Glyndebourne Christmas Concert

This festive treat is fast becoming a seasonal ritual in my yuletide calendar, it marks the start of my Christmas celebrations and after this it’s open season for mince pies and the like. This year’s programme was the usual delight, a selection of opera favourites and overtures followed by a selection of Christmas music.

The evening started with Smetana’s exhilarating overture from The Bartered Bride, what a rip roaring launch to any evening with the powerful string section displaying their full strength and virtuosity. To follow a hefty slice of Verdi’s Otello powered by the Glyndebourne Chorus at full strength. Next Georgia Mae Ellis gave us Habañero from Bizet’s Carmen, this fine mezzo soprano we were later to learn from conductor and chorus director Aidan Oliver, has risen from the ranks as a teenager in the impressive Glyndebourne Youth Opera initiative, an element of the company’s output that I have greatly admired for many years. In fact Aidan Oliver was not only excellent in his musical roles but also in presenting the entire programme which he did with both skill, knowledge and humour, and all without referring to notes!

The evening moved on with some more Carmen, two helpings of Saint-Sean’s Samson and Delilah and the first half culminated in three pieces from Rossini’s Petite Messe Solemnelle, a work we learnt was from the latter part of his writing career and a piece that was perhaps not that “solemnelle” at all.

After the interval the mood changed to full on festive. Eric Coates’ overture from The Merry Makers is always a treat and Praetorius’s Es ist ein Ros entsprungen  (try typing that with auto-correct on) reveal the delicacy that this chorus can achieve. And so to a few carols, Sussex Carol, the Willcocks arrangement, a beautiful new carol by Thomas Hewitt Jones, Child of the stable’s secret birth which made full virtue of the sweet sounds of the aforementioned Youth Opera, 24  simply angelic voices. Then Good King Wenceslas and I saw three ships, what was not to love… well except for the fact that no doubt due to COVID restrictions, we were not forbidden but not invited to join in. I guess that the fact that programme did not include the verses was the defining indication! I did however hear a few face-mask -muffled voices who simply could not resist, and who could blame them.

Next an extraordinary piece of whimsy with with Victor Herbert’s March Of The Toys, that will certainly need revisiting, especially after hearing about the man’s bizarre career and the plot of the work this was written for. Back then to earth or should I say heaven with John Rutter’s What Sweeter Music and soprano Caroline Modiba’s soaring delivery of a Spanish carol, Esta Noche.

For anyone who felt that the classic carols were missing the finale was Leroy Anderson’s Christmas Festival packed from start to finish with those songs and tunes we so wanted to hear.

Huge applause prompted an encore of White Christmas, the ensemble recreating the mellifluous sounds of Hollywood to great effect before we all drifted out into cold and drizzly night air. It would be mean to deduct points for not being able to sing this year, needs must, so I won’t, It was too good an evening to do such a mean thing.

Andrew Kay

8 December


Rating: ★★★★★

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