The Kleinhans Music Hall stage was resplendent for Friday morning's Classical Christmas concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The members of the orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus were festively attired in red and black, while Music Director JoAnn Falletta sported a stunningly spangled jacket with red and green undertones.
This same spirit was picked up by Randol Bass' Fanfare on "Joy to the World," a ring-a-ding setting for orchestra and chorus and a perfect concert opener.
That was purely Christmas music, but it was followed by an exclusively seasonal selection, "Winter" from Glazunov's ballet "The Seasons." In depicting frost, ice, hail and snow it employs a delightful flute solo, quick staccato figures, slow lyrical horn passages, a chattery finale and in the middle a famous tune that almost everyone has heard but few can identify. Falletta and the BPO gave it an impeccable performance.
The guest soloist was soprano Emily Tworek-Helenbrook, the granddaughter of the late Matt Tworek, arguably the longest tenured violinist in BPO history. Just 18 and a freshman at Rochester's Eastman School of Music, she sang "Let the Bright Seraphim" from Handel's "Samson," coping quite well with its treacherous coloratura runs. She also unveiled a distinctive purity of tone in the slow central section, and was very secure in the upper register.
Tworek-Helenbrook was even more comfortable in Massenet's "Ave Maria," arranged by the composer from his famous "Thais" Meditation.
She developed the phrasing of the music's long lyric lines quite beautifully and soared ecstatically at its peak.
Later she also sang "Rejoice Greatly" from Handel's "Messiah," where her lovely warmth in its lyrical midsection and more deftly tossed off coloratura displays evidence of a developing voice of great promise.
A nice choral pairing by Falletta offered the pastoral feeling of repose in "Candlelight Carol" by John Rutter, perhaps England's pre-eminent choral composer of the late 20th century. Gustav Holst held a similar position in the early 20th century, so his "Christmas Day" followed logically with its variations and digressions on "Good Christian Men Rejoice," its lean but superb orchestration and its beguilingly gentle coda. Performances of both works were excellent.
No Christmas concert would be complete without visiting Handel's "Messiah."
In addition to Tworek-Helenbrook's aria, Falletta also conducted the peaceful orchestral "Sinfony," the chorus "For Unto Us" and, of course, the "Hallelujah Chorus." The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus distinguished itself with singing of sprightly precision and palpable enthusiasm.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra"A Classical Christmas" with Music Director JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. Friday morning and 8 p.m. today in Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle. Tickets are $31-$77. Call 885-5000 or visit www.bpo.org.