The Chapter House Choir’s Carols by Candlelight concert (Saturday 17th December) was again set in the nave of York Minster. The Choir was augmented by the Chapter House Youth Choir – both superbly directed by Benjamin Morris and Charlie Gower-Smith respectively, the choir’s Handbell Ringers and York organist William Campbell.
The concert, touchingly dedicated to the memory of Dr Alvan White, the choir’s Candlelighter-in-Chief for these concerts, opened with Tasmin Jones’ simple but affecting ceremonial procession. The Choir’s delivery of Gaudete was a dancing delight but Yshani Perinpanayagam’s In Bethlehem above did suffer slightly with jarring high soprano intonation. William Campbell clearly relished David Willcocks’ Postlude on Mendehlson and so did we. The performance of Eric Whitacre’s Lux aurumque was one of the concert highlights: beautiful soprano singing, nigh-perfect close harmonies pitching creating a delicate, musical glow. Cecilia McDowall’s Of a Rose use of the upper and lower voices of the choir came across very effectively, as did the linear singing and moments of rhythmic togetherness. Well written, well performed. Darius Battiwalla’s Suo Gan was simply lovely as were the gently falling musical snowflakes of John Hastie’s O Come, O Come Emmanuel for handbells. The Youth Choir’s performance of John Joubert’s ever-infectuous Torches was very well judged, even understated, to suit the Minster acoustic and enhance both clarity and enjoyment.
For myself, however, the most rewarding offerings were the two versions of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree – the famous Elizabeth Poston setting and one by the Choir’s ‘distinguished founder’ Andrew Carter. Both embraced the freshness, simplicity and fluency of the anonymous 18th-century New England text, both had a sweet, seemingly effortless delivery and both stayed in the memory after the concert itself.
Well, personally, I prefer the intimacy of the Chapter House itself, but a huge audience seemed perfectly happy here and were richly rewarded by this ever-present Christmas event. An event which continues to embrace a spiritual counterpoint to the season’s materialistic saturation of today. Maybe.