#Review: Carols by Candlelight, Liverpool Philharmonic


Wow, what an amazing night at the acoustically perfect Philharmonic Hall who once again hosted a spectacular Christmas musical extravaganza with the Mozart Festival Orchestra!

This was a truly magical uplifting festive event.  Magnificent!  

Upon entering the concert hall you were immediately filled with the joy of the Christmas spirit as large candelabras filled the stage against a backdrop of gold glittery scenery, setting the scene in an elegant and elaborate way. The nineteen piece choir dressed in their traditionally seasonal red cassocks entered the stage, taking up their positions behind the gold ornate chairs ready to greet the orchestra.  The concertmaster proudly led the twenty seven piece orchestra to the stage who immediately began tuning their instruments to the  ‘A’ chord of the Oboe.  The Oboe is used as a barometer due to its reliable and consistent pitch and tone. Within five minutes, after allowing the instruments to acclimatise to the auditorium, the enigmatic, animated and fun loving conductor, Michael Bawtree entered amid rapturous applause.  

The spine tingling arrangement of Cullen’s Joy to the World commenced proceedings with Bawtree enthusiastically leading the nineteen strong Canzonetta Choir, who originate from Manchester.  Their range of voices: Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Contralto, Counter Tenor, Tenor, Baritone and Bass enabled the roof to be raised as their voices soared throughout the performance traversing between Latin and English with ease. Sublime!   

The orchestra itself was a pleasing spectacle as they were dressed in full period costume down to their shiny buckled shoes to the greying periwigs.  They performed a plethora of highly popular carols interspersed with classical interludes which Bawtree invited the audience to sing along to, using the pre-prepared music sheets that were handed out by the ushers and stewards upon entry to the concert hall.  It has to be said that the staff at this venue are one of the best. They epitomise excellent customer service in such a friendly, welcoming yet professional manner.  

The ambiance in the auditorium was spectacular as along with the hall being transformed with an evocative candle-lit setting; it reached new levels when Jennifer Johnson, the Liverpool Philharmonic’s Artist in Residence stood in last minute for Madison Nonoa who had succumbed to a winter bug. Jennifer’s finely tuned operatic soprano voice transcended and permeated into the soul of the audience as she beautifully performed Let The Bright Seraphim. 

Bawtree frequently chatted to the audience, in addition to announcing the next pieces to be performed. He also jokingly asked patrons who knew the descants (the treble line that runs in counterpoint to the principal melody) to audition for the choir. This was much to the delight of two lovely ladies, Janet Jones and Sue Sloan,  who my mum and I shared a prime spot of box 14 with. 

Bawtree demonstrated a more approachable human side to conductorship which is often perceived as pompously high brow and stuffy as he just smiled, chatted, enthusiastically conducted and simply seemed to just be enjoying himself; the music and was at ease in his splendid Mozart-esque attire. He also accompanied the soprano on a number of accessions whilst playing the piano whilst simultaneously continuing to conduct.

A particular highlight for my mum and I plus, the full to capacity  – 2000 seated –  audience was after a lusterly allegro the orchestra performed Handle’s Christmas Sequence from the Messiah followed by the Hallelujah Chorus.  This composition is over 200 years old and always proves a huge success during Easter and in particular Christmas.  Handel in my humble opinion, knows exactly what to do with trumpets and drums! Rapturous applause was also bestowed after Bach’s Air On A G String (my entrance to the church during my wedding) and the Baroque composition of Gloria by Vivaldi. 

If you wish to embrace all things Christmas next year and really start the festive period with a bang with a book tickets early to tantalise your earbuds and avoid disappointment.

Overall rating: 10/10

Set List: Cullen Joy to the World, Walford While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks,  Bach Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Vaughan Williams O Little Town Of Bethlehem, Handel Let the Bright Seraphim Pearsall In Dulci Jubilo, Willcocks O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Kirkpatrick Away In A Manger, Corelli Allegro and Pastorale from Christmas Concerto, Jacques Good King Wenceslas, Handel Christmas Sequence From The Messiah Incl. Hallelujah Chorus, Handel Zadok the Priest, Willcocks The First Nowell, Walford Davies The Holly and the Ivy, Willcocks Once In Royal David’s City, Bach Air On A G String, Willcocks O Come All Ye Faithful incl. Sussex Carol, Handel O Let the Merry Bells Ring Round, Vivaldi Gloria (1st Movement), Willcocks Deck The Halls, Willcocks Jingle Bells, Rutter The Twelve Days Of Christmas, Willcocks Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

Encore: Warrell We Wish You A Merry Christmas.

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