Second Christmas Concert of the week and this time at Southwark Cathedral.
Traditionally, this concert featured The Messiah in the first half. This year was different, mainly due to the members of the boys and girls choirs had participated in a concert in the Royal Albert Hall earlier in the month, conducted by (Mr Christmas Music) John Rutter.
After a welcome from Canon Andrew Nunn (the Dean designate), the concert started with an audience carol – O Come, all ye faithful. Director of Music, Peter Wright, then conducted the Boys and Men in Ding, dong, Merrily on High, followed by Assistant Organist Stephen Disley with the Girls and Men for The Holly and the Ivy. Then came the first organ piece, played by Jonathon Hope, the cathedral Organ Scholar.
We then treated to the first of the pieces that had been previously performed at the Royal Albert Hall. Starting in the Retrochoir, and walking to the tower space the Girls and Boys slowly walked to the tower space singing Hodie Christus natus est (Benjamin Britten) unaccompanied, and apart from the start, without a conductor. It showed the talent and musical awareness of these young singers to accompish this excellent piece of singing. This work was paired with the composer’s Wolcom yole, which again used the young voices to showcase this work of Britten.
After Alleluja! Freuet euch (Andreas Hammerschmidt) and Mary’s cradle song (Max Reger), it was time for another audience carol, accompanied by the Southwark Organ – The First Nowell, arranged by another modern composer associated with Christmas, David Willcocks.
The organ was put through its paces on the next choral piece I was Glad by C.H. Hubert Parry, including the rarely performed Vitat Regina section. Continuing the mini theme of pieces from last April’s Royal Wedding, the John Rutter commission for the wedding This is the day followed. Even after listening to again, this time performed by the Southwark choir, I am still not convinced this is a particularly good example of John Rutter’s work.
Another organ piece from Jonathon, led to three pieces from The Messiah, And the Glory of the Lord, O thou that tellest and Hallelujah Chorus, which Peter invited us to join in.
At the interval, the audience were invited into the marquee erected in the Millennium courtyard to mince pies and drinks. The latest choir CD – A Year at Southwark – was on sale in The Link for concert-goers.
A shorter second half started with O Little Town of Bethlehem, before a rendition of Harold Darke’s arrangement of In the Bleak Mid Winter. In contrast with the performance on Sunday evening by the City of Glasgow Chorus, verse three was sung a a Tenor solo.
More Christmas music by John Rutter, variously sung by the Girls & Men, Boys & Men, and the Royal Albert Hall Girls and Boys, conducted by Peter and Stephen Candlelight Carol, The colours of Christmas and Shepherds’ pipe carol. Peter recalled that when he was at school, he sung one of the first performances of the latter piece, having attended the same school as John Rutter.
A final organ work from Jonathon, Noel etranger from Louis Daquin, led to the final section of the concert. For John Rutter’s arrangement of Twelve Days of Christmas, Peter encouraged audience participation, however he was not as ambitious at Graham Taylor had been in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, with the audience remaining seated and everyone singing from “Five Gold Rings”. A final piece of Rutter I wish you Christmas, led to the audience singing of Wesley’s hymn to the music of Mendelssohn, Hark! the Herald Angels sing, to the now familar arrangement including David Willcocks’ descant.
At what is a busy time of new, with concerts and additional services, the choir performed admirably under the direction of Peter and Stephen, with Stephen and Jonathon accompanying on the piano and organ. Even more so when it is considered that Southwark Cathedral does not have a choir school, and the girls and boys of the choir are drawn from the local schools.