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Live Music Review Choral Christmas cracker from Tenebrae

Tenebrae
King’s Place, London
 

TENEBRAE’S end-of-year celebration was a very well-mannered Yuletide party, featuring many of artistic director Nigel Short’s favourite Christmas choral works, some of them quite rarely heard.

Opening in semi-darkness with the 4th century plainchant Rorate Coeli, Tenebrae’s choristers — seven women and eight men — burst into life with Peter Wishart’s extrovert setting of the 15th century text Alleluya! as the lights suddenly blazed.

A lively evening might have been expected at that point, but the opening salvo turned out, quite deliberately, to be the loudest and most exuberant choral work of the first half.

So mellifluous were the Tenebrae tones and so gently contemplative were Short’s chosen works, including Herbert Howells’s A Spotless Rose and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Five Carols, that it was difficult not to drift into a semi-meditative state, dreaming of winter firesides and comfortable stables in Bethlehem.

With an animated rendition of Peter Warlock’s Benedicamus Domino immediately after the break, it seemed as if a more upbeat second half was in prospect, but the relaxed feel continued with Arnold Bax’s I Sing of a Maiden and was maintained for some time, not least through Gustav Holst’s In the Bleak Midwinter and John Tavener’s The Lamb.

Short held back the really familiar stuff until the end as the tempo changed dramatically with Ben Parry’s jazzy version of Jingle Bells, followed by joyful and jolly treatments of Silent Night, The Twelve Days of Christmas — complete with farmyard noises — and, as an encore, We Wish you a Merry Christmas.

Until the later stages, dutifully obeying indications in the programme as to which points to show appreciation, the audience had been clapping enthusiastically in all the right places. But From Jingle Bells onwards all order broke down and there was spontaneous and unrestrained applause after each song.

It was a forgivable break with protocol — after all, it was a Christmas celebration — and an indication, if one were needed, of the quality and artistic excellence on show.

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