Review of Christmas Concert 2017
Your reviewer had literally to tramp through snow and ice – and catch a lift from a choir member – to get to Baslow Choir’s Christmas Concert in Curbar Church. But it was worth the effort. The well-chosen medley of carols and readings, interspersed with the liquid sound of Plague o’ Bells and whoops of pleasure from an appreciative audience, were an appropriate way in which to start the Christmas 2017 festivities. The leavening provided by the interval wine and mince pies added to the seasonal spirit.
Mendelssohn’s Christus, an unfinished oratorio published after the composer’s untimely death, was the main choral piece in the first half. Members of the choir supplied the recitative and trio parts (melodiously sung by Janet Tipper, Brian Shaw, Robert Wright and Peter Skinner) and the full choir followed with a rousing chorus culminating in a marvellous Lutheran-style chorale which Mendelssohn had adapted from a composition by Nicolai. It made the listener wonder what might have been had Mendelssohn completed it. Seasonal carols, several of them arrangements by David Willcocks with others written or arranged by John Rutter and, in the case of two of the works, by the choir’s energetic conductor and music director, Andrew Marples (notably his lovely There is no Rose) accounted for the bulk of the choral element of the evening. The Willcocks arrangement of The Infant King and Reginald Jacques’ arrangement of Away in a Manger were very special, as were the challenging rhythms of John Rutter’s celebrated Shepherd’s Pipe Carol. New to your reviewer were three delightful Derbyshire carols. The excellent programme notes explained that two of the carols were once popular in Derbyshire pubs! The choir was in good voice throughout and – so important because this communicates itself to the audience – obviously enjoying it all.
Plague o’ Bells always please with the mellifluous sound of their many handbells and their marvellous technique. The physical energy and intense concentration required of the dozen or so performers is quite something to watch. The ensemble provided two selections of delightful and very varied pieces. The pleasure they give never wearies.
David Skinner and Brian Shaw delivered the readings (each with a keen sense of timing) and Chris Flint provided the piano accompaniment. Andrew Cummings was the organist and, as Andrew Marples mentioned, had to coax some very delicate playing out of an instrument designed only for hymns and psalms. Both instrumentalists were more than equal to the task.
Last a word of praise for members of the audience. When invited to participate – there were three opportunities to do so – they responded with gusto and the church was filled with sound. With the choir in full voice and the organ stops pulled out this was was community singing at its joyous best.