Powerful pairing revives spirit of season
By Phil Kloer
Making its nation PBS debut tonight, “Atlanta Symphony Gospel Christmas,” produced by GPTV, combines the mighty sounds of the All-Atlanta Chorus, 150 African-Americans dressed in ivory robes, and the nearly all-white Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, dressed in black formal wear. You can ponder the visual (and metaphorical) contrasts, but only at the expense of not being swept up in the sound and the spirit.
Also on the roster are the Pointer Sisters, who get top billing in name only. No disrespect to the sisters, who got their start in the joyous boisterousness of black church music, but they’ve moved too far into pop, and they just can’t hold their own against the thunder of the All-Atlanta Chorus. When director Sallie B. Parrish brings in the chorus behind them, they threaten to blow the Pointers almost literally off the stage.
But many viewers who might not seek out less-than-household names will tune in to see the Pointers, so whatever gets them into the tent. Once they’re in, they’ll see and hear a ravishing 90 minutes of traditional African-American spirituals and serious Christmas music that completely eschews any pops attempts to get cute with your “Jingle Bells” and such.
Soloists Charles Bullock, Veronica Parrish and MacClendon Browne build the momentum toward the special’s two highlights, which come in the last half-hour. Soprano Marjorie Jacobs’ “O Come Let Us Adore Him” (also known as “O Come All Ye Faithful”) spins dizzyingly higher, until by the end she is scatting Bible verses; for the first time in the evening, the chorus itself bursts into spontaneous applause.
It seems almost an impossible act to top, but tenor Johnny Brown does on “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” which he turns into a sweat-drenched, come-to-Jesus revival shout that threatens to bring down the walls of Symphony Hall, where the special was taped earlier this month.