Portsmouth Choral Union: Christmas Carols and Music with Hampshire County Youth Orchestra

The Angels Approved

The angels looked down from the roof of St. Mary’s, Portsea as over 100 young musicians of The Hampshire County Youth Orchestra and nearly 100 singers of Portsmouth Choral Union performed to a packed audience (concert on 10 December 2022).

The programme began in a lively manner with Stravinsky’s Scherzo à la Russe. It is said it was a favourite in the Barnum Circus for the entry of the elephants. The orchestra is strong in all four sections and it was wonderful to see and hear the many talented young musicians playing so well under their conductor, Carl Clausen.

The evening included three carols for audience participation with descants by David Willcocks, whose son, Jonathan, was Musical Director of PCU for many years.

The well-balanced singers sang three carols which sounded beautiful in the warm acoustic of St. Mary’s and included The Three Kings by Cornelius. For this piece, Olympia Hetherington, mezzo, sang the solo part. She had been in Pisa that morning and had flown over to replace Flora Mcintosh who was indisposed.

The Tsar’s Farewell & Departure with The Three Wonders from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of The Tsar Sultan proved an exciting choice, as it provided a chance for all sections of the orchestra to shine, with its dramatic fanfare start and enthusiastic percussion playing. The colourful orchestration provided an inspiring experience for both players and audience.

David Gostick, the Musical Director of PCU, is fond of performing seldom-heard works and Greeting to the Holy Night by Max Bruch proved to be well worth its inclusion in the programme. Its five stanzas of a poem by Robert Prutz alternate between choir and mezzo-soprano and also combine in romantic harmony. Olympia Hetherington sang with a rich, resonant tone and the choir and orchestra combined to make the climax a thrilling sound.

PCU offered a further four modern carols, the last of which, Glory to the Christ by Alan Bullard made a lively contribution, in which its awkward rhythms were well-managed.

The players of HCYO appeared to really enjoy performing music from the film Hook by John Williams. Flight to Neverland has brilliant orchestration, tunes to remember and is very demanding to play, as Carl Clausen wrote in the programme. Again, all sections revelled in this piece, especially the string players, who delivered the big tunes with panache. We should all feel very proud of the achievements of the members of our County Youth Orchestra.

The enjoyable evening ended with the PCU wishing us A Merry Christmas, as arranged by Arthur Warrell, in which the angels above us joined in too.

Geoff Porter

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