Lawrence Toppman

‘Magic of Christmas’ often provides what title promises

Part of the pleasure taken in “Magic of Christmas” is purely visual.
Part of the pleasure taken in “Magic of Christmas” is purely visual. Courtesy of Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

Something old and something new, something borrowed (from jazz) and something by a Jew. That sums up the 2015 installment of “Magic of Christmas,” the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s December Pops concert.

Actually, the program held at least five pieces by Jewish composers or lyricists, including “The Christmas Song.” But I’m thinking mainly of Irving Berlin’s perennial “White Christmas.”

Albert-George Schram led the CSO, its chorus and the Charlotte Children’s Choir of Community School of the Arts through a program that consisted two-thirds of favorites and one-third of novelties.

The former ranged from a singalong of carols written about angels to an orchestral “Sleigh Ride” that would have jarred the bones of anyone in a real sleigh moving that fast. But as usual, new ideas struck the most interesting sparks. To wit:

The children sang “Walking in the Air,” Howard Blake’s haunting theme from the Oscar-nominated 1982 short “The Snowman.” It was written for a boy treble, and their youthful rendition suited it.

Florida vocalist Michael Andrew gave us a hip, Bobby Darin-ish approach to “The Night Before Christmas,” as the orchestra loosened up and swung behind him.

A male “barbershop ensemble” (nine guys from the adult chorus, led by director Kenney Potter) delivered “O Holy Night” with Four Freshman-style harmonies that didn’t obscure the spirituality.

An unacknowledged conga player – as usual, the program failed to identify soloists – wailed on his drums during Karl Jenkins “Celebro,” as dancers from Martha Connerton’s Kinetic Works waved glowsticks and displayed a polite religious ecstasy. (I didn’t get that, exactly, but I enjoyed it.)

Some things worked less well. The audience around me didn’t much want to sing along, nor has it for the last two Decembers. Andrew’s tribute to Dean Martin, which veered slightly into imitation, needed less bland orchestrations and/or song selections.

“A Holly Jolly Christmas” collapsed under an overinflated theme-and-variations version. Conversely, a 90-second rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” with none of the verses intact made a puny finale.

But when the joined choruses and orchestra performed John Rutter’s complex arrangement of “In the Bleak Midwinter” or a “Do You Hear What I Hear” that really did have “a voice as big as the sea,” we sensed not only the magic of Christmas but its true meaning.

Now if the CSO would just throw in a couple of Hanukkah numbers and a Kwanzaa tune and redub this “Magic of the Holidays,” things would be ideal.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Magic of Christmas’

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

Running time: 130 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets: $34.50-$94.50.

Details: 704-972-2000 or charlottesymphony.org.

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