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Mr Christmas comes to Wakefield - in Summer!

Mezzo-soprano Melanie Marshall and conductor Andrew Padmore

Most people, at some time in their lives, will have sung, hummed along with or heard at least one of John Rutter’s prolific output of lovely Christmas carols, and hence he is often known as Mr. Christmas. But he is so very much more than Mr Christmas - Rutter is probably the best known choral composer of our day.

On Saturday 15thJune in Wakefield Cathedral, Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir performed a concert of five of John Rutter’s works which was received with rapturous applause and a good deal of appreciative foot stamping by the audience.

This concert was performed in support of the wonderful work of Wakefield Hospice.

For the first half of the concert, YPC performed Rutter’s ‘The Gift of Life’, written in 2015 to mark Rutter’s 70th birthday. It is a celebration of life and the miracle of creation, comprised of six movements. This choral work for a double choir, performed with only light orchestration (piano, harp, percussion and organ), is a demanding ‘sing’. The work is full of reflection, optimism, colour and joy – cleverly expressed through the rich rhythmic variations, the surprising harmonies and the subtle but distinctive dynamics of the work. Demanding it may be, but a joy to sing – and YPC sang with much precision, delicacy, feeling and confidence.

Accompanied on piano by the extraordinarily talented Tom Moore, with Rhian Evans on the harp, Polly Macmillan, Ed Cervenka and Taneli Clarke on percussion and James Bowstead on the organ, all under the exacting baton of Andrew Padmore, it was a delightful performance. In the same way that we watch the effortless grace of a swan moving across a lake, but know that under the surface the feet are paddling with some vigour, so it was with YPC – an excellent performance full of grace and beauty, but underpinned by much hard graft and effort.

The second half saw three short anthems by Rutter – ‘I will sing with the spirit’, ‘Look at the world’ and ‘For the beauty of the earth’. Clearly well known by the choir, and accompanied by the superb Tom Moore on the organ, they sang with enjoyment and accuracy, engaging with the audience as only near-memorisation will allow.

The evening’s performance drew to a climax of excitement with Rutter’s ‘Feel The Spirit’. Drawn from the rich heritage of African-American spirituals, this work was written by Rutter for the mezzo soprano Melanie Marshall – who the audience were privileged to have as the soloist for this wonderful work.

The sparkling rapport of the conductor Andrew Padmore and Melanie inspired the choir and the ever-talented Amici Ensemble to deliver a truly brilliant performance.

From the moment of her arrival on stage, Melanie had the audience fully engaged and, from the very second she began to sing, spellbound. Her sheer mastery of the work, her beautiful, generous and perfectly modulated voice, and her engagement with every single person in the cathedral – be they player, singer or member of the audience - left no one in any doubt that this was Melanie’s work – and that her performance of it was the very best it could ever be. It felt as if she and Andrew held the choir and instrumentalists in the palms of their hands, leading, exciting, encouraging and inspiring the performance of their lives.

Small wonder that, as the final note of “When the saints go marching in’ rang out, the audience rose as one to applaud the performers – and then stamped their feet in appreciation. A night to remember – for everyone fortunate enough to be there!

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