A beautifully set stage with sparkling Christmas tree on the balcony of Cadogan Hall welcomed the Temple Church Choir to Chelsea on a cold winter’s evening. Seemingly one of the better carol–based programmes this season, the performance also featuring the talented harpist Sally Pryce as well as their resident organist Greg Morris.
The opening of the evening’s performance sparkled with Christmas glitter mainly because of ingenious programming, but also the warmth and earnestness of the choristers. Echoes of the Christmas Mass swept around the old church imbuing the audience with a sense of occasion. The first four carols, with choristers only, announced the beginning of the Christmas story, interspersing ‘men only’ carols and those including the boy trebles; almost in homage to the call and response of plainsong. A superb performance in particular came from lead alto, David Allsopp, with his (chiefly) solo part in Gibbons’ This is the Record of John.
The middle four pieces beautifully progressed through the ages from Parsons’ stunningly set and stunningly sung Ave Maria (c.1530-1570) to Pärt’s surprisingly joyful Bogoróditse Djévo (1990). The organist in residence, Greg Morris, accompanied with a subtle and intricate if not magnificent performance. Away from his usual grand instrument at Temple the organ parts seemed slightly lacking in gravitas and power.
Reaching final part of the first half things became a bit rockier in performance quality with some timing slips and ‘fuzzy’ edges in the harmonies, but full marks for atmosphere and intent. Closing with the ever popular Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, despite the rather odd solo snare drum part, they left high expectations for the centrepiece to come.
After the interval came the key piece of the programme, Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols with Sally Pryce on harp. From the beginning it was clear this was the weakest element of the concert with much hesitation and an uneven balance across the choir sections. Fortunately, or at least in contrast, the harp performance was excellent and highly able, with a truly magical solo performance of the Interlude.
The final three extremely well known carols saw the whole group back on safe ground. The confidence and joy was palpable as they blazed through Sussex Carol, Silent Night, and I Saw Three Ships with verve and crystal clear tone.
Overall a strong performance from the newly evolving Temple Church Choir; a bit wobbly in the middle but then who isn’t at Christmas.