Jim Waddelow led the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra in their annual Christmas concert in Meredith College‘s Jones Auditorium on a drizzly dark afternoon that called for a cheerful, light-hearted concert. (While the title of the concert in the program was “Let it Snow!,” I’m afraid that is unlikely in early December here with 400 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere.) The musicians dressed in festive garb of various sorts, variations on red, white, black, and green; one of the double basses had a Christmas hat, and another had a red ribbon in a bow. 

The first offering was “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Eddie Pola and George Wyle, arranged by Bob Cerulli. This was an upbeat start to the proceedings.

Then Waddelow came to the mic to introduce the second work, “Let it Snow!” by Jule Styne, arranged by Harrison Fisher for orchestra and solo tuba. The soloist was none other than WRAL’s weatherman Greg Fishel, who is quite the capable musician, turns out. The arrangement was a large expansion of the original and meandered through quotes from “Night on Bald Mountain,” a Sousa march, “Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “William Tell Overture,” and other old chestnuts. It was particularly interesting to hear the tuba paired off against the piccolo, performed capably by Irene Burke (who had a very busy concert!). Much of the solo literature for tuba is rather light-hearted since, after all, the sound lends itself to comedy; it could appear to the myopic as a person playing a gigantic, somewhat flatulent, spittoon. This piece was firmly in that tradition.

Next came “The Holly and the Ivy,” arranged by Bob Cerulli, followed by the two serious pieces on the concert. First was Adagio and Fugue, K. 546 by W. A. Mozart – a string quartet performed by the string section (without the double basses). This was composed in 1788 and starts with an ominous slow section with some adventurous harmonies making it sound much more recent than its date. The fugue is clearly based on J. S. Bach and has complex inner voices that didn’t quite come through as clearly as one might have liked in this concert. With the tight counterpoint, it is probably easier to hear the action when this is performed by a string quartet.

The second somber work was “The Swan of Tuonela” from the Lemminkainen Suite by Jean Sibelius, composed in 1895. For those coming to the concert for some substantial music, this was the highlight of the show, played with sensitivity and grace by all the sections, especially the English horn.

The rest of the concert was enjoyable fluff. First came “Frosty the Snowman,” then “T’was the Night Before Christmas” with Greg Fishel narrating the famous poem. The final section was a Christmas singalong with a series of carols arranged into a medley by John Finnegan. I didn’t see anyone in the audience brave enough to join in as invited, but maybe that was just near where I was sitting!

A good time was had by all. Once again, the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra pulls its weight as a valued asset in our cultural community. Let us generously support this orchestra and make sure it continues its presence here.