BPO – A Christmas Carol – Paul Ryan (narrator), Joanna MacGregor (conductor/piano)
I really loved this enchanting presentation of the Dickens classic last year, so would it bear repeating, in a different venue, with a new narrator? Oh yes, certainly! This spooky tale of meanness and redemption has perfectly expressed a social conscience for every generation since 1843 when Marley’s ghost first appeared to the miserly Scrooge.
This year Paul Ryan did a splendid job animating all the familiar characters with enthusiasm and charm, at times stopping just short of pantomime with chilling effect. The element of melodrama was added by the brilliant musicians, either with their elaborate arrangements of carols or with eerie sound effects, especially from the strummed strings of the piano. The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra’s trumpeters John Ellwood and Julie Ryan (no relation) sounded angelic; John James (horn), Ross Johnson (trombone) and John Elliott (tuba) built the rich sound of a complete brass ensemble which made the church acoustic ring. Ingenious links and descriptive passages came, perhaps extemporised, from the piano. It sounded magical. Usually the instruments would be providing background music but in this case, the live music was to the fore because the narrator’s amplified voice (essential to carry over the sound of the brass) seemed disembodied and remote. This added an interesting, supernatural effect. My favourite section was the eerily Gothic version of the Coventry Carol.
Dickens’ parable, so adeptly abridged and directed by Richard Williams, deserves repeating every year, especially with such virtuoso performances.
St George’s Church,
15 December 2023