Think of The Magic of Christmas as an aural tapas bar. It offers a few sugary things, some nourishing morsels, high-calorie comfort food and items that look weird but go down easily once you get used to them.
Conductor Albert-George Schram, who provided endearingly silly patter between pieces on Thursday, propelled the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and Oratorio Singers of Charlotte through a program that was exotic and familiar in equal parts.
When aerialist Caroline Calouche swathed herself in silk and performed above the stage to Silent Night, the babe and his manger seemed far away. That was also true of Ulia OHaras trapeze solo to a langorous Angels We Have Heard On High. (Calouches troupe is everywhere this season, from Carolina Voices Singing Christmas Tree Dec. 14-15 at Ovens Auditorium to a Nutcracker adaptation called Claras Trip Dec. 20-21 at Booth Playhouse.)
Yet when the well-drilled Charlotte Childrens Choir rapped out Little Drummer Boy, or the Oratorio Singers rang out in the Hallelujah chorus from Messiah, the evening acquired the traditional chestnuts-by-the-fireplace glow. The two fine bagpipers and drummer from the Loch Norman Pipe Band Trio somehow projected an air that seemed old and new at once.
Classic numbers sounded fresh. The title character in a wonky Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer seemed to have acquired his tint by hanging around a spiked punch bowl with Dean Martin. The persistent snare in Drummer Boy emerged as first cousin to the beat in Ravels Bolero.
Yet the most fun came from things I didnt know.
Gary Frys Sing We Joyous dressed Joy to the World in the garb of Africa, Spain and the Celtic isles, with the Childrens Choir singing cleanly in Swahili. The CSOs Aubrey Foard had a comically attractive spree in Wassail, Wassail All Over the Tuba.
The exuberant orchestra overran soloists from time to time. Frank Portones powerful tenor could usually rise above the blast in God Bless Us Everyone, but some of Emily Chathams characterful narration in Twas the Night Before Christmas got lost.
Schram included three audience singalongs that the timid crowd failed to embrace, plus one semi-classical piece: the overture to Johann Strauss Die Fledermaus. Youre likelier to hear that at a New Years Day concert in Schrams native Europe, but hey a holiday party is a holiday party.
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