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Review; THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS Philharmonic Hall.

DECK the halls with boughs of holly - and with two bow and light-laden trees, then illuminate the whole in seasonal rosy hues.

Serve with a large portion of traditional carols and a sprinkling of schmaltz (and a wintry 'wonderland' outside) and you have an evening Scrooge would be pushed to resist.

This year the Phil's Spirit of Christmas concerts have been put together by conductor Ian Tracey and artistic director Jen Heyes, who have married known and lesser-known carols with storytelling and an ensemble of actors who flit in and out in Victorian garb.

It's a well-devised programme, overseen by the effervescent Lesley Garrett as singer/presenter and showcasing the quality of the RLPO, Philharmonic Choir and the Phil's Youth Choir to boot, ranged in serried ranks on stage.

That's not to say the night doesn't have its issues.

The audience participation carols prove patchy through a lack of clear direction from the stage, while Rumpole's Christmas, a yarn by John Mortimer and composer Kenneth Hesketh, getting its premiere here, turns into a bit of a seasonal shaggy dog story.

But elsewhere there are some beautiful performances by the orchestra and, in particular, the choirs, the young singers delivering a lovely version of the Yorkshire Wassail and a bright traditional spiritual Ain't That the News (although their Past Three O'Clock is so slow it verges on dirge-like).

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir, meanwhile, chime in with their own bright, crystal clear Wassail, and envelop proceedings in a warm and fuzzy musical blanket through John Rutter's I Wish You Christmas. Lesley Garrett also more than earns her keep, oozing enthusiasm for the Phil, the choirs and for the substantial list of songs she sings throughout the evening.

Among them are an obligatory visit to the Messiah, but also charming forays through Chabrier, Cornelius (The Three Kings, with the youth choir strangely opting for an 'ahh' accompaniment rather than the composer's beautiful lines), and an exquisite version of the Welsh carol Tua Bethlem Dref, which alone is worth braving the snow to hear.

The performers end with a We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and you'd have to be a real curmudgeon to quibble with that. Repeated tomorrow and until Thursday.

8/10 cheering
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 20, 2010
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