Gabrieli Consort and Players, Britten Pears Chamber Choir

TONY COOPER Snape Maltings


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Two excellent concerts at Snape provided an early Christmas treat.

Under the direction of their founder, Paul McCreesh, the Gabrieli Consort and Players (playing brilliantly with detailed accuracy on period instruments) gave a wonderful and emotional reading of the first three parts of Bach's Christmas Oratorio to a packed and appreciative house.

The work - comprising six cantatas - has a genuinely dramatic construction to it and, I feel, is a truly operatic expression of faith for Christians of the time when it was written in 1734 and like so many other works by this baroque master it has stood the test of time.

Played without an interval, the concert was over within 75 minutes with McCreesh setting a fast and lively tempo. The time flashed by and I could have easily settled down to hear the second part.

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It's a wonderful setting of the Christmas story and you wouldn't get a better performance than this. It was marvellous throughout and the strength, beauty and majesty of its chorales alone shone through sung by just eight singers with half of them taking the solo readings.

The 'sinfonia' towards the end of part one was played superbly with the woodwind (divided on stage between the violins and cellos) delivering some sensitive and warm playing. And the opening chorus featured a stunning trio of trumpets playing eloquently with distinct clarity.

I left the concert in good spirits and felt well and truly set on my Christ-mas journey and wondering where I could hear the rest of the work.

The Britten-Pears Chamber Choir delighted a packed house in their Christmas concert, too. Conducted by Ralph Woodward, accompanied by organist Nicholas Shaw, they seemed in good shape and sang an attractive programme that included three short pieces by Peter Warlock as well as a nice rendering of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols.

Baritone Giles Underwood was heard to good effect in Michael Head's The Little Road to Bethlehem and the pupils of St Joseph's RCP School, Sudbury, won the day with their Away in a Manger. It was stiff competition all round!

Happy Christmas everyone!