Christmas Concert 2022

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Noël Sing! Ding! Ding! Ding! Cheep! Cheep!

We were lucky! Midwinter frost aplenty, but thankfully no frosty wind making moan as Audlem Voices assembled for our first Christmas Concert since 2019.

 

2019!!!! Who can even remember that pre-historic era now?

 

What joy to see a sizable audience of Audlemites — and even some hardy souls from distant parts like Buerton and Hatherton and Hankelow — cheerfully ignoring the cold and taking their places in the pews of St James, anticipating an evening of Christmas music and mince pies.

 

And what a musical feast awaited them!

 

Jon Richardson, Chair of Audlem Voices, warmly welcomed everyone, and introduced Jenny Collis-Smith, our Musical Director, and accompanist Naomi Newman, who have been working tirelessly since September to prepare the choir for this moment.

 

We lifted off with Noël Sing!, Gerald Brown's lovely translation and arrangement of the old French carol 'Noël Nouvelet', perfectly setting the tone for our programme.

 

The audience now had their first opportunity to take part (with commendable vigour) in Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, before the choir rose again to offer the hauntingly beautiful O Holy Night, Adolphe Adam's famous Christmas canticle, as arranged by John Rutter, with its tremendous final crescendo "His power and glory ever, ever more proclaim!"

 

Something much more soft and light followed, and guess what? It was another piece by John Rutter (not that Jenny is obsessed, or anything...)! The Colours of Christmas tells us that green, white and red, orange and yellow are the colours of Christmas and happiness, not forgetting blue, silver and gold and even a rainbow!

 

But it was a different John who composed our next piece (oh dear, is Jenny sometimes unfaithful to her hero?)...

 

John Tavener's The Lamb is a stunning setting of William Blake's famous poem: "Little lamb, who made thee?" Its fascinating patterns of sudden discordance ultimately resolve harmoniously, as the words themselves harmonise and unite the little lamb, the little child, and the saviour Jesus.

 

That 'little child' is also the focus of Hector Berlioz's The Shepherds' Farewell, with words by Paul England. This piece imagines the shepherds at the stable in Bethlehem, contemplating the future of this precious child, and commending him to the care of his loving father and mother, under the blessing of God — and reminding the child to always fondly remember the shepherds who saw him first.

 

You can hardly imagine a more striking contrast than our next item — Jingle Bells! But what a jingle! This was Ralph Allwood's dashing arrangement of the old favourite by the interestingly named American composer and businessman John Lord Pierpont, and the choir laid into the "dashing dashing dashing" and "go go going" and the "ding ding dinging", not to mention the "ha ha ha-ing", with all their might, carrying the audience right away in their one horse open sleigh.

 

Audience and choir were quite relieved after that to relax into the gentler community carol Once in Royal David's City. It gave everyone time to get their breath back!

 

St James's pews have beautiful padded seating cushions, but it must be said that it's a relief for the audience to get up and walk about and enjoy a glass of wine or juice, along with a mince pie, as they buy a raffle ticket and chat to all and sundry. So much chatting, indeed, that it took some effort to persuade everybody back to their seats for the second half of the concert.

 

It was time for something completely different, and the ladies of the choir obliged with Frederick Silver's cheeky take on a stalwart of the season by focusing on what happened in the twelve days after Christmas. It was something of a bloodbath! And it all rang so true! Who wouldn't feel murderous if their pile of presents included 23 assorted birds, 12 pear trees, 40 cows with attendant 40 milkmaids, 36 prancing females, 30 lords leaping about, 22 pipers and 12 drummers rat-a-tat-tatting?? What a RACKET! What a MESS! Let's face it, the 50 gold rings might just be worth lugging along to the Antiques Roadshow (although one of the altos did admit to holding on to a drummer for some reason!) but as for the rest...

 

Returning to more traditional Christmas form, the choir were delighted to be able to sing again one of our favourite pieces, Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium. It's all in Latin, which has added appeal when you hear it in an ancient church such as ours. Slow and sonorous, the reverent vowels sweep out over the heads of the assembly, gathering them into the awe and wonder of the moment, evoking the astonishing mystery of Bethlehem, where the very beasts bow in acknowledgement of who it is lying in the manger before them.

 

A very different atmosphere sparkles from Bob Chilcott's setting of words by Charles Bennet in The Sparrows' Carol. This is another of our favourites, and its chirpy, frosty, laughing spirit was very much in keeping with the weather outside as we sang.

 

Now it was time for a bit of time travel — all the way back to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. That frightening moment doesn't immediately evoke Christmas, but it was what inspired Noël Regney and his wife Gloria Shane to write their lyrical appeal for world peace, Do You Hear What I Hear? Although the song never specifically mentions Jesus, fragments of the nativity stories and prophecies are scattered throughout, and the song exhorts us to look after the child who will bring us "goodness and light!"

 

The traditional Czech carol Rocking is a beautiful lullaby for the baby Jesus, arranged by David Hill. Soprano Carole Hallows brought the choir softly in to its gentle rhythms, which feel as if they should send any child happily off to sleep (though we don't know if anyone has actually put this to the test!). Tenor Dave Graham sang out over the choir to highlight the final section, where the angels quietly keep their watch over the sleeping child.

 

Two beautiful pieces and one last community carol brought our concert to a very satisfying end.

 

First, we turned again to Bob Chilcott for Mid-winter. This is his setting of Christina Rossetti's well-known poem 'In the bleak midwinter', and it is deeply spiritual and haunting in the way it asks how we can make a worthy return for the great gift brought by the Holy Child.

 

Jenny then re-affirmed her allegiance to the great John Rutter by leading us through his delightful Candlelight Carol, which is focused specifically on Mary and her motherly love for her child — although angels also feature!

 

And so at last we stood with the audience and all sang together O Come All Ye Faithful, with our sopranos providing a fine descant to send us all out into that frosty night, uplifted and full of joy (and wine and mince pies), with three happy prize winners taking away their hampers full of goodies and treats!

 

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We would like to offer a special thank you to our sponsors, The Bridge Inn, The Lord Combermere, Bridgemere Garden Centre and the Co-op for their generous donations towards the raffle prizes.

 

KF for Audlem Voices

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