Christmas 2018

Review of Christmas Concerts 2018

The Choir’s chair, Dotty Watkins, set the mood with her warm and witty welcome to the audience at the start of the evening. She and the choir then launched into Handel’s rousing And the Glory of the Lord from his Messiah. And we were off! Lots of contrasting items, some gentle, others boisterous, kept everyone’s attention, so that when it was the audience’s turn, there was a great crescendo of sound. The temptation simply to offer up the usual round of well-known Christmas hymns, carols and other seasonal pieces is something the Choir resists. The familiar is leavened by the new or not so familiar. Hence items which were either very little known (such as Charpentier’s Salve Puerule) or completely new (as with the first performance of Michael Coe’s delightful Thou little tiny Child ). Towards the end of the concert there was another unfamiliar item: a jolly medley of popular American songs arranged by the late (and very English) Goff Richards.

The sound of a brass band is hugely evocative for those, like your reviewer, who spend much of their time in the south: it is the warm and reassuring call of the north. This musical magic was provided by Essentially Brass, newcomers to these concerts. Comprising two trumpets, a trombone, a French horn, a tuba and percussion, this talented sextet entertained with a variety of songs covering a range of styles. No matter the piece the result was unmistakably and splendidly brass. Particularly striking and very contrasting in tone and mood were an arrangement of a late medieval song called Gaudate Natus Christus Est, a lively medley of tunes in an arrangement (by one of the sextet) entitled The Many Sounds of Christmas, and a delightful rendition of Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer (with spoken contributions by the two trumpeters and appropriate sound effects from the percussionist). It was all joyously entertaining. They will surely make a return visit one day.

The cheerful theme set by Dotty in her opening remarks was echoed by jokey comments by trombonist Rich Walker between the items he and his colleagues had chosen to play. It all added to the fun. Not to be outdone, the Choir’s quick-witted musical director, Andrew Marples, laced his informative introductory remarks on what we were about to hear with his own brand of light-hearted banter including a witticism about the importance of watching the conductor. Clever and experienced musician that he is, Andrew knows the importance of keeping his singers relaxed and in good humour as well as keeping them on their toes musically and attentive to his directions. He more than succeeded in this and the result was a happy evening of festive music-making. Despite absences on account of coughs, colds and other seasonal ailments, the Choir gave a good account of themselves. You would not have known that there were any gaps in their ranks as they opened their lungs to “…wish [us] a merry Christmas” as the evening came to a close.

No review is complete without a word about the two accompanists, Bob Girdler on the organ and Carol Reid on the piano (when not singing as part of the Choir). In some of the pieces they do much more than set the key and provide some backing. They have major parts requiring very considerable technical skill. The Choir is fortunate to have two such accomplished musicians to add their contributions.

Bill Blackburn