Concert Review: Christmas Unwrapped

Quality entertainment for everyone

Quality entertainment for everyone

Presented by: Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed: 15 December, 2023

This concert has the warmth of mulled wine, the sparkle of champers and the kick of a decent single-malt whisky. In a concert of Christmas favourites, interesting arrangements, unusual repertoire, audience singalongs and a very silly Twelve Days of Christmas – what’s not to like? Especially when it’s being compered by Mister Affability himself, conductor Guy Noble. There is the simplicity of Rodgers’ Edelweiss, the magisterial complexity of Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque, the sheer good fun of Prokofiev’s Troika (from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite), and Leroy Anderson’s wonderful Sleigh Ride.  Whoever programmed thisconcert knew what they were doing.

Coloured lights span the Festival Centre stage. outsized baubles hang from the rafters, and groves of gold Christmas trees flank the orchestra. Everyone, from young to old, knows what they’re in for… and this is before the orchestra comes on stage. The orchestral players’ headgear ranges from jolly to bizarre, including glittering headbands, green flashing antlers, Santa hats and prodigious bunny ears. One gent in the Horns section is fully suited-up as Santa. 

Guy Noble, as both conductor and host, exudes a sense of welcome and bonhomie. His rapport with the ASO is evident from the first piece, Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy on Christmas Carols, a suitable showpiece for the orchestra’s sensitivity to mood and genre, with music ranging from arch harmonic tweaks to lush lounge arrangements. The orchestra likes Noble and they do what he says. The ASO sounds great.

The breadth of material covered in this concert is evidence that the programmers are taking their audiences seriously.  There’s simple, familiar material, unfamiliar repertoire designed to charm music buffs, things for kids, music beloved by senior concertgoers, and a bit of Yule campery.

Soprano soloist Désirée Frahn, gift-wrapped in a gleaming gold frock,  sings the obligatory O Holy Night (Adam) with respectful clarity. However, her second solo, Ding Dong! Merrily on high (neatly arranged by Mager) is splendid, filled with joyous energy, vocal flexibility and a real ability to contact her audience. Her ability to interpret a Great American Songbook number is evident in her warm and personable presentation of Blane and Martin’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. This concert format suits Frahn well.

Howard Blake composed music for The Snowman, an animated retelling of Raymond Briggs’ timeless story.  David Sharp (from the ‘Cello section) conducts the orchestra through Blake’s beautiful score, whilst Guy Noble reads the narration, recreating the story for us. The famous Walking On The Air solo is beautifully sung by boy soprano Phillip Cheng.

Outstanding for its uniqueness and the extraordinary sensitivity with which it is sung, is Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre. This meditative choral music, sung by the combined forces of the Graduate Singers and the Elder Conservatorium Chorale, and deftly conducted by Karl Geiger, is a musical highlight. With polyphonic harmonies sometimes reminiscent of Arvo Pärt, this performance alone is worth the price of admission.

There are a couple of singalong carols, Morton Gould’s Serenade of Carols, (clever arrangements of carol medleys), a bit of Nutcracker, Judith Weir’s My Guardian Angel, and Katherine Kennicott Davis’ perennial, The Carol of The Drum. Genial Guy Noble presides over a suitably wacky, Adelaide-flavoured reworking of The Twelve Days of Christmas.  We sing along lustily as volunteers onstage wield appropriate props – “Six-pack of Coopers, five violins, four smiley fritz, three French horns, two Malls Balls and a kookaburra in a gum tree.”

An entertaining, satisfying evening of excellent music.

Reviewed by Pat H. Wilson

Photo credit: Ben McMahon

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 15th – 16th December, 2023
Duration: 2 hours (including interval)
Tickets: From $71.00

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