The Winter Concert, performed by Muscat Singers with Muscat Brass is always a much anticipated event in many people’s calendar, and this year’s presentation, subtitled, ‘From the British Isles’ was no exception. A broad spectrum of songs and choral music was presented with some of the best brass players in town on Saturday evening in the state-of-the-art acoustics of the Bosch Centre for Performing Arts in Ghala.
The assembled cast made a spectacular opening, with the 20-piece Brass ensemble in the middle and the Choir in two halves, bunched on either side of the stage. Conducted by British musician Dan Anthony, Handel’s, ‘Joy to the World’ brought joy to all the many people in the hall as it rang out its positive message of peace and love in this bracing arrangement by Darrol Barry.
The brass players left the stage and Muscat Singers’ Musical Director, Mr Andrew Elbin took to the podium. An Early Music piece next, Thomas Weelkes’ ‘We Shepherds Sing’ was accompanied delightfully by a Renaissance Consort of recorders and cello played by members of the Singers. The choir spread across the front of the stage, curiously arranged with the tallest people in front, so singers behind were hard to see. It was immediately followed by a spirited acapella arrangement by Michael McGlynn of the iconic Latin, ‘Gaudete’, made famous by Steeleye Span in 1972. It featured four robust solos from the choristers and ended in a fine, rousing climax. That section of the programme finished with a delicate, touching rendition of the French Traditional Carol, ‘Noël Nouvelet, with the Muscat Singers’ deft accompanist, Mr. Stephen Delves on electric organ.
The men disappeared, leaving the ladies of the choir to sing one of the most memorable, tender performances of the evening. Set to a moving poem by his wife Alice, Sir Edward Elgar’s ‘The Snow’ was exquisite, with student violinists, Leo and Lili Guzman making a commendable performance of the difficult countermelodies.
The thirteen members of the Muscat Chamber Choir filed on to take their clearly visible positions under the expertise of visiting conductor, Mrs Gwen Willson. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ much beloved ‘Wassail Song’ was fast and furious yet executed with accuracy and panache by this elite ensemble. It was followed in a more relaxed style by the delightful, ‘You are the New Day’ by John David, one of the King Singers’ most beloved arrangements by Peter Knight of the 1970s.
One of the highlights of the concert each year is the Muscat Brass spot, where they take centre stage in the spirit of the season. Poignantly and sadly, Mr Darrol Barry was absent from the podium this year with his long winding stories to regale the audience, but Dan Anthony more than filled his shoes musically – without the anecdotes! ‘Heigh Ho Holiday’ was a short, rousing fanfare by Antony Holborne, arranged by Darrol, to open the proceedings. The traditional carol, ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ was arranged by Muscat’s Jim Gribben using glockenspiels for wintery effect and some lovely trombone melodies. It had some amazing trumpet obligatos from Lasse Tronstad with David Archer, and finished with a short syncopated finale. In truly childlike vein the beloved snowman song, ‘Walking in the Air’ by Howard Blake was arranged by Muscat Brass’ Steve Rockey using evocative off-stage solos from trumpet players, Mark Welch and Keith Price. There were lush horn chords with muted brass and effective cymbal rolls, only interrupted by a short rhythmic section with kit drum. Darrol Barry, who tragically passed away in June, was famous for his ‘Christmas Celebration’ which blends The Twelve Days, Deck the Halls and Hark the Herald Angels Sing in his iconic orchestration using kit drum, muted trumpets and some lovely horn playing, finishing with We Wish you a Merry Christmas in a nostalgic mood. Finally ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ was arranged with opening sleigh bells played by house percussionist, Chris Thomas, arresting trombone and horn lines and brilliant Barry brass chords.
After the interval, the programme continued with the combined forces of Muscat Singers and the Brass in Handel’s massive ‘For Unto Us a Child is Born’ from his seasonal Oratorio, ‘Messiah’. Cambridge composer, John Rutter was represented with some brass accompaniment for the choir in his tricky 5/8 rhythm, ‘Donkey Carol’. The audience were encouraged to join the full complement on stage from their seats in, ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Adeste Fideles’, though Mr. Anthony chastised them for their reticence! The communal singing ended with ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ in a jolly, animated climax.
The whole show concluded with Gustav Holst’s entwining medley, ‘Christmas Day’ with a beautiful opening solo by soprano, Elaine Cockerham. After some thanks, adulation and flower presentation, the concert ended as it had begun, on a joyful note that singing and music just may be a solution to many of the world’s ills. New members were invited to sign up and join the choir in January.