You don’t have to number among the faithful to think that Christmas in Melbourne just wouldn’t feel like Christmas without a Messiah or two and a swag of Christmas carols.
Familiar to both opera and Carols by Candlelight audiences, tenor David Hobson acted as master of ceremonies as well as singing a generous number of solo items and duets. He was joined by a young, exceptionally gifted soprano in Georgia Wilkinson and concert pianist-cum-organist Rhodri Clarke to conjure up the spirit of Christmas at St Kilda’s capacious All Saints Church.
The concert was heralded by the sound of the pitch perfect and beautifully pure voice of Elisha Punay from the Australian Children’s Choir as she processed down the central aisle holding a lantern. The organ and soloists joined her for the second verse and the audience did so for the final two. It was the beginning of a celebration of Christmas music that blended formal traditional fare with a relaxed, more intimate atmosphere of shared personal anecdotes, friendly banter and concise information about the music.
The first half of the concert comprised a range of classical music, with Hobson in dinner suit and Wilkinson looking angelic in a white evening gown. After introducing his fellow singer, Hobson took up a guitar and, seated on a stool, accompanied Wilkinson in a very lovely version of the Coventry Carol. A sensitive singer, she delivered the simple melody in a gentle flow of resonant warmth, harmonising with Hobson for the final verse. Afterwards, the person sitting next to me sighed, “Beautiful!” – and it was. The rapport between Hobson and Wilkinson was a feature of the evening as they alternated their solos and stepped out while the other took centre stage. Following the carol, Wilkinson spoke about the Gounod arrangement of Ave Maria, which Hobson sang with commendable breath control. Although a microphone was used for speaking, both singers possessed more than enough vocal power to project their voices successfully. Wilkinson’s voice in particular simply bloomed in easy resonance on the upper notes.
There was plenty of variety even within the first half of the concert. Wilkinson performed an enchanting rendition of Adam Lay ybounden, with an effective strumming accompaniment of spread chords from the piano, and a sparkling Alleluia from Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate graced with agile, precise coloratura. Hobson gave a forthright account of Every Valley from Handel’s Messiah marked by impressive flexibility. They combined for a wonderfully hushed Silent Night and an atmospheric In the Bleak Midwinter with a tinkling bell-like accompaniment from the piano.
Rhodri Clarke opened the second half of the concert with Percy Grainger’s setting of the Sussex Mummer’s Carol and Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. And then it was time for a lighter note. Descending from the organ, Rhodri Clarke was revealed in a top of dazzling red and green. Georgia Wilkinson entered dressed in a fetching little Santa outfit and Hobson dressed down to a T-shirt until she presented him with a Christmas-themed top more embarrassing than the one worn by Bridget Jones’ Mark Darcy. Seated on stools with legs covered in a rug, they bounced and jingled along on a sleigh ride, had us all “a merry little Christmas” and took us “walking in a winter wonderland” as they strolled around the pews. There were Australian Christmas carols and members of the audience joined in for The First Noël and the concluding item, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.
Although the audience was smaller than the quality of the concert deserved, this entertaining and uplifting celebration, featuring some exceptional performances, was very much appreciated by those present.
Heather Leviston reviewed From Bach to Bing at All Saints Church, St Kilda, on December 10, 2016.