Christmas 2008

Christmas 2008

Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st December 2008

A very English Christmas concert

South Chiltern Choral Society’s concert at Chiltern Edge School was billed The English Christmas, a very appropriate title as it was the 50th anniversary of the death of Vaughan Williams, a prominent English composer of choral music.

With music by John Rutter, James Whitbourn and Bob Chilcott as well as Vaughan Williams, this was a very English concert as well as a very enjoyable one. As usual, there was a children’s choir — from Caversham Primary School — and some jazz, a passion of musical director Gwyn Arch. Concerts at Christmas are always challenges for choirs: something familiar (carols), something new (a world premiere of a carol) and something musically demanding but interesting to the audience so that people leave with a sense of having started the season properly, having been entertained.

The main piece in the first half was composed for BBC series Son Of God, which was an investigation by Jeremy Bowen into the life of Jesus Christ. The original music had been supplemented by the Latin Mass and was accompanied by keyboard and soprano saxophone — an extraordinary combination of ancient chants and contemporary improvisation that wouldn’t be expected to mix but did.

The tremendous playing of Quentin Bryar on saxophone made this a memorable experience. There were some very haunting passages and then suddenly we were brought back into the 21st century.

In the second half, the school choir sang a selection of carols, including a very amusing performance of The 12 Days of Christmas and the very first performance of Mr Gold, Mr Myrrh And Frankie, an off-beat version of the story of the Magi, both of which were enthusiastically appreciated by the capacity audience. As a celebration of Vaughan Williams’ works, the choir performed Fantasia On Christmas Carols, a mix of four regional carols woven with other well-known tunes.

The choir was joined by Callum Thorpe, a student at the Royal Academy with a powerful baritone voice, which was one of the highlights of the concert. He had already entertained us in the first half with different styles of Christmas music.

The choir sang well with a complement of nearly 100 singers. The audience also sang reasonably and everyone went home happy, having started the festive season well.  At the very end, there was a taste of what is to come in 2009 — a Gwyn Arch arrangement of He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands, part of the Sounds American concert to be performed in July.

John Evans

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