Culture critic Madeline McInnis reviews Mindgame at the Belgrade, Coventry.Written by mmcinnis on 16th March 2018
Christmas Spectacular at The Birmingham Symphony Hall
Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh enjoys a truly spectacular Christmas treat at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.
They don’t undersell the Christmas performances at the Birmingham Symphony Hall. ‘Christmas Spectacular’ is quite a billing to live up to and thankfully it did not disappoint. Taking place on the 23rd December, this concert ensured its audience was in the most festive of spirits. The London Concert Orchestra was the backbone of the evening’s entertainment, led by the excellent John Rigby as their conductor. Alongside the orchestra, there was the Canzonetta Choir, who sang and supported the orchestra and soloists beautifully. There were Christmas trees and twinkling lights, perfectly setting the Christmas scene as we settled into our seats. But not for long. Audience participation was to be an integral part of the evening’s entertainment. The host for the evening was the ever-affable Alan Titchmarsh, sporting an eye-catching and seasonal purple velvet jacket. With interesting anecdotes introducing each of the choral and orchestral pieces, Titchmarsh ensured that the evening’s entertainment flowed seamlessly. He also injected warmth and humour with dad jokes aplenty and prompted the audience into joining in the singing at intervals throughout the evening. He gauged his audience well, and his jokes about the stresses of Christmas shopping, memories of childhood rivalries in school Nativity plays, and his poem about a disgruntled cracker, were all well received.
“There were Christmas trees and twinkling lights, perfectly setting the Christmas scene as we settled into our seats. But not for long...
The orchestra opened with a lovely medley of Christmas tunes in Anderson’s A Christmas Festival. This was a great way to start the concert as it demonstrated the variety of music which we would enjoy as the evening progressed. The first carol with the audience singing along was The First Noel. The Canzonetta then performed a moving a capella version of Silent Night which provided a poignant moment in the evening as Titchmarsh acknowledged the song’s link to a brief ceasefire in the First World War. The rendition of the Sussex Carol was lively and was a good forerunner to Waldteufel’s Skater’s Waltz, which was when the Jingle Belles Dancers made their first appearance. They definitely evoked the swirling and circling of Parisian skaters on the minimal stage space available to them.
“Anna Patalong and tenor Nico Darmanin were outstanding, combining moments of real tenderness with powerfully voiced climaxes
A real highlight of the evening was the performance of Puccini’s Act 1 finale from La bohème and Verdi’s Brindisi (Drinking Song). The operatic vocals of the soprano Anna Patalong and tenor Nico Darmanin were outstanding, combining moments of real tenderness with powerfully voiced climaxes. Their duets resounded throughout the concert hall, and, clutching glasses of wine, Anna and Nico captured the Christmas spirit of revelry to perfection with the Drinking Song. Somehow, we had to follow their stunning performances with an ensemble rendition of O come, all ye faithful! - we enthusiastically tried our best! There was a real feeling of community at the concert, with the relaxed atmosphere and amusing anecdotes recounted by Titchmarsh – just what Christmas should be.
After the interval, Titchmarsh looked like a child in a sweet shop as he managed to sneak into the percussion section to help perform the uplifting Sleigh Ride. Accompanied by the sequinned and Santa costumed dancers, this was a lively and energy-packed opening to the second half. I never thought I would see Alan Titchmarsh in a Christmas cracker costume, but the game Mr Titchmarsh duly donned a rather fetching cracker outfit to recite his own poem celebrating the often-overlooked token of Christmas dinners.
Adding a touch of gravitas to proceedings, Darmanin then returned to the stage to perform O Holy Night, giving another enthralling performance. This was followed by Patalong’s captivating rendition of Ave Maria. Followed by the orchestra performing excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker - a must for any Christmas concert - this was a classy yet familiar interlude in the evening.
“Even the conductor couldn’t resist a quick waltz, alongside the Dancers who performed increasingly daring lifts and high energy routines
As the evening drew to a close, guest singer Laura Tebbutt gave some lively renditions to such popular favourites as When a Child is Born and It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Even the conductor couldn’t resist a quick waltz, alongside the Jingle Belles Dancers who performed increasingly daring lifts and high energy routines. From Frosty the Snowman to Merry Christmas Everyone, the festive favourites just kept coming and had the audience clapping and tapping along. Rigby then directed different sections of the audience to each perform actions and sing along to lines from The Twelve Days of Christmas. This provoked some of the loudest laughs and reactions of the evening. It was lovely to be part of such Christmas frivolity, and as a proud member of the pecking French hens, everyone entered willingly into the shared fun of the evening.
“There was no room for Scrooges at this concert
Our last ensemble carol was Hark! The herald angels sing. Titchmarsh thanked all the participants of the concert and added his own Christmas wishes to the audience as the orchestra and Laura Tebbutt closed the concert with Santa Claus is Coming to Town, complete with fireworks.
There was no room for Scrooges at this concert. This was a fun concert with excellent and varied musical performances on stage – truly something to suit all tastes. Encouraged by the amiable Alan Titchmarsh throughout, the audience soon really entered into the spirit of all the frivolities. This was a fantastic way to see in the final countdown to Christmas - a festive treat for all.