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Even Ebenezer himself would have been hard pressed to emerge from Meymandi Hall on this particular Sunday evening as an unregenerate old Scrooge. It was there that two of Raleigh’s most storied organizations presented “Lift Your Voices” in seasonal celebration. The Raleigh Boychoir sang under the direction of Thomas Sibley and Vicki Oehling, the latter sharing accompanist duties with J J Harris. Raleigh Symphony Orchestra founder and director Alan Neilson led the symphony and both organizations when they combined forces.
The first third of the program was given over to the choir, a group that has provided such delightful entertainment over the years. This latest edition (the choir perforce undergoes annual modifications) carried on the fine tradition. Sibley has consistently elicited from these youngsters a discipline that would do credit to professional groups. The quality came through best when they used no score, as was mostly the case. Their concentration was evident in such pieces as H. J. Gauntlett’s “Once in Royal David’s City” and “African Noel” by Victor C. Johnson.
An especially endearing number, “T’was in the Moon of Wintertime,” arranged by Ken Berg, was accompanied by the cello of James Albert Kellock. The minor mood tended to tug at the emotions. The Alice Parker arrangement of “A Garland of Carols” provided an attractive pastiche of Christmas favorites, among which was a charming duet from “How Far is it to Bethlehem?” The identified soloists in these songs were Cory Arnold, Jordan Gerber, Ben Hartman, and David Spurlin.
What orchestra would dare fail to offer Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” at some time during the Christmas season? The RSO fulfilled that obligation first off. That same composer’s “A Christmas Festival” next included a bit of every Christmas song that most anyone could think of. That is, until Walter Kent’s “It’s Christmastime” came along. This Calvin Custer arrangement included all of the others, some with a swinging beat. An orchestral surprise was “Christmas – That Special Time of the Year,” using such old favorite friends as Rudolph and the Drummer Boy to create a showpiece like a mini-version of Ravel’s “Bolero.” It would seem that Neilson here has provided an ensemble whose musical quality continues to surpass what one should reasonably expect.
Three selections from the Tchiakovsky Nutcracker Suite ended with a frenzied reading of the “Trepak.” The combined choir and orchestra offered two arrangements by Michael Braz, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Children’s Santa Medley.” The balance between the two groups was most pleasing (and surprising), with the big orchestra skillfully deferring to the singers as and when desirable.
John Finnegan’s “Christmas Singalong” ended the evening, with printed texts of eight familiar songs for the benefit of the hyper-talented audience members.