Christmas Carols at the Royal Albert Hall

Christmas tunes have been pumping – or piping – out (depending on the genre) for weeks now,  but with only a week to go things are getting serious and it is time to bring out the real thing-  proper live carol singing! And if you really want to bring out the big guns in the carol singing world, then you can’t do much better that the Royal Albert Hall, John Rutter, The Royal Philharmonic and the choirboys and girls from St Albans Cathedral.

It’s the second time we’ve been to this concert and I was surprised, looking round, how few families there were. It’s certainly not for younger children as they would find it too long and get fidgety – but for 10 plus and maybe younger it’s a lovely way to celebrate Christmas.

I wouldn’t miss out on the Candlemas or Christingle services for the world ( and St John’s Notting Hill has it’s candlelit carols this Sunday (December 18th) from 6.30pm. )But however good the church organist – and the organist and new organ at St John’s are out of this world – it’s hard to beat the Royal Philharmonic orchestra accompanying you and and several thousand others in singing Oh Come all ye Faithful – or the 12 Days of Christmas.

The Albert Hall has more than 5,000 seats and most appeared to be taken – but John Rutter had no trouble keeping his potentially unruly “People’s Choir” under control,  despite the complexities of either men or women or choir only singing various verses!

The concert is a mixture of traditional carols (Hark the herald angels sing, God rest you merry gentlemen) , seasonal orchestral pieces ( Bizet’s Farandole,) and some of John Rutter’s own compositions including the very beautiful A child’s prayer sung by the choristers from St Alban’s cathedral.

The Bach Choir and soloists Elin Manahan Thomas and Melanie Marshall added some stunning duets, glamour and humour. Because this concert is far from stuffy – despite the splendour of the setting it has the atmosphere of Last Night of the Proms, with the crowd entirely behind the performers who wear christmas headgear for the second half, plenty of chance to sing a long, some humorous lighter music such as Rutter’s The Heavenly Aeroplane and  Bugler’s Holiday by Leroy Anderson – and even a quick music quiz aimed at this unsurprisingly musically literate audience!

I particularly enjoyed A Child’s Prayer; the very sprightly Unto us a Child is Born; and the orchestra’s rendition of Delius’s Sleigh Ride with plenty of bells and changes of tempo it was clear that John Rutter was enjoying the ride. And though not in a church we still got to hear the organ as Andrew Lucas gave a brief but dramatic performance as Count Dracula ( you needed to be there) !

It’s a lovely traditional, but fun, evening out and if you are thinking of booking next year,  I believe that the show is also repeated in Birmingham at the Symphony Hall.

I may have lived in Notting Hill for almost 20 years – but I do know that there is life outside London!!





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