“Jauchzet Frohlocket” a.k.a. “”Rejoice, Exult!”) and a quintet of selections from 20th century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski that were picked from his “Twenty Polish Christmas Carols.”
Falletta confessed to really liking the Bach oratorio selection and was glad to include it in the program. She also took note of the orchestra’s Polish tour to include the Lutoslawski pieces, five short bits combining lush vocal harmonies with a typical (for the composer), but slightly skewed orchestral backdrop, which brought bracingly piquant rewards to the ear, setting it apart from the norm while fitting snugly into the seasonal concert model.
Another clever programming tactic was the inclusion of some holiday hymn standards woven into a couple of the works. Ottorino Respighi and Peter Warlock dressed up a couple of them and the results were revealed in the former’s “Adoration of the Magi” and in the string arrangement of Warlock’s anthem “Bethlehem Down.” Extra points were awarded for the inclusion of Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s “Adeste Fideles” excerpt from his “A Carol Symphony.”
Prokofiev’s “Troika” featured the holiday touch of sleigh bell percussion, while Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Polonaise” and Waldteufel’s “Skater’s Waltz” filled out the dance card leading up to the Leroy Anderson pops classic “Christmas Festival Overture.”
BPO plays “JoAnn’s Classical Christmas," coffee concert on Friday in Kleinhans Music Hall (3 Symphony Circle). The concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8.