On a day when it was difficult to think about, much less celebrate, the festive holiday season, Ronan Tynan and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, ably aided by the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, managed to offer the unique comfort of music.
Both First Niagara CEO John Koelmel, whose bank sponsors the Holiday Pops concerts that continue through Sunday, and conductor Matthew Kraemer referred to the heartbreaking events of Friday morning in Connecticut. “We will keep the families in our thoughts and prayers,” Koelmel said.
The first selection on the program was “We Need A Little Christmas,” which was written to address more mundane issues, but was never more true than it was Friday. The orchestra, decked out in bright red and black, was near perfect all evening, with tight, crisp percussion, sweet strings and bright, proud horns.
The program provided several notes of movie and television whimsy, from the “Welcome Christmas” tune sung by the people of Whoville at the beginning of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which spotlighted the chorus’ soaring sopranos, to the crisp and melodic overture from the movie “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Next was an amusingly arranged piece, Various Themes on “Fa-La-La,” during which the chorus sang “Fa-la-la-LA” to the tune of the unmistakable opening notes of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
At Tynan’s first appearance, he greeted the crowd – “great city and great people” – then confessed that his songs were not in the program because “In typical Irish fashion, I don’t know what I’m going to do myself until I get out here.”
It’s safe to say that Tynan’s first selection, “Ride On,” a tune written by Jimmy MacCarthy of Macroom, County Cork and popularized by Christie Moore, would not have been familiar to the crowd. But the haunting lyrics about loss and longing – “I could never go with you, no matter how I wanted to” – could not have been more apt.
Tynan was in fine voice, his powerful upper register almost operatic at times, his low notes soft and sweet. Although his between-song remarks were mostly lighthearted and often mocked his size, his delivery was sensitive and full of emotion.
His next piece was Leonard Cohen’s oft-recorded “Hallelujah,” and Tynan delivered it with a seldom-heard intensity.
The orchestra outdid itself with a bright, smooth version of “The Carol of the Bells.”
Tynan finished out the first part of the program with an impromptu selection of “Over the Rainbow,” dedicated to the memory of the victims in Connecticut. Given his links with Buffalo, he must have known but did not mention the song’s composer, Buffalo native Harold Arlen. The orchestra sat silent while Tynan and his longtime accompanist Bill Lewis performed the song by themselves, and simplicity was a virtue here. Tynan’s soaring voice was shown off to full effect, although notes of yearning permeated his soft notes too. It was a triumph.
The second half of the show contained a few lesser-known pieces, including the Suite from the Polar Express, in which the Buffalo Niagara Youth Chorus added their pure, soaring vocals to the magnificent voices of the Philharmonic Chorus.
But there was still time for Carmen Dragon’s lush arrangement of “White Christmas,” the classic “Sleigh Ride,” a spirited sing-along and an abbreviated but magical visit from Santa.
Tynan’s final song was a heartrending and poignant “Danny Boy,” the Irish-American favorite that could have been written for his voice and this evening. It was a spectacular end to an emotional evening.