Christmas 2023

Review of Christmas Concert 2023

Given the time of the year, Baslow Choir’s Christmas Concerts can expect bad weather but the conditions confronting this year’s concert on Saturday 9 December took some beating: howling winds, rain sheeting down, rivers sluicing across road and pavement, and a temperature not much above freezing. The contrast between that and the warmth and atmosphere inside St Anne’s Church could scarcely have been greater. A choir in excellent voice, a superb soloist and an imaginative programme made the struggle to get there thoroughly worthwhile.

The striking thing about the choir’s performance was that they knew the words and music of each piece they sang, were alive to the tempi and dynamics demanded by the choir’s musical director, Andrew Marples, and, as importantly, obviously enjoyed what they were doing. True it is that most of the items were well known (one had been composed for the choir by Andrew for its first performance in 2009) but some were new, for example, Michael Haydn’s O Holy Night and some, like William Mathias’s Sir Christemas, were musically very challenging. Particular highlights in the varied fare offered were David Willcocks’s arrangement of Masters in this Hall, a traditional French carol, which brought the first half to an end, and Goff Richards’s jolly arrangement of a medley of American pieces which wound up the evening.

Interspersed between the choral items in each half were performances by the concert’s guest soloist, Rachel Abbott. With a powerful voice which was as clear as a bell, Rachel filled the church with magnificent sound and, despite a slight throat infection, impressive top notes. Accompanied by Andrew Marples at the piano, she began with Rejoice Greatly from Handel’s Messiah (a rousing taster for the Choir’s forthcoming Spring 2024 concert In Sheffield). Next were two delightful pieces by Thomas Dunhill and Peter Warlock (and so very English in mood) and concluding with a beautiful rendition of Adolphe Adam’s evergreen O Holy Night (same title as the Haydn work sung by the choir but in unmistakable 19th century style). It was Rachel’s second-half singing which really sent shivers down the spine: her performances of four chart-beating popular American Songs were electric. It is invidious to select the best of them. In your reviewer’s opinion, however, the laurels go to Have yourself a merry little Christmas first sung in the early 1940s by Judy Garland for whom Rachel’s rendition was a worthy match. Nor was Rachel above joining the choir in Holst’s version of Rosetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter: she sang one of the verses while the choir hummed the tune.

The packed church departed buzzing with contentment when it was all over. The winter storm was still blowing but who cared? The interval refreshments (wine and mince pies) helped (and were appreciated). As did the characteristic good humour of the choir’s Chair Dotty Watkins OBE and the skilled direction and amusing asides of Andrew Marples. Thanks also go to Chris Flint on the piano (with Carol Barnes on the piano for the Friday concert at Curbar Church) and Andrew Cummings on the organ.

Bill Blackburn