Symphony of the AmericasSymphony of the Americas. FORT LAUDERDALE, FL -- The large audience that attended the Symphony of the Americas' Chorus of Seasons Greetings concert on Tuesday night at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater awarded repeated cheers and ovations to artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese and Robin L. Mc Eachern, director of the Cathedral Choir of Ft. Lauderdale's First Presbyterian Church, for a joyous evening of holiday music. Such familiar seasonal favorites as Sleigh Ride, highlights from The Nutcracker and the Christmas songs of Broadway tunesmiths Richard Rodgers and Jerry Herman shared the program with less familiar choral works by Randol Alan Bass, John Rutter and Leonard Bernstein.

Brooks-Bruzzese opened the festive program with Calvin Custer's arrangement of Christmas on Broadway. Imaginative instrumentation and smooth, idiomatic playing traversed holiday tidings from the Great White Way, ranging from Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland to Herman's Mame. The First Presbyterian Church choir shone impressively throughout the program. Musicologists disagree about whether Mozart actually wrote the Mass No. 12 but the orchestral and vocal writing certainly sounds like the genius from Salzburg. Brooks-Bruzzese led the rousing Gloria, the choir vociferous and the agile Symphony of the Americas strings in top form.

McEachern took the podium for Mack Wilberg's syncopated Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy and the third movement of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. Premiered in 1965, Bernstein's choral psalm settings were initially well received. In the 1980's the score began to receive frequent performances and has since been acknowledged as an American choral classic. The third movement and epilogue are settings of Psalms 131 and 133. From the powerful and astringent orchestral introduction, Mc Eachern demonstrated his mastery on the podium, in orchestral as well as choral work. The haunting and beautiful principal melody shimmered in vocalise from the chorus and repeated by the cello section with a beautiful solo by principal cellist Iris van Eck.

Randol Alan Bass' Gloria was a rhythmic, sumptuously orchestrated score that displayed both the choir and orchestra's strengths. John Rutter may well be the world's finest contemporary choral composer. The British born Rutter's innumerable scores have become staples of the church choir repertoire and many of his large scale works have been commissioned by professional choirs and recorded by Rutter's own group, the Cambridge Singers. His Magnificat is a rousing hymn of praise to the Virgin Mary, the vigorous opening and closing sections offset by central episodes based on Gregorian plainchant. The choir sounded wonderful in this irresistibly glorious score with full, rich orchestral support under McEachern's direction. Don Marsh's arrangements of such Christmas classics as Silver Bells, It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas and Happy Holidays received vociferous advocacy, led with snap and a lively beat by McEachern. He also conducted the orchestra in Leroy Anderson's Christmas Festival, a staple of the Boston Pop's annual holiday concerts. From the opening Joy to the World to the concluding Wagnerian setting of O Come All Ye Faithful, the orchestra sounded luminous. Santa and Mrs. Claus  made an appearance to the strains of Sleigh Ride, wishing a Merry Christmas to all.

Brooks-Bruzzese led Eduardo Magallanes' swinging arrangement of Jose Feliciano's 1970 Christmas evergreen Feliz Navidad in propulsive fashion and his refreshingly unsentimental version of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Greensleeves featured an evocative flute solo by Marilyn Maingart. Brooks-Bruzzese's invigorating reading of the Trepak and spacious, eloquent shaping of Journey through the Snow offered a vivid reminder that Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker is a perennial at holiday time for good reason, the orchestra playing in top form. A final, wonderfully celebratory singing of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah brought the evening to a close. A rollicking version of the Kander and Ebb anthem New York, New York was an encore, a final bon-bon for the holiday season.


The Symphony of the Americas presents Pops on Parade on February 9, 2014, 2 p.m. at the Amaturo Theater with music from Sousa and Grofe to Rimsky-Korsakov, Henry Mancini and Marvin Hamlisch. On February 11, 2014 at 8:15 p.m. at the Amaturo Theater, cellist Iris van Eck solos in Elgar's Cello Concerto and pianist Ciro Fodere plays Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in a program that also features Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 1. For information and tickets, call 954-335-7002 or visit www.SymphonyoftheAmericas.org.

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