Carol Concert 14 & 15 December 2016

Carols inset 16

Seeing the red bow-ties and sparkling scarves of the choir, a flower in Andrew Millington’s buttonhole and the gleaming instruments of Exeter Brass, we anticipated a festive evening and were not disappointed.

The Exeter Brass ensemble gave a bright and celebratory edge to this year’s concert, their soaring accompaniments to the singing reaching clearly to the back of a packed nave. Their ensemble solos gave great enjoyment, particularly We three kings with its syncopated setting and Winter night – Sleigh ride. Here Andrew Millington, so easy and genial as Master of Ceremonies, showed fierce concentration as he shook the rhythmic sleigh bells. As he remarked himself, this performance could herald a new career as a percussionist after his retirement as choirmaster next summer.

New settings give life to old carols, as Stephen Tanner’s God rest you merry, gentlemen showed. His arrangement of It came upon the midnight clear was a pleasure for the audience to sing and his ‘playing of the merry organ’ to accompany both choir and congregation was superb. We were fortunate to have so much home-grown talent in the concert. David Davies was there to hear the first performance of his Carol of the Huron, a setting of Canada’s oldest Christmas hymn first written by a French Christian missionary in the 17th century, and Andrew Millington conducted his own Carol of hope, with words by the former Dean, Jonathan Meyrick. Both are beautiful works, but the words were hard to follow. If the audience could have the texts of carols, particularly new or lesser-known ones, they would appreciate them even more.

The choir sang well throughout and it was a particular pleasure to hear one section, the sopranos, in Andrew Millington’s setting of Silent night. The choice of carols was varied and interesting, old contrasting with new, reflective with jolly, and traditional favourites were given for the congregation to enjoy. The climax came with Percy Fletcher’s setting of Tennyson’s words, Ring out, wild bells, with its optimistic message for the New Year. Choir, brass and organ combined in an exuberant performance. Then the audience was sent on its way with the expected We wish you a merry Christmas, which is, for many of us, the start of our own celebrations.

Thank you, Exeter Philharmonic Choir, for a wonderful evening.

Prue Nichols

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