Review by William MarshallChristmas concerts of all shapes and sizes fill Huddersfield Town hall to the gunnels at this time of year with the Huddersfield Choral’s annual pre-Messiah offering being one of the most popular with not an empty seat to be seen.
The society and its junior choirs were joined on stage by Black Dyke Band, no less, and the overall conductor-compere was Brian Kay, as relaxed and debonair as ever, peppering the musical programme with excellently rendered accounts of nativity plays gone wrong from the pens of humorists such as Gervase Phinn and Willy Russell.
As a conductor, Brian Kay is one of the least demonstrative imaginable but he is, of course, a highly experienced choral director and ensured cohesion at all times, for example when band and singers joined forces for some elaborate reworkings of old familiars such as Darius Battiwalla’s take on Hail, Smiling Morn, full of whimsical detail.
We heard a few of these what we might call post-modern versions of festive favourites. For example, there was choral society member Taneli Clarke’s excellent arrangement of Ding Dong Merrily for choir and band.
We also had some of the longer established, perhaps rather more sincere carol arrangements, including several by the late Sir David Willcocks – who was Brian Kay’s mentor at King’s College – and the famously moving Harold Darke version of In the Bleak Midwinter. John Rutter was naturally in the mix too, with his account of the Sans Day Carol and his Shepherd’s Pipe Carol.
Slightly higher up the scale of artistic ambition were William Mathias’ Sir Christemas (with the singers producing some wonderfully precise shouts of “Noel!”) and Andrew Carter’s extremely beautiful A Maiden Most Gentle.
The junior choirs – conducted by Susan Wilkinson – were quite funky in Bob Chilcott’s Red Boots Walking and they also contributed an entertaining sequence of songs from madly-popular Disney cartoon Frozen.
It sometimes seem a shame that top brass bands do not include at least one really ambitious composition when they participate in these Christmas concerts. Perhaps they are worried about spoiling the party atmosphere. Having said that, even light-hearted or pop derived music takes plenty of playing and Black Dyke – conducted for their numbers by Philip Goodwin – certainly showed their chops and even Do They Know Its Christmas (an arrangement of the famous charity song) had plenty of technical challenges.