Only in its second year, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen’s Concert for Christmas at Glyndebourne is already a welcome heraldic fanfare for the celebrations to begin.
Staged as a vital fundraiser for the Friends of Sussex Hospices, it’s described by chairman Kathy Gore as ‘a festive feast of pitch-perfect harmony to inspire and thrill us all.’
This wonderfully atmospheric concert - the massive Glyndebourne stage is bare and black apart from two lit Christmas trees - dips into the plainsong of England’s ancient liturgical heritage but also takes flight into the 20th century with the shivering stillness of Tavener’s The Lamb.
Made famous on Christmas Eve 1982 in the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, prosaically this semi-mystical music was composed by Tavener while he was being driven by his mother from South Devon to London that year.
Other delights were Byrd’s Ave Maria; the 16th century seven-voice Missa Puer Natus est Nobis by Tallis (composer to both Henry VII and Mary Tudor) and Roth’s lovely Song of the Shepherds.
While The Sixteen is recognised as one of the world’s greatest ensembles, mention should be made of the gloriously rippling soprano solos by Julie Cooper and Emilia Morton.
The concert ended with some splendid renditions of familiar carols by the audience, accompanied by the astonishingly talented Glyndebourne Youth Opera whose young solo introduction to Once in Royal David’s City made your bone marrow shiver. Harry Christophers previewed our full-throated efforts at The Sussex Carol as ‘suitable for the most beautiful county in England.’ Yes Harry, we agree, although we probably sounded more like a football crowd than a baroque choir.
The evening had its roots firmly in East Sussex soil - Kathy lives in Framfield and was former High Sheriff of the county while Gus and Danielle Christie had allowed the charity to use their iconic Downland opera house.
The concert was an early introduction to the charity’s 21st birthday year. It has already raised more than £1.5 million - an indispensable aid to paying for services provided by the county’s 12 hospices which must raise 79 per cent of their total funding requirement themselves.
The concert itself raised in the region of £60,000 plus an extra £3,000 from the bucket collection.
Kathy summed up the charity’s driving purpose by quoting Mother Theresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
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