Christmas 2022

Review of Christmas Concerts 2022

Christmas concerts usually follow a trusted format of popular carols interspersed with wine and mince pies. And very welcome these are. The skill of the musical director is to add something extra and introduce some new tunes to old favourites. Baslow Choir is adept at this, as its 2022 Christmas concerts showed.

Starting rousingly with Veni Immanuel by David Önac, a composer with local connections, the choir later featured three quirky local carols, from Foolow, Eyam and Coal Aston, each with familiar words set to unfamiliar tunes. No less engaging was an arrangement by Andrew Marples of words from Wind in the Willows set to music by Michael Head. Another highlight, which almost had the choir dancing, was Bob Chilcott’s richly syncopated Sparrows’ Carol. Other slightly unusual arrangements of the familiar were Ding Dong Merrily on High, Joy to the World and Silent Night. Choir tenor Glyn Herron sang a melodious solo in O Little Town of Bethlehem. There was another ear-worm in John Gardner’s Holly and the Ivy and an unfamiliar and jaunty Wassail by Jonathan Willcocks (the talented son of a famous musical father). Handel, Mark Sirett and John Rutter were also represented. The evening concluded with a very
challenging Chilcott arrangement of Good King Wenceslas.

That is simply to recite the choir’s programme. The main joy was to listen to the choir singing their hearts out, some of it unaccompanied and all of it (well almost all of it) performed with a fine attention to both pitch and timing. Despite their depleted numbers, the men managed to hold their own but how nice it would be if they could persuade others to join them.

The something extra was the sparkling flute-playing of Katy Strudwick. Accompanied by Andrew Marples on the piano, she entranced her audience during the first half with some Mozart, followed by two very evocative pieces, Hypnosis, an arrangement by Ian Clarke, and Morricone’s celebrated Gabriel’s Oboe (arranged for flute) from the 1986 film The Mission. The name may not be familiar but the tune will be. Katy returned after the interval to transport us
to another time and place with Vaughan Williams’s bewitching Fantasia on Greensleeves. We remained in the land of fantasy with three of the brilliant dances from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and then brought back to earth, to steamy Seville to be precise, with items from Bizet’s Carmen. Throughout, Katy performed with great assurance and unaffected pleasure. She could have played all night as far as her audience was concerned.

Small things make all the difference on these occasions: the cheery welcome from Dotty Watkins OBE (the choir’s chair) at the start and her attentive helpers in the interval, the dextrous accompaniment by Carol Barnes on the piano and Andrew Cummings on the organ, the informative programme notes and, above all, the wit, enthusiasm and panache of Andrew Marples, Musical Director of this friendly choir. It might have been cold and dark outside and
not exactly hot inside (understandably in times of sky-high fuel costs) but it was an evening of delightful entertainment well worth the journey from the warmth of one’s home.

Bill Blackburn