When the audience heard a pop, crackle and fizz, smelled faint smoke and saw sparks flash, their attention drifted momentarily from soloist Liz Story at the piano to a fuming light mounted at the top of the stage.

But Story, undaunted by the crackling stage light above her, continued to play passionately.At the conclusion of her piece, a fan in the front row shouted that a light was on fire.

"Oh, it's a fire," she commented dryly. "I'd like to play a hymn now."

The audience laughed.

Story was having fun with the audience, but she wasn't kidding.

The lamp burned itself out (without causing any noticeable damage) as Story played her powerful, solemn composition, "Church of Trees," which she described as a hymn to trees. She told the audience she lives on the edge of a forest and admonished them to prevent forest fires.

Story's grace and humor in handling a potentially awkward situation and her successful rapport with the audience were indicative of the unusually attentive mood during the Winter Solstice Concert Saturday at Kingsbury Hall.

If there had been a real threat of a fire, the audience likely would have been reluctant to leave their seats.

The audience was obviously enthralled with the stunning musicianship of Story and the other artists - the Nightnoise quartet and pianist Philip Aaberg.

The evening of seasonal music performed by these Windham Hill artists smoothly flowed in various combinations from solo to duet to quartet to sextet.

The successful blend of talents created a rare texture and richness to the performance that was remarkably engaging and entertaining. The concert was not typical. The audience was kept guessing which direction the music would go - from poignancy, to romanticism, from snappy jigs to raucous rock 'n' roll.

To say the blend of talents worked well, however, is not to imply a lack of individual style. In fact, it was the diversity of style that made the concert so much fun.

Story's solo compositions were pensive, intense, complex - showcasing her classical training and technical discipline. Her music is marked by thoughtful sadness. Melancholy but not depressing. Her piece "Another Shore," which explores "losing sight of the shore" in order to gain new vision, is evocative and sobering.

She describes her style as resembling "a dance with the piano."

Nightnoise skillfully creates an appealing blend of Irish folk with jazz and chamber music. The melody and rhythm grab your attention because you can't quite place a label on this brand of Celtic/American tunes, but you know it works because you're tapping your feet.

Three members of Nightnoise are natives of Ireland - guitarist Michael O'Dohmnaill, keyboardist Triona Ni Dhomnaill and Flautist Brian Drunning. Violinist Bill Oskay is the only American in the band.

Ni Dhomnaill's haunting, brogue-filled vocals delighted the audience. She related writing one song on a hot summer day in California. The song, surprisingly, is the mellow, melodious ballad, "White Snow." Another of her compositions, "Snow is Lightly Falling," featured on the new Winter Solstice III album, received enthusiastic applause.

Van Morrison and Dunning performed a spirited rendition of "Moondance."

Aaberg told the audience that the winter solstice to him represents a time of the year when, "Things start to get brighter."

His versatility ranged from his affecting piece, "High Plain: Christmas on the High Line" to the rollicking interpretation of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite."

His hilarious, irreverent interpretation of this classic was filled with boogie-woogie and rock 'n' roll. Stomping his feet and jumping up and down as he played, he was clearly having a great time. And audience shared his joy as they applauded wildly.

The Windham performers joined to sing a series of beautiful Irish folk songs as a melodic and peaceful conclusion to their winter solstice show.