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Culture: A family gathering; CBSO Christmas Concert Symphony Hall.

Byline: Christopher Morley

Christmas is a time for families, they say, and none comes bigger than the CBSO clan, which takes Symphony Hall to accommodate its gatherings.

We are currently halfway through the CBSO's four-concert seasonal festivities, and Tuesday's opening night was heartwarming from the word go, with the orchestra making a brave sight onstage, the men in snowy-white tuxedos, the ladies in decorative colours.

Featuring so many 'family' members - the orchestra itself (of course), the CBS Chorus, Youth Chorus and Young Voices - the opening number, Carillon on Angelus ad Virginem fizzed with vibrant excitement, bringing a genuine kind of glamour to the approach of Christmas.

Throughout all their offerings the various CBS choruses thrilled with their forward, committed delivery, authoritatively marshalled by Simon Halsey, a chorus director beyond belief, travelling tirelessly across Europe wearing his various hats (Berlin another important one), and invariably turning up calm, collected and in control.

Halsey drew smiling accompaniments from a willing CBSO, and turned to more serious things with the premiere of Nativity Prelude by Birmingham's own masterly composer John Joubert.

This warmly atmospheric piece tells the shepherds' tale, beginning with a cor anglais ranz des vaches, and incorporates various sources along the way (including Joubert's own irresistible Torches) along its well-paced narration. Joubert obviously enjoyed writing this, with a unifying theme drawn (perhaps subconsciously) from the 'Gloria' in Mahler's Symphony no.8 - and what better model than that.

We also enjoyed another premiere, Gordon Thornett's jazzy NOEL!, wellfitted to the original Victorian words, and involving an unaccompanied verse which the CBSC delivered with aplomb.

Simon Callow contributed gripping literary offerings, including a wonderfully bad-tempered Journey of the Magi by T.S.Eliot. And then, of course, there were the audience carols, Halsey conducting with persuasive fluency.

Two more performances today (3pm and 7.30pm). Details on 0121 780 3333.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 23, 2004
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