Holiday programs, understandably, travel the same basic paths. The trick is to retread time-worn audience favorites in ways that make them sound fresh and also introduce an unexpected item or two for spice.
The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra's annual music-of-the-season presentation offers such a mix. The results don't add up to a thoroughly satisfying sum, but component parts make for a pleasant celebration.
In novel - you might even say daring - fashion, the program starts with a gentle, leisurely work by Richard Wagner, not the first composer you associate with the Christmas season (Easter, yes, thanks to his Christian-centric opera Parsifal). Then again, Wagner fits almost any religion-related occasion, since he thought he was God.
Siegfried Idyll, written as a Christmas/birthday gift for Wagner's wife, synthesizes themes from the third installment of the composer's Ring Cycle but avoids epic-opera gesture. The mood is pastoral and comforting, qualities that BCO music director Markand Thakar effectively emphasized Wednesday night at Second Presbyterian Church (where the program will be repeated Sunday).
Unfortunately, for all of the conductor's sensitive phrase-shaping, the performance was hindered by wiry, tonally not-quite-unanimous violins and bumpy horn-playing. A surprising number of rough edges cropped up elsewhere during the concert, too, although the overall spirit of the music-making proved steady.
From the traditional holiday reservoir, the program included a taste of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker (the Overture, nicely paced, mostly nimble in execution). A less common choice was a colorful medley of tunes from Victor Herbert's operetta Babes in Toyland. Thakar underlined the composer's debt to Johann Strauss with deft rhythmic touches.
Rachel Inselman, a soprano who has collaborated with Thakar's other orchestra, the Duluth Superior Symphony in Minnesota, put considerable sparkle into the proceedings with another dash of Herbert, the amusing prima donna send-up "Art is Calling for Me" from The Enchantress. She used her bright, flexible voice just as winningly in arias from Strauss' Die Fledermaus and Rossini's The Barber of Seville.
The soprano also was featured in a couple of arias from Handel's Messiah. Her imaginative ornamentation and eloquent phrasing in "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" proved particularly impressive, even at a terribly sluggish tempo.
In addition to a brief orchestral nod to Hanukkah, the evening also had room for a carol sing-along (I wasn't yet in enough of a holiday groove to stay for that).
Where: Second Presbyterian Church, 4200 St. Paul St.
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $28, $23 for seniors and students, $8 for children 12 and under