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For its Christmas concert last year [St John's Church, Derby, UK, 11 December 2021], Derby Bach Choir was conducted by James Foulds, and joined by Derventio Brass, conductor David Blackwell, Old Vicarage School Choir, conductor Alex Bowen, and organist Tom Corfield. Soloists were uncredited members of Derby Bach Choir.
The Boar's Head Carol, arranged by someone called Norbury - composers' and arrangers' names in full, please, always, if at all possible - and John Rutter's arrangement of the Sans Day Carol seemed a little slow and tentative, but the performances grew in confidence as the evening went on. Harold Darke's well-loved In the Bleak Midwinter, and A Maiden Most Gentle, Andrew Carter's arrangement of a traditional French tune contrasted nicely with the bounce and swing of William Mathias' Sir Christèmas.
Derventio Brass's first-half slot comprised uncredited arrangements of Gaudete, vigorously despatched, and the Ukrainian Carol of the Bells, which was just a little too long. The band included two pre-teen but already impressively assured percussionists. Old Vicarage School Choir, with pianist Rachael Wharwell, gave confident accounts of Spanish carol Fum, Fum, Fum arranged by Laurence H Davies, and O Christmas Tree arranged by Karen and David Blackwell - not the same David Blackwell, I'm informed.
After the interval DBC gave sensitive performances of John Tavener's The Lamb and Cornelius's The Three Kings, also Howells' A Spotless Rose, though this could have flowed a little more readily. To end this group, the choir brought an easy sense of swing to Peter Gritton's jazzy Follow That Star, which resists the temptation to outstay its welcome.
There were more uncredited arrangements from Derventio Brass. The version of the Coventry Carol was clearly based on Martin Shaw's familiar, tidied-up edition. The Christmas Song ('Chestnuts roasting ...') had a nice, comfy glow, and Adolphe Adam's O Holy Night was given the Count Basie treatment, which actually seemed to work.
To end with, Star Carol and Candlelight Carol, two examples of John Rutter's endlessly recycled musical and verbal clichés, bookended an account of Berlioz's 'The Shepherd's Farewell' which kept at bay any tendency to over-sentimentalise.
Copyright © 4 January 2022
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