As you all ought to know, I’m really a rock reviewer, so this isn’t a conventional review; I’ve written a lot more about myself that is proper for a typical rock review, but feels appropriate to set the rest of the review in context.
Before I discovered rock and roll in my late teens I listened to a lot of classical music. My mum was a member of an amateur choral society, and I sat through their concerts from an early age. I was probably too young to appreciate some of the seemingly interminable oratorios, but the Christmas carol concerts were always entertaining. In more recent years, while living in Cheadle Hulme, I always attended the very traditional Nine Lessons and Carols at the Parish Church, often the last thing I did up north before heading south to spend Christmas with family. That’s something I’m missed the last couple of years; very often I’ve found myself at a gig as a reviewer the last Sunday before Christmas.
So attending a Christmas concert by one of Britain’s top amateur choirs wasn’t so much a step outside my comfort zone as it was a sense of things coming full circle, especially when the choir in question includes Anne-Marie Helder of Panic Room and Luna Rossa, who needs no introduction to to regular readers of this blog.
The concert itself was as beautiful as the building it was held in. They put together a hugely varied program; with a lot of modern classical compositions especially in the first half, alongside an African-American spiritual, an Oregonian folk carol, a traditional number from Botswana as well as well-know carols and secular Christmas songs. Highlights of the first half included “Serenity (O Magnum Mysterium)” by Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjeilo, a piece accompanied by violin and cello, and works best if you close your eyes and let the music waft over you. They followed this with the completely bonkers “Christus Est Natus” by Slovenia’s Damien Močnik.
For parts of the concert, Coro94 shared their stage with a children’s choir in the shape of the Fulham Cross Girls’ School Glee Club, a reminder of Coro94′s origins as a youth choir. They performed some numbers on their own, including an arrangement of Sia’s “Chandelier”, and joined Coro94 on others, such as the traditional carol “O Holy Night”.
The second half was more up-tempo with an emphasis on traditional carols, with some audience participation on the ambitiously complicated folk carol “Come and I Will Sing You”. They ended with a couple of well-known secular Christmas songs which came over as something equivalent to prog bands covering 70s standards as Christmas encores.
It’s something a little different from your typical rock gig; as is common in events held in churches. the bar served wine but not beer. But much like some contemporary folk or jazz there was nothing that shouldn’t be accessible to a more open-minded progressive rock fan; the Gjeilo piece in particular had a strong Iamthemorning feel about it. It makes me wonder how much being steeped in classical and choral music from an early age has influenced Anne-Marie Helder’s subsequent songwriting, and whether that explains something of why I love her music.