Christmas Spectacular – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: John Rigby

Reviewer: James Garrington

Christmas in Birmingham – and what better way to get into the festive spirit than walking through the German Market to Symphony Hall for one of their annual seasonal concerts.

The London Concert Orchestra opens proceedings, presenting Leroy Anderson’s overture A Christmas Festival, an arrangement of carols and Christmas music which sets the mood right from the beginning and paves the way for compère Alan Titchmarsh. Titchmarsh has been presenting concerts like this for many years and seems totally at ease with his rôle. He is a pleasant and engaging compère who keeps things moving along nicely with little anecdotes, snippets of history and the occasional joke – and a poem about a Christmas Cracker, that he wrote himself, that is both comic and poignant.

The orchestra is joined on stage by the Canzonetta Choir, which provides vocal backing throughout, but also gets to show off its own skills with some carols – The Holly and the Ivy and the popular Sussex Carol both feature as well as a lovely unaccompanied version of Silent Night, one of the highlights of the evening which shows off its harmonies well – helped by the wonderful acoustics of Symphony Hall. They aren’t the only ones who get to sing carols though, as there is lots of opportunity for audience participation too, including the usual Twelve Days of Christmas complete with actions.

Adding a more operatic touch to the vocals are Anna Patalong and Nico Darmanin. Together they present the moving Act One Finale from Puccini’s La Bohème, before lightening the mood with a sparkling Brindisi from La Traviata. Darmanin is an outstanding tenor, his voice complemented nicely by Patalong’s glorious soprano. We get to enjoy their voices individually too, with Darmanin presenting the favourite O Holy Night and Patalong’s beautiful Bach/Gounod Ave Maria.

In between the singing, there’s lots from the orchestra too. We hear excerpts from The Nutcracker, perennial favourite Sleigh Ride and Waldteufel’s popular Skater’s Waltz with dancers The Jingle Belles adding a touch of glamour with an elegant Viennese Waltz, before the mood of the evening changes with the final vocalist, Laura Tebbutt. Tebbutt contrasts well with the choral and operatic feel of the rest of the concert, bringing a more up-tempo and pop style, including the popular When a Child is Born, Frosty The Snowman and Merry Christmas, Everyone.

This is a well-judged programme full of contrasts. The evening winds up with We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a display of fireworks, and if you’re not in the Christmas mood when you go into Symphony Hall, it’s pretty certain you will be by the time you come out.

Reviewed on 23 December 2017 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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