Gift of Great Meadows

Keith Lockhart guaranteed we’d all get in the holiday spirit. And by the end of the Boston Pops opening- night concert at Symphony Hall yesterday evening, he had delivered.

It might not have been the typical, over-the-top Pops spectacle – there have been plenty of those in the recent past. Sure, there was a Santa Claus appearance and the obligatory singalong, but this celebration was more about the music than anything else.

Lockhart simply may be stepping out from under the long shadows cast by his predecessors, the avuncular Arthur Fiedler and genial Hollywood superhero John Williams. And he’s doing it by programming more intriguing music – something he’s always done well.

Arrangements by Brian Kelly (“Improvisations on Christmas Carols”) and Leroy Anderson’s timeless “A Christmas Festival” offered the substantial holiday fare often lacking during this extended music season. Look, it doesn’t always have to be dumb stuff like “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.”

This Pops season, running through Dec. 26, also has a gospel flair to it, with soloists Renese King and Gabrielle Goodman sharing the load for the bulk of the performances. King got the call opening night, offering her own subdued musical grace.

King sang sweetly through a medley of spirituals, along with an introspective “Do You Hear What I Hear?” to set a warm, festive mood.

After intermission, Lockhart brought out a celebrity narrator, Jim Dale. Onstage, he’s known for bringing to life dozens of roles as a Shakespearean player for the British National Theatre. To another generation, he is the voice of the “Harry Potter [website]” audiobooks. We’re leaving out a bunch of Broadway hits, such as “Barnum,” numerous television appearances, and also being the first recording artist to work with Beatles producer George Martin. And, oh yeah, the Tony and Grammy awards and Oscar nomination.

cw-2 Last night he performed Clement Moore’s timeless “Night Before Christmas,” which the Pops is recording this season to accompany children’s illustrator (and longtime BSO supporter) Jan Brett’s best-selling book. With Brett’s colorful illustrations displayed on a screen overhead, Dale, Lockhart and the orchestra shook the holiday spirit out of any still-grumpy holdouts.

The orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus – stripped down to 50 or so singers, but still the grandest ensemble in town – ventured into more solid music, including Anderson’s ubiquitous “Sleigh Ride.” King was plagued by a poor miking but still rang out with a return to the stage, rendering “Children Go Where I Send Thee” a holiday favorite and gospel rouser.

Then Santa came, and everyone sang a bit of carols, and, well, you know how the rest goes. Happy holidays.