The dawn of December always brings a flood of Christmas concerts but this year’s Huawei Winter Concert at the Royal Festival Hall brought true goodwill as the joint corporate and public event raised money for young people with The Prince’s Trust.
The concert on Monday December 2 saw the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as conducted by Mike Dixon, collaborate with soprano Laura Wright and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir before tenor Alfie Boe and his band took over.
The disparity between the businesspeople in the stalls and the concertgoers around them seemed to represent the unusual line drawn between the two halves of the concert, in which the music transitioned from entirely classical albeit with some lighter Christmas tunes to a mixture of folk, country and gospel influences.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra seemed to take a joyful approach to the Christmas music. The sleigh bell percussionists seemed particularly engaged considering their repetitive parts, and the famous whip sound in Sleigh Ride was rarely in precisely the right place but an enthusiastic atmosphere meant this was overlooked.
The trumpet and trombone sections’ respective moments in both Sleigh Ride and Troika provided raucous examples of the orchestra’s capabilities when compared with the string section’s pizzicato lines and the woodwind’s sensitive dialogues.
Mike Dixon, an experienced MD of many genres, tied the orchestra together with the vocalists superbly. The Tiffin Boys’ Choir provided delicate renditions of In The Bleak Midwinter and an a cappella Silent Night, but unfortunately Dixon pushed too insistently and the different sections were rarely completely together.
Fortunately, Dixon gave Laura Wright more space, and her collaborations with the orchestra felt more natural – so much so that she joined him on the podium for a dance during a White Christmas instrumental, before smoothly seguing back into the big final chorus.
John Barry’s Born Free and Gershwin’s Someone To Watch Over Me were both pure and from the heart, but the true highlight of the first half was the full-bodied Benedictus by Karl Jenkins, as the basses in the choir provided a majestic depth behind Miss Wright and the contrast between the moving verses and the sudden climax led by some smashing percussion did every performer justice.
Our first introduction to Alfie Boe was during The Dimming Of The Day before the interval, a duet with Miss Wright backed by the orchestra and members of Boe’s band, and the connection between the two singers meant a tantalising duet that left the audience wanting much more of Boe.
On his return, he did not disappoint. Playing most of his new album Trust, Boe managed to both capture the audience with his pure vibrato in beautiful numbers like If You Go Away and closer Forever Young as well as drive rhythms forward and even get people dancing on the stage, from one enthusiastic woman in Wayfaring Stranger to half of the audience in Glory Glory Hallelujah.
Boe’s keenness to “open doors to new genres of music” has led him to mix his operatic singing voice with a cleverly mixed choice of repertoire, and his band, under direction from Murray Gold, must be commended for their flexibility and top quality musicality throughout the performance.
Alfie Boe may have driven in the crowds to augment the business audience, but the whole evening was a treat. Most traditional concerts do not share such a wide range of genres, but perhaps it is time that this format is more widely tried. The audience responded well to this innovation, clapping respectfully for the classical treats and becoming more animated in response to an innovative world-class singer.