The Carnegie Music Hall show this past Saturday felt like two or maybe three concerts in one, and not just because it featured both the Men's and the Women's choirs.
In the first place, it was a very full evening: If you came early for the pre-show reception, and stayed for the traditional post-show cookie reception, the two-hour-plus concert stretched to a four-hour shindig.
Yet even if one isn't especially invested in conventional holiday music, the fast-paced show flew by.
Sure, the 33-member men's choir led off with "Silver Bells" and "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," and a first-act set-change was occasion for an audience singalong of "Silent Night." But artistic director Andres Cladera knows how to keep things moving with variety.
For instance, turns by first the men's and then the women's choir in the first act were followed by a beautiful collaboration with the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra. (How they fit everyone on the Music Hall's stage, we can only guess.) This sequence ended with the traditional Handel's "Hallelujah" chorus; other highlights included selections from Saint-Saëns "Christmas Oratorio."
And there was plenty of other gorgeous stuff, from a renditions of the Appalachian carol "I Wonder As I Wander" (with a solo by tenor John Mueller) to "Little David Play On Your Harp," another traditional tune (solo by soprano Elizabeth Rishel). I also loved the setting of poetry to music in James Mulholland's "Winter Night from Mementos of Millay." It all sounded great in the Music Hall -- hardly surprising, of course, but I'm sure I've seen more lectures than concerts there over the years.
Still, with all the heartfelt spirituality, the RCC concert swung into balance on Cladera's penchant for humor. P.D.Q. Bach's "Throw A Log, Uncle John" (about a drunken relation) was done a wry turn by the women's choir. The men's choir nailed the tricky rounds of the spoof "13 Days of Christmas," and soloist Jessica Fritz sassed things up as a discontented Mrs. Claus in Jason Robert Brown's "Surabaya Santa." Other comic highlights were the set-closer -- the vintage Tom Lehrer tune "Hanukah in Santa Monica" -- and the decidedly more contemporary "Come Out for Christmas," which manages empowerment, affirmation and comedy all at once.
Nicely done, folks. The cookies were pretty damn good, too.