Christmas by Candlelight

CHRISTOPHER SMITH St Andrew's Hall, Norwich


> St Andrew's Hall, Norwich

Looking its best with festive decorations and a flicker of candles flanking the platform, St Andrew's Hall rang cheerfully with a programme of seasonal music.

It was performed by the BBC Singers and the Britten Sinfonia under Stephen Layton, with David Dunnett's cathedral choristers making their distinctive contribution towards the end.

Sir Roger de Coverley, Frank Bridge's lively setting of a dance tune that used to be very well known, made a stirring overture, with the string players enjoying the challenge of getting their fingers round the notes.

Next came the Singers, unaccompanied yet perfectly assured in The Little Road to Bethlehem, a gentle carol by Michael Head.

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Jonathan Lemalu seemed to be in rather too much of a hurry to make much of the meaning of The Three Kings in the fine setting by Peter Cornelius. He was far more impressive in the baritone solos of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols. The influence of folk song was heard no less in his forthright English words and melodies than in the orchestra's rich harmonies.

Timothy Robinson was the excellent tenor soloist in Saint Nicholas, flexible and agile, resonant where a touch of heroism was called for and producing the precise focus needed for reflective moments. For this cantata, written by Benjamin Britten to a text by Eric Crozier, makes most of his points by contrast, never staying too long in a single mood.

The chorus and choristers grasped their opportunities. They sustained tone to praise the bishop, captured all the perils of a storm at sea, and mingled horror with delight when the pickled boys were restored to life.

The audience happily joined in two congregational hymns.

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