There's a lot of music around at this time of year and Oxford has an abundance to enjoy. The Cathedral Singers of Christ Church is a voluntary adult choir of about 30 singers, supporting the Cathedral Choir by singing in many services in any one year and giving their own concerts here and abroad. They sang their Carols for Choir and Audience on the foggy Saturday before Christmas in the atmospheric Christ Church nave, starting with that lovely Robert Pearsall arrangement of 'In Dulci Jubilo', Edgar Pettman's version of the wonderful 'The Angel Gabriel', before launching into the Latvian composer Rihards Dubra's 'Ave Maria'. The choir members were very much together under the skilled direction of James Morley Potter, with controlled tuning and convincing dynamics making the most of the thrilling Dubra.
The audience had a chance to sing 'Oh Little Town', a reasonable effort, giving way to the choir when they sang Potter's own thoughtful arrangement of verse three, and then again in 'O Come, All Ye Faithful' (with the Christmas morning verse six left out, thankfully). The choir continued with Bob Chilcott's take on 'Silent Night' and then a Peter Warlock carol entitled 'Bethlehem Down', reputedly written to win a competition on the Daily Telegraph. Probably the best piece was the closer of the first half; the extraordinary and mysterious 'God is with Us' by John Taverner. The choir did this really well, creating a magically spiritual feeling for the hushed listeners with Taverner's Byzantine chant-like interpretation.
After the interval another Warlock carol, the short but delightful 'Benedicamus Domino', was followed by 'Hymn to the Virgin', written by Benjamin Britten, when he was only 18. We then all sang 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear', fortified by some British wine, served in the cloisters under a sky that was anything but. Then on to 'O Magnum Mysterium' and 'The Shepherd's Carol', both enhanced by the acoustic in the cathedral and the dynamic control of the choir before the finale, Ralph Vaughan William's collection of tunes 'Fantasia on Christmas Carols'. This featured the soloist Daniel Tate, a gifted baritone, whose beautiful voice soared out from the pulpit perched above the choir.
All in all this was a most enjoyable programme, a well thought out selection from the myriad of possibilities. Any improvements needed? Only little ones: some of the choir could have looked at the conductor a tad more and been a little bit more joyful. It is Christmas after all.
After much appreciative and deserved applause at the end, there was the inevitable encore, although like every other choir in the land they did actually go without any figgy pudding.