Review: Songs Of Christmas/The Idea Of North With The Choir Of St James’

TION-325x151The Idea of North with the Choir of St James’

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Choir of St James’ concluded their highly successful 2014 season this Saturday gone with Songs of Christmas, a melange of popular tunes and Christmas favourites featuring guest artists and world-renowned a capella superstars  the Idea of North.

 I’ve never heard a group who sing quite as effortlessly at the Idea of North. This is the second time I’ve sung with them, and again I was struck speechless by the consistency, fluidity and vibrant colour of their sound. As any choristers reading will know, one of the most challenging aspects of good singing is maintaining control over the sound you produce (anyone can belt out ugly, unrestrained high notes – I’m looking at you, X Factor). True musicianship is creating a sonorous blend when singing softly as well as forcefully, and the Idea of North have this down to a fine art.

We in the Choir of St James’ are no stranger to this dichotomy – for every brutally loud Howells or Leighton Amen, there’s a Byrd or Rheinberger Dona nobis pacem that requires that barely-there-control. Songs of Christmas leapt from the gates with an example of each, performed by the Choir alone; ‘Jingle Bells’, in a joyously raucous and romping arrangement by the mysterious KR, and ‘My Lord Has Come’, a poignant new carol from the pen of young English composer Will Todd.

The selections in TION’s first bracket ranged from Christmas stalwarts God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Mary’s Boy Child to the Beatles’ In My Life, a varied set to be sure but always unified by the group’s trademark sound, which glows, pops and grooves in equal measures. Bass Andrew Piper’s inventive mix of bass and vocal percussion underpins this sound, with tenor Nick Begbie and alto Joy Hague’s syrupy voices filling out the middle while soprano Sally Cameron’s voice floats above like a zephyr – bell-like, seductive and never harsh. Their ensemble skills are second-to-none, with key changes and complex rhythmic patterns turning on a dime. Highlights included Joy Hague’s moving performance of In My Life, the festive and spot-on Christmas arrangements of Naomi Crellin (TION’s founding alto, currently on maternity leave), and ‘What’s in the Spam?’, a psalm chant which I do not recall ever having sung at St James’ (we’re pretty sure they were having a go at us).

The Choir returned after intermission with erstwhile St James tenor Joe Twist’s haunting arrangement of Silent Night, featuring the dulcet tones of soprano soloist Liza Lilli, and Philip Stopford’s  sweet, if slightly nauseating, A Christmas Blessing, which has since been given the epithet ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Rutter’ by certain parties who shall remain nameless. Memorable moments of TION’s second bracket included songs by Bette Midler,  Joni Mitchell, an immersive arrangement of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting), and a combined item with the Choir, the Australian favourite The Silver Bells are in the Sky. Credit must once again go to Naomi Crellin for the arrangement, which brought out the gentle pastoral and naturalistic elements of the carol.

It is always an absolute pleasure to share the stage with such consummate musicians, and I’m sure I speak for the rest of the Choir when I say that we enjoyed this festive capstone to 2014 just as much as the audience. We look forward to working with the Idea of North again in the future, hopefully to deliver concerts as full of pure musical joy and expression as this one.

Luke Iredale for SoundsLikeSydney© 

Luke iredale is a tenor with the Choir of St James’. He is also a clarinetist and writer, and earns a crust working in Arts Management with UNSW’s Music Performance Unit. He enjoys the music of Schubert, Howells, Dylan and Hetfield.


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