Chichester Festival Theatre Christmas Concerts - stunning to look at, superb to hear

Chichester Festival Theatre Christmas Concerts, until Saturday, December 9.
Christmas concerts - pic by Tim HillsChristmas concerts - pic by Tim Hills
Christmas concerts - pic by Tim Hills

Quite apart from the beauty and indeed the magnificence of the sound (and yes, that’s a pretty massive quite-apart-from), one of the great pleasures of the Chichester Festival Theatre Christmas concerts is that they just look so stunning. Against a backdrop of (seemingly) floating, decorated Christmas trees, The Band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth sit resplendent in their uniforms amid their tinsel-festooned music stands. Then on come the corps of drums, so incredibly watchable. And then on comes Chichester Cathedral Choir. It’s the perfect Christmas spectacle before a note is blown, bowed, strummed, sung or otherwise created.

The concerts are a wonderful showcase for the Cathedral Choir – and how lovely to see the girl choristers so at home amongst them. Every year, under Charles Harrison, organist and master of the choristers of Chichester Cathedral, the choir seems to scale new heights. Their performance tonight was simply exquisite. Similarly impressive in the second half – after boy/girl chorister bedtime – the lay vicars of the choir, as always, showed quite remarkable accomplishment, wit and skill under their Close Company banner. And in between, of course, the Royal Marines dazzled in all their virtuosity and versatility. All in all, it seemed a particularly strong programme tonight.

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Even so, maybe, just maybe, next year it’s time to reinstate some of the elements these concerts have lost over the years. The massed school choirs were always glorious quite some years ago, but maybe above all the concerts need a host to pull everything together, to add an extra dimension, to increase the humour and inject more variety, maybe some Christmas readings. In the olden days, Richard Stilgoe was superb in the role. Then a variety of others stepped into his shoes. And then the host role disappeared altogether. Of course, a big part of Christmas lies in hoping that things will always be the same. But it could well do this concert a huge favour to revisit and reconsider the format for next year… and maybe step back into a few ideas from its own past.

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