A joyful and triumphant celebration

John Rutter’s Christmas Celebration, Ipswich Regent, December 10

“We hear the Christmas Angels the great glad tidings tell...” the words from O Little Town of Bethlehem echoed around a packed Regent Theatre as the audience joined in the seasonal sing-song. Well, the angels couldn’t tell it with more heavenly joy than the choir of the Royal Hospital School Holbrook.

This exceptional choir was chosen personally by composer/conductor John Rutter to feature in his Christmas concert, and its red clad girl choristers arrayed against a twinkling star cloth, set the scene perfectly for a marvellous evening of Christmas music and song.

We began with a festive fanfare from the trumpets, trombones and tuba of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – a tremendous start to an evening full of the Christmas spirit. Later in the programme the same musicians gave us a glorious, stentorian rendition of the Trumpet Voluntary.

Our compere was the ebullient John Rutter, the most prolific and popular composer of contemporary sacred Christmas music, and what a charming host he proved, the sheer joy he takes in the making of music is totally infectious. He took the choir through some of his best known compositions, The Candlelight Carol, The Angel’s Carol and The Donkey Carol – modestly announcing one of his works, “Here’s one I made earlier”. He also painstakingly rehearsed the audience in the chorus to The Star. And we were only too eager to join in whenever invited, lustily offering “Five Gold Rings” in The Twelve Days of Christmas, and giving full vent to O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

The choir’s response to Rutter’s direction was as crisp and even as new fallen snow, though their vocal talents seemed more evident in Rutter’s sweet melodies than the sometimes harsh dissonance of Britten’s Festival of Carols.

John Rutter’s other guests were a real discovery - Over The Bridge (the name comes from the bridge over the Cam that separates the two parts of Clare College) were a group of nine young men from Cambridge, all of them terrific singers whose voices blended perfectly in the most intricate of harmonies. Whether singing Christmas classics like Winter Wonderland or 16th century church music such as O Magnum Mysterium they showed themselves to be a class act - they deserve to go far.

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A superb evening that I hope will become regular feature in the run-up to Christmas in Suffolk.


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