Christmas rolls round again with the first of five festive concerts, plus deep snow outside creating a depleted audience and tales of heroic travelling efforts. However, the stalwarts of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra turned up trumps, along with three splendid CBSO choruses.
Unfamiliar pieces are anticipated throughout the programme but particular problems rose when the lights were lowered, as the audience hoped to decipher the text from comprehensive notes during these offerings. Very frustrating, especially as we were treated with enough illumination during time-honoured carols.
What a privilege to hear one of the finest choirs in Europe – our very own CBSO chorus, always committed to the music from the most thrilling jubilate to a whisper in the well-loved Christmas story.
The Snow by Alice (words) and Edward Elgar (music) is rarely heard but sweetly accessible; sensitively sung by the CBSO Youth Chorus. At times, however, there was worrying imbalance between orchestra, and particularly the Young Voices. Words were obviously articulated, but too often were indistinct behind the over-loud orchestra. Orchestra and conductor Simon Halsey obviously enjoyed The Joy of Christmas, a fun new work by choir member Gordon Thornett with his imaginative treatment of carols old and new. This contrasted with more serious contemporary works teasing with fidgety rhythms and strange words. Something for everyone.
What a treat to see an orchestra letting its hair down as in Sleigh Ride. Lots of sleigh bells, antlers, hats and glitter including presenter Ben Fogle strutting his stuff as Rudolph. Ben interspersed the concert with readings, letters and poems; obviously enjoying himself, much to everyone’s delight.
Out into the bleak midwinter once more, but in a positive mood for further celebrations and a merry Christmas to all.
Rating * * * *