Carol Concert with the Salvation Army Cannock Citadel Band (Thu 17 Dec 2009)


Lichfield Cathedral, The Close, Lichfield, WS13 7LD [map]

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Choir puts on Plum-Pudding of a Concert

What with bishops knocking songs like Away In a Manger and the shops piping wall-to-wall Slade and Wizzard, it can seem at times as if the traditional Christmas carol has become an endangered species.

Well, if that is the case, then no-one told the Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir – or the 1,100-plus people who turned out on a brisk December night to hear their annual Carols for All service at Lichfield Cathedral.

Still, as the Dean of Lichfield put it in his introductory words, this annual service/concert/festive singalong has been one of the most popular fixtures in the cathedral's calendar. Certainly, even 30 minutes before the service started, it was hard to find a seat.

And on the strength of this year's performance, it's not hard to see why. It was a near-ideal mixture of musical treats.

The Special Choir was at the heart of the evening, on strong form considering it was barely a fortnight since their premiere of Paul Spicer's Advent Oratorio.

The Salvation Army Cannock Citadel Band provided robust support – deploying a thunderous battery of timpani in the big mass singalongs, and four tambourine-twirling majorettes in their solo interlude, The Sound of Christmas.

Conductor Philip Scriven held it all together with a smile, shepherding his forces through a well-chosen selection of mixture of traditional carols and seasonal choral miniatures. Children from the crowd needed a bit of persuasion, but once a tin of chocolates had been waved aloft, they drew indulgent "oohs" and "aahs" from the grown-ups in Away in a Manger.

But there was real musical substance as well as fun, with the Special Choir's women soaring radiantly in David Wilcock's Whence is that goodly Fragrance? and Martin Shaw's a capella arrangement of the Coventry Carol. Best of all were two true modern classics, William Mathias's bracing Sir Christemas and Torches, by the great Birmingham composer John Joubert.

Martyn Rawles's spirited organ accompaniments went well beyond the call of duty in each, and his solo performance of Nigel Ogden's Penguins' Playtime was the finishing touch – the cheeky sprig of holly on a real plum-pudding of a concert.

This review by Richard Bratby first appeared in the Lichfield Mercury, Tamworth Herald and Sutton Coldfield Observer in January 2010.

Richard Bratby, in Lichfield Mercury, January 2010