Tonight I had the pleasure of attending DUOS, DUCC and Northern Lights’ Christmas concert at Elvet Methodist Church. Durham University Orchestral Society; Durham University Chamber Choir; and Northern Lights are among Music Durham’s most competitive and reputable ensembles. Each hold regular concerts and have members who regularly perform at a national level.

The concert opened with a lovely set of Christmas songs sung by the Chamber Choir. Warlock’s ‘Benedicamus Domino’ instantly demonstrated the choir’s wonderful strength and clarity. While the lower voices were, at times, slightly drowned by the sopranos, the performance was a strong and solid opener. Such balance issues were quickly remedied by the stunning performances of Warlock’s ‘Adam lay Ybounden’ and Britten’s ‘Hymn to the Virgin’, which featured a particularly beautiful dialogue between the choir and a quartet who sang from the back of the church. The Chamber Choir finished their programme with an arrangement of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’. While the performance had the choir’s expectedly great blend and harmony, I felt that the choir sometimes left a bit to be desired in spirit and engagement with audience.

The concert continued with the introduction of the Northern Lights a cappella ensemble. With the Chamber Choir, the a cappella ensemble performed Sharpe’s arrangement of ‘Cold December Night’. The piece brought a welcomed new burst of energy to the concert and combined the Chamber Choir’s fantastic blend with Northern Lights’ infectious energy and enthusiasm. The Concert continued with Northern lights performing ‘Clarity’ (arr. Logan Williams), ‘Shotgun’ (arr. Rosie Weston), ‘High Five’ (arr. Seb Marlow), ‘Go Your Own Way’ (arr. Seb Marlow) and ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ (arr. Pentatonix). Each song featured fantastic solo vocals from various members of the ensemble yet, while the arrangements were all very exciting and immaculately well rehearsed, the first of the four songs did seem slightly out of place within the concert. Nonetheless, the Northern Lights lived up to their outstanding reputation.

The first half ended with an wonderfully festive performance of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Christmas Carol’ with DUOS and DUCC. The piece demonstrated DUOS’s incredible sound and dynamic range; and Seb Carpanini gave great, atmospheric tenor solos. The piece was a great end to the wonderful first half and left the audience excited for the rest of DUOS’s performance after the interval.

After a 20 minute interval with mince pies and hot drinks, the second half began with DUOS performing a lovely fantasy of Christmas carols (arr. Malcolm Arnold) The orchestra once again demonstrated their fantastic depth and proficiency with beautiful flourishes between textures and immaculate timing and balance. The concert continued with a delightful performance of Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, in which the orchestra had great energy and enthusiasm and it was abundantly clear that the percussion section were having a rather great time! The concert finished with the Chamber Choir rejoining the orchestra for a beautifully romantic arrangement of O Holy Night (arr. Gary Fry) and a climactic arrangement of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (arr. Alex Mackinder), which saw the inclusion of the audience for the congregational hymn.

While there were some minor delays with the front of house queueing, tonight’s concert was a delight to watch and I look forward to attending each group’s performances next term. DUOS will return to Elvet Methodist Church on March 16th for a joint Symphony and Chamber concert. Northern Lights will be performing with Full Score at The Gala Theatre on the 28th of January. DUCC will be singing in Durham Cathedral Chapter House on the 2nd of March.