Milwaukee Symphony celebrates holidays with sounding joy
Pat Johnson

The Milwaukee Symphony wished its audience “Happy Holidays” Friday evening, in the way only it can — with a full orchestra, 140-or-so singers, a handbell ensemble, and a Broadway star.

This Holiday Pops evening, led by guest conductor Stuart Chafetz, featured a program of familiar, festive tunes in colorful, creative arrangements.

Vocalist Capathia Jenkins offered beautifully nuanced, highly communicative renditions of such tunes as Ella Fitzgerald’s arrangement of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” delivered with a stylistic versatility and perfect diction.

Jenkins sang with tremendous vocal control and beautiful flexibility. She created a soft, silky sound that pulled the audience into the world of the “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and moved to a room-filling soprano for an arrangement of “O Holy Night.”

Unfortunately, the ever-increasing volume of the sound mix distorted her biggest moments at the end of the program.

The program was a showcase for the power and versatility of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus as well, prepared this year by acting chorus director Robert A. Harris.

The chorus gave polished, nimble, performances of such favorites as “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” “I Saw Three Ships,” “The First Noel,” and Randol Alan Bass’s “Gloria.”

They delivered clean, easy handling of jazzy rhythms, immaculate diction, dynamics that ranged from controlled, muted sounds to a focused, blended fortissimo, and seriously agile singing throughout the concert.

The Milwaukee Handbell Ensemble, prepared by director John A. Behnke, took several turns in the spotlight with crowd-pleasing arrangements of “Hark! Christmas Bells,” “Good King Wenceslas” and “I Saw Three Ships.”

The ringers, moving in the fascinating choreography required by their instruments, created an enormous range of dynamics, articulations and sounds, along with beautifully shaped phrases.

The orchestra moved from foreground to background throughout the concert, taking the spotlight with the medley “’Tis the Season” and a lovely arrangement of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” They provided stylish backing for “The Christmas Song,” and raised the roof with “O Holy Night” and a sing-along “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” encore.

Elaine Schmidt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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