Carol concert in Lewes a glowing beacon of festivities

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St Michael’s Church in Lewes was packed to the doors for the Pestalozzi Carol Concert, which over 25 years has become a beacon for the Christmas festivities in the town.

The concert is built around the choir of around 25 voices who come together for a couple of evenings in November to rehearse the programme.

The choir was directed by Roger Durston, the former Director of the East Sussex County Music Service and founder of the East Sussex Bach Choir.

His programme and brief introductions took the singers and audience through the history of the carol from medieval to modern times. The choral singing was superb in the blend within sections, in the way the parts resounded with each other, in the overall power and energy when required, and in some extraordinary quiet and delicate singing.

New to most of the choir and audience alike was ‘O Radiant Dawn’ by James Macmillan, a powerful invocation to the dawn bringing new life and hope after the shortest day of the year. Roger also conducted both choir and audience in four lusty and well- known carols.

The audience is always appreciative of contributions from some of the young Pestalozzi students. This year three girls from Zambia, Zimbabwe and Uganda delivered two religious songs in the local idiom. Two young people from Nepal and Bhutan sang a song of peace, and a young man from India a reflective Hindi song, All the performers were expert, confident, and had the audience totally gripped.

As well as supporting the choir, audience and soloists on the organ and piano throughout the whole concert, Nick Milner-Gulland portrayed the lighter side of the Christmas festivities with Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’ – rollicking on the organ.

The Pestalozzi Concert has always been fortunate in the willingness of distinguished musicians to give their services to it. Mezzo-soprano Anne Mason returned straight from this year’s Glyndebourne Festival and Tour.

In arias by Handel and Saint-Saens, a carol by Michael Head and Lloyd Webber, by turns sensitive and powerful, she gave stunning portraits of different facets of love: of God, of nature and of man.