“The Phil at Christmas” Rugby Philharmonic Choir at the Temple Speech Room,
15th December 2018
The hallmarks of The Rugby Philharmonic Choir’s partnership with their musical director Mervyn Bethell become more clearly defined with every concert. So too the quality of the performances, and the strength of their support - this was a very big audience. One hallmark is mutual confidence: a two-hour programme in which the Choir itself is the key performer for 95% of the time demands unwavering concentration and a strong belief that interpretation, sound and tone can be sustained and consistent. None of this is possible without another hallmark: discipline - there is always precision in the conductor’s direction, and the choir responded with beautiful accuracy in the shape of phrases, and very good, often outstanding, clarity of words. It’s not fair to leave out a final hallmark, of course: shared fun.
The “Phil” asked a lot of themselves. Britten’s famous ‘A Ceremony of Carols’ sets a series of medieval poems in styles varying from plainsong to layers of abrupt syncopation. Then a different challenge - Alan Woods’ ‘This Joyous Night’ from 1999, although popular wherever it has been heard, has not apparently been performed in Rugby before. Most of us, therefore, were offered a pleasing new treat. John Rutter is much more familiar to many. But that does not reduce the impact of his work, or the trickiness of harmony and tuning: and ‘The Gift of Life’, was a moving start to the second half of this concert. And so, to carols, including Adolphe Adam’s 1843 ‘Oh Holy Night’ which has become such a favourite.
A lot was also asked of the soloists and accompanists, who all know the Phil well, and again were vital in the success of the evening. The ease and skill of Jo Foote’s accompaniment was remarkable. She and James Williams on the organ made their two instruments sound orchestral in range and depth - a tour de force. Emma Griffiths’ soprano floated magically above the choir, and Jack Dolan showed his versatility by singing baritone solo early on, and then revealing his soaring tenor range in the second half. A team of percussionists added layers of strength in the second half.
The “Phil’s” capacity for partnerships took another leap forward too. They worked in this concert with Rugby FM: the concert, kindly sponsored by the Hinckley and Rugby Building Society, was recorded for radio, and Jason Moss, familiar voice on Rugby FM, was the compere for the evening.