Raining Ducks and Bears ; 1994 Christmas Festival Barbican Centre, London Nicholas Williams
Williams, Nicholas, The Independent (London, England)
Praised for entertaining the citizens of Dublin with his Messiah, Handel replied that he had hoped not just to entertain them, but also to do them good. Did Raymond Gubbay, promoter of popular classics, share this sentiment when planning his 1994
Christmas Festival, 20 days of carol concerts and galas running to the end of December?
Robert King's "Joy of Christmas" concert at the Barbican last Thursday certainly had an educational slant; though, as King confessed in his witty spoken prefaces, some items had nothing to do with seasonal festivities. The King's Consort played the dancemovements from Bach's Orchestral Suite No3 and Sheep may safely graze, with David Nickless singing the solo treble part both here and in King's subtle arrangement of the folk carol I wonder as I wander. With the choir of New College, Oxford, c a ssockedin red, they also gave a firm account of Handel's coronation anthem Zadok the Priest. Not exactly a work in the Christmas spirit, but a rousing finish to the first half.
More topical was a pair of motets by English Catholics: William Byrd's O magnum mysterium and Richard Dering's Quem vidistis pastores, nicely sung by the choir. A collection of traditional carols - English, German, French and Basque - included Ding dong merrily on high in King's own folksy version for choir and orchestra, and the singers alone in Angelus ad virginem and Personent hodie. This, if anything, was the real Christmas, the last vestige of a religious festival that once united the whole of medieval Europe. For those with more Enlightenment tastes, and for the merely entertained, there was also a Messiah sequence to end the evening on a note of moral improvement. …