Musical Director: David Le Page
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
There are many different types of Christmas celebration concert and Winter Wonderland was the sort that provides more breadth than depth, 15 named items in a programme of some 70 minutes, very accomplished playing in a variety of styles. It’s no wonder that, in the musicians’ biographies, one commented that since she graduated from the Royal College of Music, “she has been all over the place playing all sorts of music.”
Violinist David Le Page assembled a talented sextet of two violins, viola, cello, double bass and harp to play a programme that, in its mixture of the classics (or extracts from them), arrangements of traditional material and popular songs, resembled a more contemporary version of the old Palm Court concerts. The stage at the Howard Assembly Room was converted into a sort of bandstand, with festive foliage and lighting effects – yes, we could have been in the Palm Court of the Grand Hotel at Christmas time.
Running through the whole evening was Corelli’s superb Christmas Concerto. In a normal concert dividing it up into three bite-sized chunks spaced throughout the programme would have been heresy. Here it worked well and the ensemble brought all the style and attack you could wish for to the performance, with an over-fussy introduction to the wonderful final Pastorale the only blemish.
Another recurring feature of the concert was David Le Page’s own arrangements. His hankering towards Irish music was obvious, not only in a Winter Ceilidh Medley, with his folky fiddling to the fore, but even in an atmospheric arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter. Oddly, the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York emerged minus the devilry.
Otherwise the instrumental pieces ranged from Sakamoto’s film theme Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence to an in-your-face version of the first movement of Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Though the concert was presented as part of Opera North’s programme for the Howard Assembly Room, the only direct link with Opera North was soprano Amy Freston, a regular with the company in recent years. Naturally she had to be as versatile as the sextet, her four numbers ranging from a resoundingly joyful Rejoice greatly from Handel’s Messiah to putting up her umbrella for White Christmas while “snow” fell on the front row of the audience. A word of praise, incidentally, for the instrumental interlude between the sung verses of Silent Night – all delicate harp and shimmering strings.
Reviewed on 17 December 2016 | Image: Contributed