Advent Carol Concert, Ardingly, review: Joyful and celebratory atmosphere at candlelit event

From left: Marianne Goodale, Robert Hammersley, Olivia Bell and Kathryn James. Picture by Melvyn Walmsley
From left: Marianne Goodale, Robert Hammersley, Olivia Bell and Kathryn James. Picture by Melvyn Walmsley

Advent Carol Concert by Candlelight, Ardingly Choral Society, String Quartet and Keyboard, Olivia Bell and Marianne Goodale, Ardingly College Chapel, December 18

Candlelit Advent carol concerts for the St Peter and St James Hospice in the inspiring Ardingly College Chapel, and under the baton of Robert Hammersley, have deservedly become a popular part of a Mid Sussex Christmas.

They also welcome back talented former students such as, this time, sopranos Olivia Bell and Marianne Goodale and organist/continuo keyboard player David Moore.

The expected high standards from the performers and even the audience, in the interspersed congregational Advent and Christmas hymns and carols, were again maintained.

Vivaldi’s best known ‘Gloria’ exuded all the happiness and clarity the composer intended, the Choral Society’s four sections distinctive yet well blended. Marianne and Olivia’s duet in its ‘Laudamus Te’ soared sweetly and movingly, while a newcomer to these concerts, Kathryn James (contralto, from North Wales) impressed right across her rich vocal range. The singers were accompanied by an on-form baroque quartet comprising Martin Palmer and Tim Miller (first and second violins), Rosemary Cole (viola) and Michael Lavelle (cello); their delicate account of the Pastorale from Corelli’s Christmas Concerto was another gleaming musical bauble to delight eyes and ears.

From a sprightly ‘Ding Dong Merrily’ (1598) through to Adam’s mid-Victorian, reverential ‘O Holy Night’ (with Monika Lavelle contributing a fine flute obbligato to augment the quartet) the choir caught the various moods in which Christmas has been musically celebrated.

Throughout, Robert Hammersley ensured that the joyful, celebratory atmosphere was facilitated through flowing rhythms and tempi, clear choral diction and well managed audience participation.

The jewel in the crown was a collection of £1,100 for the St Peter and St James Hospice, following a succinct, effective address by its trustee Christine Gibbons.

On Sunday, April 7 (7.30pm), Ardingly Choral Society present Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ in the College Chapel.