Friday's seasonal offering by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus was definitely good -- not great. It was pleasant, not deeply rewarding. Nonetheless, it was a nice way to spend the morning, and it will probably be a nice way to spend an evening when they repeat the program tonight.
The program included capable arrangements of standard Christmas carols, snippets from works by Franz Liszt and Piotr Tchaikovsky, a little melodic beauty by Franz Schubert, plus full-length renditions of scores by Arcangelo Corelli and Johann Sebastian Bach. These performances reveal that the orchestra is geared more toward big, sweeping mannerisms more in line with the Romantic era of Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Schubert than the Baroque stylings of Corelli and Bach.
Excerpts from Robert Wendel's "A Classical Christmas Suite" started off both halves of the concert. First up was the overture, a clever blend of "Joy to the World" and "O, Little Town of Bethlehem." "Little Bolero Boy," an interesting mashup of "Little Drummer Boy" and Maurice Ravel's "Bolero," followed the intermission.
Arrangements by Arthur Harris of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" were standard-issue representations of seasonal material that showcased the choir, but Craig Courtney's "Carols of the Night," a blend of "Oh, Holy Night" and "Silent Night," was scored more interestingly. Courtney fits into that same exalted class of modern choral composers as Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre, folks who craft arrestingly attractive vocal lines to go along with their post-neo-Romantic orchestrations.
Their renditions of excerpts from Liszt's oratorio "Christus," four movements from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" and an arrangement of Schubert's "Ave Maria" were fairly idiomatic. But the delicate internal balances necessary to present Bach's Cantata No. 191 ("Gloria in excelsis Deo," BWV 191) and Arcangelo Corelli's Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 8 (aka the "Christmas Concerto") to their best advantage were overwhelmed by the mass of the orchestra.
Tenor Todd Teske sang the Schubert piece and was the soloist in the Liszt "Pastorale" from "Christus," in addition to pairing up with soprano Lianne Coble in the "Gloria Patri et Filio" section of Bach's cantata. Coble was the focus of "Gesu Bambino" by Pietro A. Yon. Of the two young singers, Coble was able to project voice over the orchestra, while Teske seemed more careful than passionate, almost slipping into inaudibility during orchestral swells. It should also be noted that the soprano soloist in the choir came across better in the "Pastorale" than either Coble or Teske did in their showpieces.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
"A Classical Christmas" with conductor Robert Franz and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus on Friday. Another performance at 8 p.m. today.