In its 38th year, the “Magic of Christmas,” the annual holiday celebration presented by the Portland Symphony Orchestra, once again has gotten things right.

There is a bit less obvious dazzle than last year, when guest acrobats from the Cirque de la Symphonie performed high above the Merrill Auditorium stage as part of the program, but the soaring instrumental and vocal music, colorful lights and positive spirit were more than enough to make this year’s show another holiday treat.

Two takes on a sleigh ride theme established both the sophisticated and folksy charm of the program. Prokofiev’s “Troika,” a short piece the Russian composer wrote for a film, succeeded in establishing the exhilaration of a bracing trip through the snow in a sleigh pulled by three horses. Later, during the traditional “Sleigh Ride,” ever popular at the “Magic of Christmas” shows, the orchestra and chorus donned Santa hats and antlers to create a more playful ambiance.

The numbers performed by guest singer Suzanne Nance likewise traversed a musical distance between formal and popular appeal. On “O, ce veste minunata,” Nance applied her classically trained soprano to a Romanian Christmas carol. Later, she brought considerable warmth to the more familiar “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Susie Pepper, another impressive guest in the program, stayed in a popular vein with “All I Want for Christmas is You,” a Mariah Carey tune, and later gained the attention of the many youngsters in the near-capacity crowd with a rousing rendition of “Let It Go” from the megahit “Frozen.”

The two singers joined forces on a new medley based on rock and popular songs that include the word “Magic” in their titles.

A rousing “Fanfare and Flourishes For a Festive Occasion,” featuring the PSO brass section and Ray Cornils at the Kotzschmar Organ, began the second half of the roughly two-hour performance. Imaginative lighting and stained-glass décor added a distinctive touch to a series of sacred pieces that followed.

With Nicolas Dosman sharing conducting duties with Robert Moody, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” led to the return of Nance for a moving “O Holy Night.” The “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah followed and was particularly stirring when the soprano voices, among the dozens of singers in the chorus, reached ever higher.

Moody, who is in his last season at the helm of the PSO, was his usual affable self, cracking a couple of corny jokes, leading a sing-along and adding his own solo voice to an inspiring “My Grown Up Christmas List.”

His musical gifts to the state will be remembered.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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