Conductor: Adrian Lucas
Reviewer: James Garrington
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the regular Symphony Hall Christmas Festival season – and at its heart, the celebrity-led concert of Christmas music and carols. This year we have Aled Jones at the helm, as the London Concert Orchestra and City of Birmingham Choir get everyone in the festive mood with a programme of well-known – and less well-known – seasonal music.
Opening proceedings we have an item from a real Christmas favourite, The Nutcracker, the orchestra presenting an energetic Trepak before the audience get to join in with a sing-along of The First Nowell. This is only one of a number of audience participation carols through the evening, as favourites such as O Little Town and Hark the Herald crop up at regular intervals.
Jones is a friendly and relaxed presenter, and clearly a very popular figure with the audience – and as an accomplished singer himself, he gets to join in too. He shows a lovely rich voice as he leads the choir in the beautiful Darke arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter. Joining him on stage are two further soloists – tenor Jonathan Antoine, who became a national sensation after his appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, and treble Lucas Pinto, who both get to sing two numbers.
First up is Pinto, leading the choir as is traditional in the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City before joining Jones in a duet of Walking in the Air from The Snowman, Pinto’s voice soaring beautifully above the orchestra in the song that first made Jones famous thirty years ago. Antoine also gets to sing two favourites, leading off with a controlled Bach/Gounod version of Ave Maria before joining the choir in what was Britain’s favourite carol 11 years running, O Holy Night.
This is an evening of variety, and among the popular music are a few less well-known pieces. Here the choir come into their own with conductor Adrian Lucas’ pick – Il est Né, and Chilcott’s Nova! Nova! lead into a gentle Austrian lullaby Still, Still, Still, and an impressive Bendedicamus Domino. The City of Birmingham Choir is itself one of the stars of the evening, displaying some beautiful control and lush harmonies. its unaccompanied Silent Night ranks as one of the high points as the superb Symphony Hall acoustics carry the sound clearly to the far reaches of the hall.
Underpinning everything is the orchestra of course, and what a treat it is to hear the Symphony Hall organ used in a concert alongside the London Concert Orchestra. Having opened with Trepak, they give us another Nutcracker favourite later on with harpist Susan Blair coming into her own in Waltz of the Flowersand leading the choir in a swinging Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with a hint of bossa nova adding an interesting touch.
Add in a few cracker jokesand an amusing version of The Twelve Days of Christmasfeaturing an everlasting turkey, and you get an entertaining musical feast to get everyone in the mood for Christmas.
Reviewed on 19December 2015 | Image: Contributed