CentralChoralConcertFestive 17/18Live Music/GigMusicReview

The Sixteen: Glory to the Christ Child – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Harry Christophers CBE

Reviewer: John Kennedy

The bleak mid-winter snow-blitz has taken its toll on audience attendance this evening. Nevertheless, evening-gowned, white dickie-bowed and tuxedoed, The Sixteen elegantly complement the grandeur of the Symphony Hall. Matching solemnity with panache and dash it’s evident they’re up for tugging and teasing at Harry Christopher’s guiding reins to celebrate a Hodie rodeo choral sleigh-ride across the centuries. It’s an eclectic programme featuring late Renaissance polyphony and motets together with traditional rustic and contemporary carols.

The ritual, tonal mantra of Christmas Eve – The Lord At First Did Adam Make suggests pan-European antecedents, possibly drawing on the Judaic, if not earlier influences. Meanwhile, the ageless, now ubiquitous seasonal Somerset Carol, Come all you worthy gentlemen, is as winter solstice, cider-steamed English as could be.

John Joubert’s adaptation of the medieval anonymous carol text, There is no rose (of such virtue, as is the rose that bare Jesu) is understandably much appreciated by the partisan audience, him being a Birmingham-adopted composer. Even more so given his insightful sympathy for the poignant simplicity of the text, its evergreen rustic sincerity wrought with passion.

Though centuries apart, both Palestrina’s lyrical O Magnum Mysterium and Poulenc’s rustic, metaphorical aestheticism in La Bonne Neige share the emphatic immediacy in seeking spiritual validation, either from shepherd or King, of the Saviour’s birth.

Whether sophisticated or rustic, lullaby or wassail, perhaps the programme’s most endearing sticky-pudding, silver sixpence surprise is Charles Wood’s 1920s arrangement of the traditional Past three o’clock. It’s a deliciously addictive, tick-tock-tucked-up in bed on Christmas Eve, clockwork ménage of wood-smoke and spiced delight that takes the heart captive.

Reviewed on 11 December 2017 | Image: Simon Jay Price

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