ISO's Classical Christmas ends a 17-year span 

Conductor laureate Raymond Leppard concludes his annual 18-concert series on a high note

click to enlarge ISO Conductor laureate Raymond Leppard
  • ISO Conductor laureate Raymond Leppard

Since 1998 ISO patrons and non-patrons alike have enjoyed Christmas-related music from many different eras, sharing the Yuletide spirit at points more distant from the everyday--all day--commercial holiday fare. Classical Christmas has been a once-a-year brainchild of our conductor laureate Raymond Leppard, launched three years before he retired from his ISO music director post. Now, though he is "retiring" this series, he is not retiring his conductor laureate post, and is reportedly making plans to conduct one or two concerts in 2016. At age 88 and having undergone some reconstructive surgery, he moves more slowly, conducts less often, but when on the podium, his beat is as strong as ever.

In combing through my reviews of past Classical Christmases, two stand out for me: (1) the very first one in 1998 featuring the world's most beautiful soprano voice of our current era (i.m.h.o.) in the person of Kathleen Battle, and (2) the 2010 concert in which Leppard conducted Wagner's Siegfried Idyll with orchestral forces almost as small as when it received its world premiere on Christmas morning 1870 as a birthday gift to his wife Cosima. I confess to getting moist eyes just a little in experiencing Leppard's version.

One mainstay of past C.C.s is the presence of the 22-singer Apollo's Voice, directed by IU faculty alumnus Jan Harrington, and his people returned for this last concert. They first joined the chamber-sized orchestra in a simply scored but delightful Mass No. 2 in G, D. 167 of a very young Schubert. All parts of the Ordinary--Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei--were presented with six vocal soloists peeking out on different occasions from the group. Both singers and players melded together to continue the high standards our conductor laureate always sets for them.

click to enlarge Soprano Joelle Harvey
  • Soprano Joelle Harvey

Another recurring C.C. tradition is the presentation of Leppard arranged carols from a variety of sources, sung this time by soprano Joélle Harvey--this time six of them, bridged with chimes. Leppard titled his arrangement Past Three O'clock: A Sequence of Carols. Though Harvey projected well, she tended to shriek with an overly opulent delivery in the loud passages.

Apollo's voice returned to close the program with a Leppard arrangement of Hugo Wolf's Schlafendes Jesuskind (Sleeping Christ-child). And we had yet another example of instrumentalists and choristers playing together and staying together.

Three wholly instrumental works were included, the program beginning with the "Air" and the famous "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from Christoph Willibald Gluck's (1714-1787) opera Orfeo ed Euridice, whose beauty is another tear-jerker. After the break, the second half began with the Concerto Grosso in B-flat, Op. 3 No. 2 by Handel. Though well played, this was the least distinctive program offering. Dec. 12

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