Music Durham’s Michaelmas concert season was brought to a magical end by Durham University Brass Band and Durham University Concert Band in their sell-out joint concert, ‘12 Days Till Christmas’.
The evening set off to a grand start in Durham’s Town Hall with Durham University Brass Band (conducted by Isaac Conroy) playing James Curnow’s Fanfare and Flourishes, which seamlessly segued into the traditional, very Christmassy Gaudete, as arranged by Rodney Newton. Although the band was occasionally very slightly out of time with each other, they more than made up for that through the liveliness and spirit with which they played. The strict tempo of the Gaudete was skilfully conveyed, with a well-synchronised ending.
The Gaudete was followed by the popular Christmas carol, O Come All Ye Faithful, which was sung by audience. The descant in the last verse was well brought out and rose beautifully above the audience and the rest of the instruments. There was some really commendable work from the percussionist who had to move quickly from one side of the stage to the other, but managed it very well.
Barrie Gott’s Shine was full of enthusiasm and energy, with the band members clearly enjoying themselves. There were a few shaky moments when the band first broke into song, but this was mitigated by the fact that the singing was a nice surprise that the audience didn’t see coming. The band’s playing was very well coordinated by this point, which means the timing issues at the start were very likely a case of nerves.
Adolphe Adam’s O Holy Night (arr. Keith Wilkinson) was one of the highlights of Brass Band’s part of the concert, with a gorgeous euphonium solo supported by some well-sustained accompaniment. The glockenspiel and cymbals added a lovely shimmering sound, which worked well with the mood of the piece. This was succeeded by Ashmore’s Jingle Bells, which was generally well-synchronised and had some adorable, very Christmassy bells.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing was sung by the audience and had a striking ‘fanfare-like’ beginning. It was mostly a very successful rendition, although the descant in the final verse could have been brought out a little better. Erik Leidzein’s Christmas Joy, a medley of popular Christmas carols, was a fitting piece to end the first half of the concert on.
After a short interval during which the audience was served mulled wine and mince pies and accompanied by Brass Band’s ten piece ensemble, Durham University Concert Band (conducted by Thomas Hicken and Douglas Brown) took to the stage with a selection of pieces from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite (arr. Paul Lavender) complemented by a short narration of the story by Charlotte Clews. The March from The Nutcracker Suite had a slightly shaky beginning, with some timing and coordination issues. It was performed slower than normal and there was an occasional lag in the flute melodies: however, the clarinet accompaniment was perfect. Dance of the Reed Flutes and the Russian Dance (Trepak) were both well executed, with some laudable playing from the flutes as well as the rest of the woodwinds and the percussion. Concert Band concluded the selection from the Nutcracker with the well-known classic, Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy. The melody line was rendered beautifully on the glockenspiel, which lent a magical quality to the performance.
Jeff Simons’ Cowboy Christmas, a ‘Wild West meets chapel choir’ medley of Christmas classics was the perfect contrast to the Nutcracker. Concert Band’s use of perfectly synchronised syncopation was a pleasure to listen to and the use of percussion and trumpet to mimic the animals worked really well. The piece was well coordinated throughout, and the tubular bells and snares helped add to the Christmassy mood.
The 12 Days of Christmas was sung by the audience and was performed with some really effective, well-coordinated changes in tempo. It was followed by Prokofiev’s Troika (arr. Scott Watson), which was full of energy and really well coordinated throughout, and certainly managed to evoke the image of a sleigh riding through the Russian winter. Next came Good King Wenceslaus, which was sung by the audience.
An Irving Berlin Christmas (arr. Warren Barker), a medley of Christmas favourites composed by Irving Berlin, had a magical start from the percussion that was complemented by the rest of the band. Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride was a vibrant penultimate piece, full of sparkling energy and great execution from all sections of the band.
The final performance of the night was Leroy Anderson’s Christmas Festival, which was jointly performed by both bands, and conducted by Thomas Hicken dressed as Santa. The medley was probably the best performance of the night, with clarity and well-balanced sound in the individual ‘voices’. The changes in character were smoothly pulled off, and the performance of Jingle Bells at the same time as O Come All Ye Faithful worked well, with both parts interweaving brilliantly. The concert ended on a high with a perfectly executed cut off at the end. What a lovely way to end the term!