It’s the time of year when Christmas concerts abound and, let’s face it, some are better than others. Perfection is rare, but Milverton Concert Society’s presentation of the ‘Blossom Street’ choir’s ‘Sing Holy Babe’ last Friday came very, very close. ‘Blossom Street’ originated at York University where many of the members were music students (Blossom Street is in York) and moved to London in 2007.
The twelve singers, three in each part and directed by their founder Hilary Campbell, wowed their audience with a candle-lit Christmas evening to remember. The unaccompanied programme was wide ranging – songs from the 16th to the 21st century, from Mexico to Russia were all presented with sheer professionalism and beauty of sound.
Each singer’s voice was obviously of solo quality, yet the blend and ensemble were perfect, the balance across the whole range from deepest bass to top soprano just right. It takes a great deal of hard work to achieve this quality, and it was obvious from the outset that Hilary Campbell is in complete control of every aspect. Her conducting was brilliant, both hands communicating tempo and phrasing, dynamics and interpretation in a wonderful way. And yet her singers weren’t robots, following a computer program – they sounded relaxed, happy and flexible and were visibly enjoying every note they sang.
In an evening full of musical highlights, a few gems shone even more brilliantly. ‘Silent Night’ opened the second half, the singers scattered to all points of the church. The ensemble was still perfect; we all felt we were inside the sound, and no ‘surround sound’ technology could have matched the beauty of what we heard. Rachmaninov’s famous ‘Bogoroditse Devo’ from the Vespers was gorgeously done, the basses’ sound being truly Russian. Of the modern Christmas songs it was a pleasure to hear a selection of Peter Gritton’s arrangements. These are both beautiful and fiendish, but ‘Blossom Street’ made light of the harmonic pitfalls.
A big feature of the evening was a strong emphasis on English composers, and we heard lovely contributions from Finzi and Warlock, Campkin and Pott, and arrangements by Willcocks. Everything about this evening was a delight – the mulled wine and mince pies really hit the spot, the audience were made to feel welcome by the Society members and the whole ambience was complemented by the glorious music. Again, a triumph for Milverton Concert Society – keep it up, we love it!
Review by Harold Mead