REVIEW: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s Spirit of Christmas unwraps festive magic

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s Spirit of Christmas is like a gorgeous box of chocolates – a Quality Street of festive flavours from across the centuries and around the world.

Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason, matriarch of the unfeasibly talented musical dynasty and mother to seven giants of classical music, came as the Purple One; soloist Kathryn Rudge as the Strawberry Delight in a veritable ruby slipper of a dress. Against the black and white of the wonderful Phil orchestra and choirs, the effect was dazzling.

As was the assortment of carols, from the startling Rejoice and Be Merry by Bob Chilcott to the soaring Stille Nacht, via a rousing rendition of Gaudete and the unfamiliar but just gorgeous Huron CaroI, Canada’s oldest Christmas song, these last two performed by the fabulous Youth Choir.

And is it even Christmas without something from the Rutter canon? Add to the selection box a sprinkling of congregational carols for the audience to join in with and, with the tenuous excuse that these tunes come from films that sometimes played on telly in Christmases past, I Could Have Danced All Night and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Liverpool music legend and former Philharmonic Choir Master, Ian Tracey, returned to conduct the professional orchestra and excellent choir. Local lass, Kathryn Rudge (Marilyn-blonde and sparkling like a bauble) has a voice as rich and fruity as the mellowest of Christmas puddings. Her rendition of the Greensleeves inspired What Child is This was especially spellbinding. A spell that is dissolved by the down-to-earth interview she gives immediately after in a charmingly everyday Scouse voice.

Ma Kanneh-Mason performs the reverse transition: poised, word-perfect (you couldn’t fault her diction – her enunciation was next level) and, goddammit, looking so young and beautiful, she is more likeable when she goes off-piste to chat to Kate than she is reading from the script.

The last place you’d expect to be Whamageddon-ed is at the Philharmonic Hall (and apparently you can’t claim it if it isn’t the original recording.) Nonetheless, the evening is concluded with a bosa nova version of Last Christmas. La Rudge’s operatic tones weren’t quite suited to the style, I felt, but there’s always one choc in the box that isn’t to your taste and the audience gave a spontaneous cheer at the unexpected gift at the bottom of the stocking.

The Spirit of Christmas is playing on Thursday 21 and Friday 22 December and, indeed, every Christmas. Go on, treat yourself.

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Phil

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