That master pops programmer Mitch Miller is back in town for what seems an almost non-stop Christmas Pops presentation with the Buffalo Philharmonic. The good news is that his flair for this sort of music is just as strong as ever.
Twinkling white lights adorned a huge wreath on the wall behind the orchestra, while varying mixtures of red, white and blue lights bathed the stage, which was rimmed in front by a solid row of poinsettias.
And onto this scene charged Mitch, whose running entrances have become almost as much of a trademark as the big cigar which is ever-present offstage.
He gave the downbeat for Hershy Kay's colorful and rhythmic arrangement of "Deck the Halls," and the concert was, just like Mitch, off and running.
The program was ingeniously planned to satisfy popular taste without playing down to any segment of the audience.
Remember, Mitch was one of the world's great classical oboists long before he hit it big with popular A & R work and sing-alongs. So he knows good music. So in among "Deck the Halls" and an extended medley from "The Wizard of Oz," with its ecstatic reprise of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," the Schola Cantorum sang both the "Hallelujah Chorus" from "Messiah," which is at the same time a towering masterpiece and an all-time hit, and Bach's timeless "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."
The orchestra countered with the lush "Fantasia on Greensleeves" from Vaughan Williams' Falstaffian opera "Sir John in Love," beautifully played except for a rushed middle section, and Pierne's "March of the Little Lead Soldiers" which survived an uncertain flute voicing of the theme to give a fine example of disciplined and exciting playing at very low dynamic levels.
For Leroy Anderson's whinnying and jingling "Sleigh Ride" a rotating mirrored ball reflected snowflakes all over the ceiling and wall of the hall, after which the Schola Cantorum varied the musical texture most gratifyingly with three a cappella quickies, "Fum, Fum, Fum," "The Little Drummer Boy" and "The Carol of the Bells."
Mitch liked the carol so well he offered a repeat.
And then there was the ever-present sing-along, starting with season tunes like "White Christmas" and "Frosty the Snowman."
But Mitch was not content just to let the audience sing the succession of standard carols that followed.
He used these well-known tunes to gave them lessons in staccato singing, changing dynamics, expressive emphasis on certain notes and even the aspiration before certain vowels to make them more audible. The audience loved it.
Then when "Silent Night" came along, a children's choir carrying candles filed onto the front of the stage while huge stars were projected on the walls.
Santa himself then made an appearance, touring the hall while Mitch encouraged hand clapping by one and all for a rousing finale.
REVIEW Buffalo Philharmonic Pops conducted by Mitch Miller
Special Christmas Pops Program, with Buffalo Schola Cantorum, directed by Thomas Swan.
Friday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall; to be repeated three times: 2 and 8 p.m. today and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.