REVIEW: New Year with Camerata

Posted on January 12, 2009

CityLife’s Robert Beale reviews Manchester Camerata’s contribution to New Year’s celebrations

Manchester’s orchestras provided bags of seasonal cheer yet again this holiday.

I sampled three offerings – the Halle’s carol concert with James Burton, the second of its nights with Carl Davis at the helm, and the Camerata’s New Year’s Eve Gala.

It would be silly to compare one against another, but the abiding impression of the Halle carol concert this year was the irrepressible fun provided by the Halle Youth Choir, which now takes a share of the proceedings.

James Burton himself has honed the formula to a fine art, and, with Petroc Trelawny as presenter, made sure that the mixture of orchestral favourites and choral gems was a pleasure for all tastes.

And there were carols for all (accompanied not only by the orchestra but also by Christopher Stokes on the Bridgewater Hall organ, an expert at encouraging people to sing) – plus a visit from Father Christmas himself. In fact, he came in several guises – four horn players each in blow-up suits, for one thing, and a visitor who proved he could also play the timpani.

The Halle Orchestra’s members have always proved they can enjoy a Christmas concert more than most, and the Youth Choir have the right idea, too. They sang quite beautifully in Clara Schumann’s Ave Maria, a little gem I’d not met before, and complementing and joining the main Halle Choir – which was as good as ever.

Carl Davis’s second concert was a typical blast of his favourite show tunes, and – something I always admire him for – he kept the introductions concise.

His soloists were Gemma O’Duffy and Christian Jon Billett, two young vocalists with a lot going for them: Gemma made an excellent Streisand double in Don’t Rain On My Parade. And the Mamma Mia selection revealed a swinging Halle, with Erika Ohman the undoubted dancing queen of the percussion department.

Robert Ziegler took the Camerata baton for New Year’s Eve, with mezzo-soprano Frances Bourne in solos that ranged from Rossini and Mozart through Offenbach, Poulenc and Satie to Gershwin, Britten’s cabaret songs and Kurt Weill.

It was an intoxicating mix, though I couldn’t help thinking how many of the songs from 1930s hard times seem to fit with the mood of today… laid back, rather than exuberant, they were beautifully delivered.

A microphone might have helped, though, where full orchestrations were surely never meant to be used against the unaided larynx.

Read the whole review in CityLife