Christmas Concerto By Candlelight

Programme includes Vivaldi, Bach, Corelli, Cimarosa, Pachelbel, Handel & Morricone
Exeter College Chapel, Exeter College, Turl Street, Oxford OX1 3DP, Sat 17 December 2016

December 19, 2016

Christmas cheer seems in short supply this year. So in this post-truth age of uncertainty it was comforting to be welcomed into the ambient glow of Exeter College Chapel for this candlelit concert. No glitz and glamour or commercial chintz undermining the traditional values of Christmas, just the understated elegance of a Christmas tree, the glow of gilded saintly murals, soaring arches and the tendrils of shadows and shades in this gothic chapel with its darkened, looming windows, sheltering tonight's concert audience from the vicissitudes of the world.

The night's selection of music was also, at times, comfortingly familiar and unashamedly romantic and from the opening piece of music from Handel, the orchestra produced a warm, golden and all-encompassing tone reflective of the luminous setting. I had been drawn particularly by the second piece, Pachelbel's 'Canon', which is a familiar go-to melody of modern culture from Oasis' 'Don't Look Back in Anger' to Kylie's 'I Should be so Lucky', and for the first time in many days I had time to relax, and time for reflection on the stately chord progressions of Ian Clarke's harpsichord playing during the piece, matched by the of mellifluous strings of Peter Adam's cello.

I am less familiar with Cimarosa's 'Oboe Concerto', which followed, but Timothy Watts interpretation proved to be an exuberant celebration of the composer's birthday – particularly the energy and precision of the closing allegro. The first half then closed with a modern, Morricone piece. Not the stark three chord progression of the theme music from The Good Bad and the Ugly (as my companion had feared) but the far more melodic 'Gabriel's Oboe', the theme from the movie The Mission.

After the interval Ian Clarke ascended to the organ loft to play Bach's joyful exploration of 'In Dulce Jubilo'. Unfortunately for both the audience and I suspect Mr Clarke, the piece and the breadth of the organ's abilities were only really coming to the fore as this rendition ended. But no matter, this was followed by a stately interpretation of Corelli's 'Christmas Concerto' before returning to the joys of Bach and the oh so familiar 'Air on a G String', unfortunately raising shades of Christmases past and the faint taint of cigar smoke. However, we were then treated to a joyous, lively and exact rendition of Vivaldi's 'Winter' from the Four Seasons led by Roland Roberts on violin and encompassing the skill and passion of the whole orchestra to produce an enervating and scintillating interpretation of the piece – a sum much greater than the whole. And so following rousing applause and a merry encore I left with heart a glow and a little more Christmas cheer than when I arrived after experiencing a musical glimmer of good will to all men and a lyrical wish for peace on earth.

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