Whether your ideal Christmas is a Currier and Ives-like country confection, a European winter holiday, or a jazzy city Xmas, the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra delivered it all with gusto on Saturday night.
The RDSO teamed up with young musicians from the Rosedale Valley String Orchestra to present multiple versions of Christmas celebrations at the Red Deer College Arts Centre. The resulting Yuletide Delights concert proved a sweet treat for the full-house crowd.
There was an old-fashioned Italian Christmas — first with Guiseppe Torelli’s stately Concerto a Quattro “per il Santissimo,” performed by the smaller RDSO string orchestra, then with both orchestras presenting the sprightly seasonal-sounding selection from Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances.
There was a peaceful Austrian Christmas carol, Still, Still, Still. Also, the cinematic American The Cherry-Tree Carol, and English Sussex Carol. All were beautifully played by both RDSO and Rosedale Valley Strings musicians.
Jingling bells and a harkening horn were later featured in RDSO’s festive Three German Dances — with Sleigh Ride, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, played by the RDSO alone.
But the highlight of the first half of the concert was when both orchestras tackled Christmas Fantasie, a lighthearted arrangement by the RDSO music director, Claude Lapalme.
Strains from Away in a Manger, Angels We Have Heard on High, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and other favourites were given a humorous touch when the same two notes were used again and again to interrupt or separate the various melody lines.
The Fantasie, led by the RDSO’s woodwind section, featured bell-like percussion sounds and bird-like flute trills, plucked violin strings, and a hidden joke (a snippet of Here Comes the Bride was buried near the end).
Playing it properly required spot-on timing, and the young musicians from the Rosedale Valley Strings were absolutely up to the task. “They are a gift to the planet,” said Lapalme, of the child and youth musicians led by Naomi Delafield, who is also the RDSO’s concertmaster.
Not only do these young musicians entertain audiences with their considerable talent, their Lacombe-based Rosedale Valley Strings Orchestra, founded 11 years ago by Delafield as a Christian organization, is committed to making a difference in the lives of children, globally.
This year’s project is raising money to build a well for an orphanage in Tanzania.
The poignant title track from the Rosedale Valley Strings’ charitable CD, Hashivenu (“Cause us to return” in Hebrew), was performed just before intermission.
The two orchestras managed to convey the silent strength and strong emotions underpinning this traditional Israeli folk song — receiving a well deserved standing ovation from the audience.
The RDSO went solo for the second half of the concert, but the program continued providing diversity — such as the jazzy, city-slicker medley, A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi/ David Pugh.
The orchestra’s upbeat interpretation of the Christmastime is Here melody was perfectly charming, considering how depressing that song can sound on mall muzak soundtracks.
We practically saw the cascading snowflakes, created by violins, and those Peanuts kids dancing, in their weird beatnik style, to the snappy Linus and Lucy theme.
“I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time,” said Lapalme, after getting a warm reception for the Charlie Brown medley, which must have been a blast from the past for many Baby Boomers in the audience.
The RDSO saved the two best pieces for last — Johann Sebastian Bach’s miraculous Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, and George Bizet’s happy, familiar French dance, Farandole from L’Arlésienne.
Bach’s sacred work was performed without the usual choral accompaniment, but Lapalme successfully arranged the choir parts for brass instruments — and it worked wonderfully.
The latter rousing piece, with its multiple drums, flute and cello, provided a brilliant, booming finish to what was a truly delightful concert — earning the RDSO another standing ovation.
Now, if the ridiculously cold weekend weather didn’t put everyone into the Christmas spirit, that concert was bound to leave audience members humming carols all the way home.