Review: Ely Choral Society’s Christmas Concert, Noel, St Mary’s Church, Saturday, December 6

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Noel in St Mary’s Church was a resounding success.

A carefully chosen programme provided variety including some good quality selections, some new challenging music as well as a number of old favourites that roused the audience into exuberant singing when it was their turn to participate. Much of the music came from different European sources, with the choir singing in English as expected as well as Dutch, French and Latin at different times.

Ely Choral Society produced a good sound with moments of real beauty when the parts gelled in luscious harmony, often apparent in the unaccompanied works. The conductor and composer, Andrew Parnell, encouraged effective expression from the choir, producing smooth sustained phrasing and clear focused notes. In the joyful ‘Zither Carol’ that ended the first half of the programme the choir showed the amazing ability to sing at a rapid speed, while maintaining unequivocally clear diction and a feeling that the music was buoyant and not rushed.

Edmund Aldhouse provided unstintingly secure accompaniment on organ or piano and his solo piece was highly amusing. After the choir had sung ‘King Jesus hath a garden’ beautifully, he played variations on the same tune by F. Peeters. The work demanded real coordination and concentration, with the parts sometimes appearing to have nothing to do with each other. However, in Edmund’s hands nothing was lost and the humour of the piece triumphed.

It is always delightful to see the young singers and the Youth Choir did a very good job, especially in ‘Hurrying to Bethlehem’ arranged by W. Lutoslawski. Their youthful voices maintained the tune magnificently, even though there were planned discords in the piano.

There were a number of very interesting and varied readings in the second half of the programme that helped make the evening a special ‘Christmassy’ event. These included a poem form World War 1, ‘O Christmas Tree’, an excerpt from Cider with Rosie and ‘Christmas Pudding’ by Nancy Mitford.

The evening culminated in a lovely carol composed by Andrew Parnell and set to words by Wendy Cope who was in the audience at the time. This ‘Lantern Carol’ contained a particularly interesting refrain that ended with unexpected but positively charming harmony.

Ely Choral Society’s next concert is on Saturday 28th March in Ely Cathedral at 730 pm when they will perform the Monteverdi Vespers 1610.

Contact Ely Cathedral Box Office on 01353 660349 for more details or log on to

Rosemary Westwell