No other time of the year is as musically formalized as Christmas. From Bing Crosby to
, the repertoire is so narrow that what should be cheering you up works on your nerves instead.
That's why A Christmas Concert From Norway, which airs at 7 Saturday night on WYBE (Channel 35 for broadcast) is worth seeking out: It exudes deep-winter calm. The usual traditional music is rendered with restraint, taste, and sincerity. Snow is abundant. So is charisma, with the spirited Canadian opera star Measha Brueggergosman and attractive Princess Martha Louise, who, without the slightest irony, recalls Christmases past in sentences beginning, "When I was a little princess . . . ."
Shot only weeks ago at the Vang Church in the smallish city of Hamar (a venue for the 1994 Winter Olympics), the show may also be the beginning of an annual succession of Christmas in Norway concerts. Urban Norway has become so Americanized that they know what we want to see and hear.
Musically, the right ingredients are there: The Trondheim Soloists are a superb chamber orchestra; the local talent is such that imported stars are needed only for window dressing; and the surrounding landscape, generously sampled by director Harald Zwart, is the kind of Christmas that people dream about but may not want to experience firsthand due to the subzero temperatures that come with it.
Travelogue elements are, indeed, prominent, and they alone are worth watching, with scenes shot often at dusk and the deep blues of day's end reproduced in the concert's cozy indoor lighting design. But just when the commentary (often charmingly stilted) starts heading into Christmas sentimentality, the princess steps in with all her quirks.
Speaking in British-accented English, she talks about how Viking ancestors wrapped tree bark around their ankles to stay warm. She also recalls cutting down her own Christmas tree and waking up on Christmas morning with a stocking at the foot of her bed. She believes a tree isn't truly decorated until the angel is added.
That last part is added with a special glint in her eye: Princess Martha Louise has gone public with her belief in angels and in her own psychic powers (Why not? She doesn't have to run for office). You could spent the rest of the show wondering if she'll broach that subject here. And she does, sort of: She recalls that her grandmother once told her to look for Christmas lights in the woods, not with her eyes but with her heart. And then she saw them.
The musical selections are hit chestnuts such as "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful," not just with Brueggergosman (who seems to be having a particularly wonderful time), but with Norway's entry in the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest, the tenor heartthrob Didrik Solli-Tangen. A more significant discovery may be Siri Kval Ødegård, a young soprano who sings the Handel aria "Lascia ch'io pianga." The brother and sister team of Mari and Hakon Samuelsen, both string players, also steps away from core Christmas repertoire with purely instrumental works, including isolated movements from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. The pace never lags. Nothing overstays its welcome.