(reviewed by Jan Loughran)

The Hexham Orpheus Choir is an asset to the cultural heritage of Hexham and a singing group to be proud of. Their Christmas concert on December 13th at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church was a fitting celebration of some of the wonderful music inspired by the devotion of the Mother of Jesus and a delightful interlude in the chaos of Christmas preparations.

The three settings of the Magnificat chosen offered contrasting musical interpretations of this wonderful prayer and demonstrated the choir’s considerable skill and musical talent. Preatorius’s 16th century setting ‘Magnificat on the fifth tone, with two carols’ was a splendid introduction to the concert and the complexities of the timing were well handled by the choir – although the challenges of the counting required were visible on the intent faces of the singers. Durante’s setting showcased joyful uplifting and positive sopranos and the choir was gloriously confident and clearly enjoying themselves in this piece. Stanford’s Magnificat in C was a new setting to me and I thought it was fabulous.

The soloists in the choir were excellent and the Orpheus showed depth in the talent of its singers by fielding three soprano soloists, three solo men as well as the lovely Val Hooker and Pip Emler. Once again Val Hooker and Pip Emler were worth the ticket price in their own right and the evident delight in their shared music making by Pip and Paul Berry during the Vivaldi ‘Nulla in mundo pax sincera’ was lovely to witness. Carolyn Below and Nancy Gash sang their soprano solos beautifully and the blending of the solo voices in both the Pretorius and Durante Magnificats were excellent.

The string interludes gave the concert a certain class and added a nice variation in the musical offerings. As always the musicians were excellent .The Handel Air from Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.12 was beautifully executed. I really appreciated the Grainger Mock Morris which was light hearted and frivolous (but I suspect much more difficult than it was made to appear!) and just the thing to make you smile on a snowy winter’s night.

The Christmas carols were a good mix of the familiar and the more unusual and helped to develop that Christmassy feeling often elusive in the cold and tiredness of mid December.

The Hexham Orpheus Choir will be performing Haydn’s Nelson Mass and Durufle’s Requiem in Hexham Abbey on Saturday 16th April. If this concert is a general indication of the choir’s talent this could be a date worth popping in your new diary!