Cleveland Orchestra, Choruses make it feel like Christmas at Severance Hall

12.17.18
Richard Kaufman
Cleveland Plain Dealer

It may not look much like Christmas outdoors, but at Severance Hall, it certainly sounds like the season.

For that glad tiding, thank the Cleveland Orchestra and guest conductor Richard Kaufman. During one of the blander early winters in recent memory, they’ve put together a colorful Christmas program guaranteed to awaken everyone’s spirit.

Certain Christmas Concert traditions seem to have come to an end. This year, at least, don’t expect a staff (or former staff) conductor, visit from Santa, or humorous audience solos in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Don’t be sad, though. As anyone who’s attended a recent Cleveland Orchestra film or pops show knows, Kaufman is an entertaining host and a lively force on the podium. What’s more, in lieu of Santa comes TV icon Jamie Farr, who not only narrates “The Night Before Christmas” with passion but also cracks jokes with as much wit as the Jolly Old Elf. There remain plenty of chances to sing along, too.

The most affecting offerings Sunday were the standard carols. As sung by the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, University of Akron Chamber Choir, and Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus, the classics “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” and “Oh, Holy Night” with soprano Meghan DeWald brought lumps to every throat. Also undeniable? The impact of the “Hallelujah” Chorus, from Handel’s “Messiah.”

Kaufman also excelled in lighter fare. The pops conductor laureate at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra showed his stripes in bright, festive accounts of “Bellringer’s Holiday,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Star of Bethlehem” from “Home Alone,” a suite from “Polar Express,” and Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” complete with young volunteer sleigh-bell ringers.

A few pieces even hailed from the classical canon, and wouldn’t have been out of place on a typical subscription program.
 
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