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Uppingham Choral Society's concert was perfect start to Christmas, says reviewer

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We trudged across the Market Place in Uppingham, through the mist and into the warmth and brightness of a decorated church, where I joined a growing audience all, I think, delighted to be there and looking forward to a ‘live’ concert, writes Dave Casewell.

All respectfully wore masks, and the choir were both distanced and separated from the audience by two pew widths. Arrangements for refreshments, both before the concert, and at the interval, had been carefully planned to minimise contact.

This was all very reassuring!

Uppingham Choral Society's Christmas concert
Uppingham Choral Society's Christmas concert

But what of the performance by Uppingham Choral Society? Knowledgeable members of the audience considered it be one of the best Christmas concerts they had attended, a view to which I concur. This was a triumph for the choir considering their limited practice period, and the doors open, distanced conditions of their (chilly) rehearsals. It gave the audience a wonderful sense of wellbeing.

The concert began with a ‘blast’, with ‘Zadok the Priest’, with the first few notes totally commanding the audience’s attention, followed by the lilting Saint Saen’s version of ‘Ave Maria. The conductor, Peter Clements, who was in sparkling form, informed us the concert marked the centenary of the composer’s death, and also kept us entertained and informed throughout. This was followed with Hector Berlioz’s ‘Shepherds’ Farewell’ which gave us an opportunity to admire the musicianship of the organist John Wardle during the haunting interspersions of this piece.

The following piece ‘Wehnachts-Kindertraum’ was sung in the original German, and was composed by Humperdinck who, we were told, was his 200th anniversary, which was followed by a beautiful ‘There shall a star from Jacob come forth’ by Mendelssohn which gave all sections of the choir a chance to shine.

We had two readings in each half, and while all were excellent choices, there was the usual problem of audibility, and I feel some parts of the readings got lost up in the vaulted ceiling of the church. My favourite was ‘My father played the Melodeon’ from ‘a Christmas Childhood’ by Patrick Kavanagh’.

Praetorius’s excellent and very short, lively, toe tapping piece ‘Psallite’ led us into our interval where we were ‘pew served’ mince pies whilst glasses of wine were topped up. This gave us an opportunity for a socially distanced chat with fellow audience members who were, without exception, in admiration of the choir.

The second half had a different feel to it with four carols for the audience to get their teeth into, and they did not lose this opportunity! The choir opened their contribution with Holst’s arrangement of Piae Cantiones’s Personent Hodie. No…neither had I! But what a belter! The choir had obviously enjoyed their refreshment and gave us a spirited rendition, with a superb ‘striding’ organ accompaniment.

Other favourites in this half included the ever popular ‘Adam lay ybounden’, and ‘Silent Night’ arranged beautifully by the choir’s musical director Peter Clements. Selfishly, one of my favourites was ‘We’ve been awhile a-Wandering’ arranged by Vaughan Williams. This is more commonly called a ‘Wassail Song’ and refers to groups of people wandering the ‘big houses’ of the village singing songs and then ‘demanding’ money and food for their efforts. A quaint tradition which is in danger of collapse due to double glazing and loud televisions. If you hear them…]open the door!

The last carol was ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ which was sung lustily by both choir and audience with all the proper descants, and then the choir wrapped the evening up with Malcolm Sergeant’s (an early conductor of the choir) ‘Zither Carol’ and, as is the tradition of these concerts, ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’.

A wonderful concert, and I certainly look forward to their next concert on Saturday, March 26, in Uppingham School Chapel where they will be performing Parts 2 and 3 of Handel’s Messiah.

The concert programme encouraged us to keep in touch with the choir via the website: www.uppinghamchoralsociety.uk

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