Either it was Britten’s arrangement of The Holly and the Ivy or Viva Voce’s account of it which contrived to have it spinning round in my head walking down Norfolk Street at the end of this skilfully planned and executed Christmas concert with a difference.
The main offering had been something sounding completely different, Christmas music (depicting Nativity events) without a hint of sentimentality or nostalgia, the composer’s A Boy Was Born.
An unbelievably assured, technically accomplished work for a 19-year-old, it needs a technically proficient choir to tackle it, and Viva Voce is.
An intrinsic snag prevented it from being texturally satisfying, though, a lack of treble voices, the treble solo in Jesu, as Thou art our Saviour being sung by a full-toned soprano voice, the otherwise excellent Ella Taylor.
That apart and a couple of briefly straying male voices that can easily be forgiven, with the awkward intervals and irregular rhythms successfully conquered; the stark vocal painting of In the Bleak Midwinter (quite unlike the Holst or Darke settings of it), the sheer vocal virtuosity, it was an entirely triumphant performance energetically directed by Tony Jones.
Among 15 other seasonal items were 10 further Britten pieces, including two far easier to sing than A Boy Was Born, which have surprisingly not been taken up on a regular basis at this time of year, Chorale after an old French Carol and A Shepherd’s Carol (words Auden) with its hint of the refrain from Home on the Range.
Two pieces by Arvo Pärt were engagingly done too, the thorax-twisting Bogoroditse Djevo and lesser known …which was the son of… a genealogical litany of the 1001-name lineage of Jesus back to Adam according to St Luke’s Gospel, the Estonian composer mischievously dropping the ‘h’ when Luke arrived at the son of (H) er!