The Huddersfield Singers: Christmas Fantasy

St Paul’s Hall 7.30pm

By Suzanne Smelt

***** (Five stars)

Expect the unexpected! Not your typical carol concert, this performance included some lesser-known seasonal offerings.

Charpentier’s Messe de Minuet pour Noël (1690) opened proceedings with dance-inspired music incongruous to the sacred intention of a Mass. However, in its day, the music for the mass was allowed some freedom when sung at the special midnight mass for which this piece was intended.

Jolly, folk-flavoured organ carol interludes were interspersed with some reverent and idiomatic choral writing, although secularity seeped into sacred movements as in the jaunty Sanctus!

The singers moved between styles with ease and with good phrasing and well-prepared part singing, exemplified well in the contrapuntal Kyrie.

Solos were sung with commitment by talented members of the choir.

It was immediately clear that this growing choir has already established a good rapport with their new conductor, Daniel Gordon. And under Daniel’s expert tutelage, this choir is now flourishing.

Interestingly, this was Daniel’s first performance as a conductor who is, first and foremost, an accompanist of the highest regard. Directing the choir with ease and with lashings of natural ability and musicality you would think he’d been doing this for years.

His consistently accurate and assured indication of choral entries imbibed the singers with confidence and they responded to his expressive dynamic interpretations.

More well-known for Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, John Gardner also wrote Cantata for Christmas (1966) which starkly contrasts in style with his popular carol. A hushed unison start heralded seven movements in which we heard some outstanding choral singing.

Excellent dynamic control and accuracy during changes of metre; assured pitching during discordant harmonic sequences, sometimes sung a capella or with a sparse piano accompaniment incongruous to the choral writing.

This was a stunning performance, hallmarked by pristine choral ensemble. A highlight was their rendition of a surprisingly modern version of The Coventry Carol.

While maintaining a refined chamber choir sound, the singers also exploited their vocal potential during rousing moments in Vaughan-Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols (1912), a through-composed arrangement of three traditional carols.

This reserve of choral power exploded at climactic chordal moments. Together the voices radiated a wonderful blend, albeit occasionally dominated by the largest section, sopranos.

Young Leeds-based baritone Simon Pratt starred in this Christmas musical stalwart, giving an accomplished performance with a robust sound across a wide vocal range.

First-class accompaniment was provided throughout by well-known organist Alan Horsey whose nimble fingers played both the St Paul’s organ and the grand piano. Faultless.

Like sherry and mince pies, The Huddersfield Singers and Daniel Gordon are a winning combination. See them again on March 24. Check website for details