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MUSIC REVIEW

Pops puts concertgoers in the spirit

Guest vocalist Renese Kins added her gospel vocals on a trio of Christmas spirituals during the opening night of the Boston Pops’ holiday season. Guest vocalist Renese Kins added her gospel vocals on a trio of Christmas spirituals during the opening night of the Boston Pops’ holiday season. (Jay Connor for The Boston Globe)
By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / December 9, 2010

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“I can guarantee that you will leave tonight a little more in the holiday spirit than when you came in,’’ Keith Lockhart said last night at Symphony Hall. Considering that it was both the final night of Hanukkah and the opening night of the Boston Pops’ holiday season, it was not hard to get into some sort of festive mood.

With one or two exceptions, Lockhart split the concert neatly around the intermission, playing the religious music during the first half and saving the more secular fare for the second.

The Tanglewood Festival Chorus started off the evening with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’’ and Handel’s “Hallelujah’’ chorus.

Amid the expected standards came a few pleasant curveballs. Renese King shone on a trio of Christmas spirituals, pitting her marvelous gospel vocals against a pastoral sweep. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’’ toyed with the song’s melody by pushing it a little too fast and later recasting it in a major key to reveal new dimensions. Peter Yarrow’s “Light One Candle’’ was less successful, highlighting the longstanding dearth of good-quality Hanukkah music.

The Pops were more playful after intermission. “Holly Jolly Jingle’’ had a jazzy swing and the ever-popular horse clops. Actor and Harry Potter audiobook reader Jim Dale recited a wondrous, if insufficiently amplified, “A Visit From St. Nicholas.’’ When the big guy himself appeared on stage, Lockhart accused him of identity theft before clearing things up with a singalong “Must Be Santa.’’ And an encore medley included a swinging, rhythm-crazy “Frosty The Snowman.’’

The Pops also catered to the season’s other dominant emotion with a gentle and yearning “The Christmas Song’’ that brought out the ache in the melody and a melancholy “I’ll Be Home For Christmas’’ featuring just King and a piano.

It led directly into “Bring Them Home,’’ which was accompanied by photos of American troops. It was nakedly sentimental, true. But there’s no better time of year for it.

Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com.

HOLIDAY POPS 2010
At: Symphony Hall, last night