a review by Caroline Barker
Over the years the character of GCOS Christmas celebrations at St James has changed, as its musical directors have come and gone. Uniquely, however, and very specially, the spirit has remained and still remains true and generous to performers and audience alike. Just as pantomime dames break fourth walls in the theatre, so do GCOS on these special nights.
The baton has now passed to Rachel Wright, under whose meticulous and exemplary direction we were treated to a festive banquet of contrasting courses, combining the earnest with the joyful and merry, and in which all the generations were fully represented on the concert platform.
Special mention from this satisfied customer must go to the Children’s Choir who delighted us with their voices, their movement and their smiles. Martin Cordall’s arrangement of “Little Donkey” was particularly charming (not least with its nod to Mendelssohn’s donkey!), as was “Do You Hear What I Hear” after the interval.
Full marks too to the young soloists in the extracts from Saint-Saens’s Christmas Oratorio, telling the story of the shepherds watching over their flocks and the amazing events which occurred that night. The string playing from the orchestra was fine and sensitive, and when the full chorus burst into the furious raging of the people we were briefly in the sound world of Mendelssohn and Berlioz, as if magically combined.
The earnest world of the high baroque was represented in splendid renderings from the world of J S Bach and Handel, in which the trumpets sounded with brilliant clarity to match the singing of the chorale setting by the one and the Hallelujah Chorus of the other.
Father Christmas popped in for the traditional “Jingle Bells” and helped Rachel out by taking over the baton for the jazzier rhythms in “Sleigh Ride”.
The orchestra was on very fine form, ever more sumptuously bedecked with sparkly headgear as the evening progressed. Particularly enjoyable was the nicely oriental bassoon playing in “We Three Kings”, Charlie Cottam’s virtuosic flute in “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol” and the muted trumpets in “Overture on French Carols” by Philip Lane which opened the second half.
Thank you, one and all, for this wonderful prelude to Christmas!