Swinging to the rhythms of the holiday

Special to The Times

“Celebrar,” the seasonal celebration launched last year by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, shows signs of becoming a Christmas fixture, a way to celebrate the holiday in an evening encompassing rhythms from all over the Western Hemisphere, performed by a band of Los Angeles’ finest jazz musicians and the superb singers of the Chorale.

Wednesday’s program (it was scheduled to be repeated Thursday) took awhile getting up to speed, in part because of erratic sound reproduction. But the arrival of Peruvian diva Eva Allyon kicked the evening into high gear, her irresistible combination of vocal dynamism and lyrical intensity vividly enlivening every note she sang. And when she was joined by singer Jose Aguilar, a gifted 18-year-old, the music displayed an almost palpable expansion of energy.

That expansion experienced yet another burst at the opening of the second half, when trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez, wearing his signature holiday vest, bounded on stage to lead the ensemble through a high-powered, merengue-driven version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” At that point, the program was virtually taken over by the percussion section and the horns (featuring saxophonists Justo Almario and Scheila Gonzalez, romping through traditional songs as well as “White Christmas” and “The Little Drummer Boy” (sung by the Chorale in Spanish and English), brilliantly swinging across rhythms ranging from the olodum of Brazil to the propulsive dance beats of Cuba.

The versatile Chorale singers worked smoothly through the varying demands of the evening. Their renderings of “Silent Night” -- gorgeously harmonized by arranger Roger Treece -- and “Ave Maria” contrasted dramatically with their adept handling of the riff-like call-and-response patterns of the more upbeat numbers.

As drummer Alex Acuna pointed out in his program notes, “Latin music” is a woefully inadequate, catch-all label for the extraordinarily diverse musical cultures of North and South America. To their credit, the L.A. Master Chorale, conductor Grant Gershon, arranger Treece and the program’s remarkable collection of world-class musicians opened an illuminating array of windows into this marvelously rich and engaging music.