Saturday, December 11th, 2004 : 01:00_

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Journal Arts Writer

The Boston Pops pulled into the Ryan Center last night with a special holiday treat -- a 17-year-old from New Zealand with the voice of an angel.

Hayley Westenra has yet to make a big splash in the United States. But based on her performance in Kingston last night, it's only a matter of time.

Westenra, who sang a half-dozen songs, including a haunting rendition of "I Wonder as I Wander," belongs to that hard-to-figure genre known as classical crossover. But for the Pops and conductor Keith Lockhart, she stuck pretty much to Christmas fare, including "Little Drummer Boy," and for an encore, a melting arrangement of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Dressed in a white gown, Westenra stood on an elevated platform amid a chorus of perhaps 50 voices as she sang her opening selections, which included a moving "Ave Maria" that had the bell-like clarity you might expect from an English schoolboy.

Westenra has one of those pure, unadulterated sounds that's somewhere between a boy soprano and a young lyric. Where the voice will go is anyone's guess, but for now it is ravishing, light, clean and almost vibratoless.

But enough about Westenra, who will be returning in April for a solo concert at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Last night was a time for sing-alongs, jazzy renditions of old standards and traffic jams.

The turnout for the concert was so huge that traffic was backed up bumper to bumper well west of the the Kingston railroad station.

Lockhart, wearing a red shirt and red socks (that resulted in a little baseball humor) opened the evening with "Joy to the World" and moved on to the the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.

But it was some of the less familiar music that was most memorable, such as John Rutter's tender "What Sweeter Music?" for chorus and orchestra. The first half of the concert concluded with a medley called Songs from the Hill Folk, which included Westenra's "I Wonder as I Wander," a jazzy "Kentucky Wassail" and to wrap things up, a lush "Go Tell It On the Mountain."

The Pops' Christmas bash is not all that different from most holiday offerings in terms of format -- a mix of religious music, carols and a tip of the baton to Hanukkah -- but there is something sumptuous about the Boston sound and something classy about its arrangements.

Just before the sing-along, Santa appeared at the back of the hall with a sack of gifts slung over his shoulder. Poor Santa, his best tree decorator is on extended leave. Oh, who's that, asked Lockhart. Martha Stewart, says Santa. All that was missing was the drum roll.

The cutest moment of the evening came when Bethany Seidel and her young daughter read "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus." Afterward, Lockhart scooped the little girl from the floor for a big hug.

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Article located by Keith S.
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