We trudged through the snow to Kings Place, full of anticipation for an evening of beautiful music and festive cheer. The Barts Chamber Choir, conducted by Ivor Setterfield provided this, with a wonderful program from traditional audience carols to lesser known pieces by Berlioz, Howells and Vaughan Williams.

Ivor Setterfield
Ivor Setterfield

Britten’s ‘Ceremony of Carols’ is a piece I have sung myself for years, and know very well although this was the SATB version. As it said in the program notes, Britten wrote this piece to ‘banish fear and boredom’ which this piece certainly does, and, as biographer Humphrey Carpenter said, ‘It should be sung with all the vigour of a pillow fight’! It was sung with vigour and excitement. I was surprised when the solo lines were sung by a group of singers, especially in ‘That younge child,’ which is a challenging piece for the amateur, and if anything singing it in a group made it difficult for the singers to stay together in some of those intervals. This piece contains some incredibly beautiful melody lines, such as in ‘Balulalow’ and ‘As dew in Aprille,’ and of course the classic, the exciting ‘This Little Babe,’ which I know it is as exciting to listen to as it is to sing! Little dynamic contrasts and clearer diction would have made the performance even more exciting, but the Barts Choir sang it very pleasingly, with everyone ready for more by the end.

One item in the program was the pianist,Chris Lee's ‘improvisation on the theme of Christmas’. His particular musical interests are in jazz, and this became apparent in this wonderful improvisation. The audience and the choir were equally transfixed as he improvised around themes from different classic Christmas carols with a jazzy twist!

Christmas is not Christmas without a little John Rutter. His ’Jesus Child’ and ‘Star Carol’ were sung with joy and excitement. In the small intimate venue of Kings Place, the choir were able to communicate easily with the audience, although in one or two pieces they could have paid a little more attention to dynamics for the full impact. Ivor Setterfield was an exuberant and enthusiastic conductor, entertaining the audience (and the choir) with his little dance moves in certain pieces and whenever the chorus came around we repeatedly saw him pretending to fly like an angel!

This was a very festive concert, maybe with, as some would think, a little too much Christmas ‘cheese‘, but it’s Christmas! Barts Chamber Choir are an offshoot of the main choir which has around 350 singers, ranging from those with little experience to top-class singers. Their performance was full of enthusiasm and charisma, and although they may not have been completely tight on every item, it was a lovely, festive concert.