Derby Concert Orchestra's Christmas Concert this year, with conductor Jonathan Trout - Derby Cathedral, Derby UK, 2 December 2023 - covered similar ground to those of previous years, but with one major ingredient missing. More on that later.
It opened with Suite No 1 from Bizet's Carmen. In the Prelude, the doom-laden opening had appropriate weight, with vivid colours in the Aragonaise to lighten the mood. Limpid orchestral textures marked the Intermezzo, and the Seguidilla had an easy flow, contrasting with the crisp delivery of Les Dragons d'Alcala, while Les Toréadors was suitably energetic.
Dvořák's Slavonic Dance Op 46 No 4 had an agreeable rustic charm, gentle and easy-going, with an account of the quicker middle section that was both lively and relaxed. Selected movements from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite began with a playfully firm March, and an elegant Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, though the decision to amplify the celesta seemed a bit of a miscalculation. A vigorous Trepak was followed by a poised Dance of the Mirlitons and a gracefully swaying Waltz of the Flowers.
Film music has featured strongly in recent years, and the second half was dominated by it. In Calvin Custer's selection of highlights from John Williams' score for Jurassic Park, the opening was allowed to unfold majestically. Lively treatment of the following scherzo-like section moved seamlessly into a typically fluent John Williams big theme. The 'symphonic suite' John Witney arranged from Howard Shore's The Fellowship of the Ring score began in a similarly imposing manner, before the hobbitty cosiness of what followed. The metal percussion in one of the later numbers felt like a conscious nod to Wagner's Niebelheim.
Bob Krogstad's medley Christmas at the Movies is a pile-up of music from popular Christmas films including Miracle on 34th Street and Home Alone (two more John Williams scores), The Polar Express (Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (Danny Elfman), all given vividly characterful handling.
The Holly and the Ivy is a fantasy on Christmas pieces by Malcolm Arnold, arranged by Christopher Palmer, based largely on Arnold's score for the 1952 film of the same title. While his treatment of each tune is as inventive as you'd expect, it felt over-long, as did Leroy Anderson's overcrowded A Christmas Festival. Robert Russell Bennett's typically classy arrangement of Irving Berlin's 'White Christmas', and Leroy Anderson's unsinkable Sleigh Ride, were the two encores delivered with polish.
So what was the missing ingredient? Surprisingly, there were no carols, or anything else for the audience to join in with. The evening would also have benefitted from a (not too gushy) presenter to jolly things along, and avoid the embarrasing moments when the audience was unsure whether or not to clap. The rather subdued atmosphere that resulted was a pity, because there was also lots to enjoy.
Copyright © 17 December 2023