Even Ebenezer Scrooge would surely have thawed out a little during this warm-hearted concert of seasonal music. Before a word had been sung or a note played, the black backcloth on stage twinkled with stars, Christmas trees shimmered, and Santa hats were placed ready for the musicians. Then came the thrilling sounds of an expert 40-piece orchestra tuning up and the arrival of enterprising local conductor William Prideaux. A flourish or two and the concert got underway, immediately justifying its title Christmas Magic.
As soon as the players launched into Nigel Hess’s Christmas Overture it was obvious that this concert was a well-imagined, well-prepared, and well-rehearsed professional production with nothing left to chance.The overture itself proved to be a colourfully orchestrated medley of familiar carols including Deck the Halls and a fugal version of We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Best of all though was Infant Holy, presented as a ravishing oboe solo.
Later the orchestra played two famous waltzes associated with the festive season.The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II is often featured in the famous Viennese New Year concerts. And the Waltz of the Flowers, starting with a dreamy harp solo, is one of the loveliest movements from Tchaikovsky’s Christmas ballet the Nutcracker. Both received performances which stressed the forward movement and lyricism of the music. Later in the Radetsky March by the elder Johann Strauss there was infectiously rhythmic playing aided by some enthusiastic clapping from the large audience. At this point I wondered if a sprinkling of carols for the audience to sing would have been a good idea.
Back to the choirs regularly conducted by William Prideaux. The Peterborough Male Voice Choir is noted for its mellow tone, and its set included stirring versions of Gaudete and We Three Kings. Just occasionally the busy orchestral parts masked some of the lower voices but as they gained in confidence the men came through loud and clear.
Later it was the turn of the Youth Choir to shine in lovely and elaborate versions of familiar songs like Jingle Bells and Walking in the Air. The third of William’s vocal groups, the ladies’ choir Peterborough Voices, produced an even more powerful and resonant tone and easily rode over the orchestra in challenging versions of Silent Night and Chestnuts Roasting Round an Open Fire.
Finally the singers joined forces in Joy to the World, I Saw Three Ships, and It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.
Indeed it is. Bah! Humbug!
REVIEW: Joe Conway