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'The start of Christmas' is a such a Joy to behold.

Byline: Rob Barnes

Joy to the World: Inspiration Choir with Royal Northern Sinfonia, Sage Gateshead To describe the region's largest community choir as restrained would be contrary to everything expected of them.

Since they first performed here in 2009, they have gained a reputation for dynamic, full-on performances of repertoire ranging from classical to rock.

With Sage Gateshead's resident orchestra they have also forged a compelling alliance.

This Christmas concert was different, though. It was restrained, but never subdued. It was reverent, but not sanctimonious. From the first bars of the opening chorus, Shout for Joy, it was undoubtedly an overt celebration of the values of the traditional Christian Christmas rather than a glitzy, manufactured version - and all the better for it.

Inspiration's music director, Gary Griffiths, chose adaptations from many sources, such as Chris Eaton's Little Town, first recorded by Cliff Richard in 1982, and young American Joshua Spacht's Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - one of three unfamiliar tunes to these familiar lyrics heard during the evening.

One of the best 'make-overs', and a concert highlight, was Grif-fiths' own version of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.

There were gospel-style interpretations, such as George Elderkin's Jesus, Light of the World, very much playing to the singers' strengths, with the choruses coming on more forcefully with each iteration.

A small window was available for the choir's regular soloists to sing and shine, with Sara Morgan and Suzanne Williams duetting on Hallelujah (Light Has Come).

Stand-out performances included a respectful arrangement of The First Noel, featuring an unscheduled and well timed crying baby from somewhere near the stage, and powerful, militaristic and relentlessly building The Little Drummer Boy.

The latter featured some nimble playing from the percussion section but particularly the orchestra's big drummer boy, Marney O'Sullivan, whose athleticism fully warranted his half-time slice of orange.

At times, this concert had the air of a revivalist meeting with much passion and purpose.

Regular and highly-regarded signed song interpreter, Cliff Lee, maintained his usual cheery and detailed visual commentary while the host, BBC presenter Charlie Charlton, regaled us with stories of Christmas traditions from across the world.

As she said in her introduction: "Christmas starts here."

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 15, 2015
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