The traditional carols, "Patapan" and "Fum, Fum, Fum" served to drive the chill from a late fall evening. These songs also introduced the Performing Choir, a subdivision of the Raleigh Boychoir, to the friendly audience in Jones Auditorium on the Meredith College campus. Assisting Conductor Robert E. Unger throughout the program was Assistant Conductor and accompanist Vicki Oehling.
Irvin Berlin's "White Christmas" is widely considered the most popular Christmas song of all time. These honored guests of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra helped to demonstrate why that concept may be accurate. After a prelude of sorts by a couple of (unidentified) little charmers, the singers brought a fresh new dimension to that staple. The youngsters continued with their version of Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," they intoned the rum pa pum pum of "Carol of the Drum," and they were astonishingly adept with the complexities faced in the Wilhousky arrangement of "Carol of the Bells."
Conductor Jim Waddelow and the host orchestra came on with perhaps the featured work of the evening, Borodin's Symphony No. 3 (Unfinished). This seldom heard piece (at least by one listener) assigned much heavy lifting to the woodwinds and impressed with its generally profuse orchestration. A bit of investigation reveals that it dates from 1885/6, completed and orchestrated by Glazunov. So the Borodin-Glazunov combination would explain much of its appeal. Reminiscent of its Schubert predecessor, it consists of only two movements, Moderato assai and Scherzo/Trio. (Full disclosure: Hasn't it ever occurred to you that the blending of moderato and assai seems oxymoronic?) The orchestra did full justice to this work, again sounding better than it "should" have.
The players wished that you would "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" after they had negotiated "The Christmas Waltz" of Jule Styne. This waltz piece scarcely has an equal in its Christmas charm. The musicians produced the requisite big authoritative sound, assuring the listener that "…this song of mine in three quarter time wishes you and yours" the merriest Christmas. The choir returned to join the orchestra in a couple more seasonal favorites. Any anxiety that the orchestra would overwhelm the singers was readily put to rest. Waddelow kept a taut rein at the appropriate times to ensure the proper compatibility.
Let's hear it for the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra. Thank them for continuing to honor the memory of their Founding Director, Alan Neilson, and doubly so for striving to maintain the level of musical excellence that he long sought.