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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Green Bay Symphony Christmas concert retains touch of class

‘Christmas Brass and Organ’ is performed at a new location.

PHOTO: St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Green Bay. Warren Gerds photo

GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – The evolution of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra’s annual classical Christmas concert continued this year with “Christmas Brass and Organ” performed at a new location, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in near downtown. As usual, the concert was seasonal music of the elevated kind – classy in an interesting and suitable setting. And well played. The only thing cute was the encore. Otherwise, the program (4½ stars out of 5) devised by music director Donato Cabrera ventured through both the familiar as interpreted through the luster of brass and the complexity of organ and the unfamiliar by way of adventurous arrangements and/or all-out musical muscle.

Musicians

Conductor: Donato Cabrera; horn: Bruce Atwell, Marie-Sonja Cotineau, Kelly Hofman, Andrew Parks, Keith Powell; trumpet: Daniel Birnschein, John Daniel, David Naegele, Linda Cook; trombone: Andrew Zipperer, Adam Houk, Mike Wagner, Graham Middleton; tuba: Thomas Curry; timpani: Mike Ross; percussion: Jim Robl, Pete Schmeling, Paul Ristau; organ: Jeff Verkeilen; bagpipes: Rob McWilliam

Program

“O Come All Ye Faithful,” John Francis Wade, arranged by Phil Snedecor

“Canzone d’I Zampognari,” 17th century Sicilian, arranged by Berry

Como poden per sas culpas from ‘Cantigas de Santa Maria’”

“The Holly and the Ivy,” traditional, arranged by Herbert Sumsion, organ solo

“Silent Night,” Franz Xaver Gruber, trombone quartet

“The Wexford Carol,” traditional, arranged by Phil Snedecor

“In the Bleak Midwinter,” Gustav Holst, arranged by Berry

“Amazing Grace,” John Newton, arranged by Ward

“Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen,” Johann Sebastian Bach, arranged by Greenbaum

“The First Noel,” traditional, arranged by Ring

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne, arranged by Berry

Christmas work variations by Arnold Schoenberg, organ solo

“Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day,” 16th century English, arranged by Raymond Burkhart

“Carol of the Bells,” Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych, arranged by Ring, trombone quartet

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” Felix Mendelssohn, arranged by Anthony DiLorenzo

Encore: “Sleigh Ride,” Leroy Anderson

A notable flex of muscle came in the Bach work. Joyous, festive and bright, the work is a richly detailed tapestry requiring quickness of the players to keep up with Bach’s excited brain waves. It was one of the program’s most-impressive pieces.

“Amazing Grace” with bagpipes also stirred the senses, with the cry of the pipes over deep, resonating sounds.

BOOM exploded a drum to open “Como poden per sas culpas from ‘Cantigas de Santa Maria,” one of the intriguing pieces for its lively dance-like swirling rhythms.

“Carol of the Bells” was one of the works that was familiar – but not. The arrangement opens with a trumpet fanfare and then moves into a rhythm (not quite to the familiar strains yet) that leads to the tuba in a slow stroll that brings the piece to the familiar sounds that eventually find the horns producing bell-like sounds. (Music is music. If you think describing music is easy, try it some time.)  

In most pieces, Cabrera conducted with his usual flair. For a few, he sat in the audience and let the musicians take care of themselves – kind of run on automatic, though what they were doing was hardly automatic for all the complexities.

It was a program with zing (with occasional notes veering from true course) in one of the architectural treats of the city. A nice, nice evening.

The concert was sold out.

VENUE: The 490-seat St. John the Evangelist Church was built in 1911-1915. It is Romanesque Revival in style. The structure was designed by Henry Foeller, one of Green Bay’s leading architects of the era. The interior gives an impression of solidity and strength. The side walls of the nave are supported by buttresses. Large wheel windows light the nave and east and west transepts. The floor pattern is shaped like a cross. Look up and you see ribbed vaults (which enhance acoustics) and Corinthian capitals on columns. For this Christmas season, a large wreath is suspended from the ceiling and is parallel to the floor, with large ribbons of purple and mauve sweeping from four angles. The 20 stained-glass windows were designed and executed by Charles Lorin and imported from Chartres, France. The windows express religious themes and also represent scenes from Alsace in eastern France, with such touches as the French-inspired Statue of Liberty in one window. The parish dates to 1831 in the era of French-Canadians, native people, fur traders and soldiers from Fort Howard.

REST OF SEASON: Feb. 8, “Great Music from Olde World” (Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach); March 8, “Great Music from Around the World” (including Italy, China and Spain); and April 12, “Ode to Joy!” (Ludwig van Beethoven).

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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