As the Christmas decorations are packed away again for another year and life returns to normal after the festive period, We Are Chester writer Paul Crofts looks back on a event which brought back some happy childhood memories. Words and photos: Paul Crofts
For me, nothing heralds the start of Christmas like hearing or joining in with the singing of a traditional Carol, it’s something I’ve always loved since my schooldays when we filed into Chester Cathedral for our annual carol service. It meant that school holidays were about to start and Christmas was tantalisingly just days away.
And so, I was delighted to accept an invitation to attend Carols by Candlelight, presented by Chester Bach Singers in the impressively majestic surroundings of St. Werburgh’s Church in Chester just a few days before Christmas.
Upon entering the surprisingly warm and toasty St. Werburgh’s (a rare treat get to remove overcoats and scarves in a church at this time of year!) it was great to see it soon filling up.
Following a short welcome by Nicky Brooks, the Chair of Chester Bach Singers, the Choir opened the concert with the beautiful In Dir Ist Freude before conductor Martin Bussey invited the audience to join in singing the first carol, Once In Royal David’s City.
I must admit that this was the first time that I had attended an event of any kind at this church and I have to say the acoustics are just fantastic. I stopped singing several times (no bad thing, as anyone who has heard me will confirm) to just listen to the glorious sounds being made by the combination of the choir, audience and the magnificent pipe organ which was in the very capable hands (and feet) of organist Stephen Carleston.
I was instantly transported back to my childhood and those school carol services, just magical. The carols were interspersed with traditional chorale pieces and festive readings given by members of the choir, including Sir John Betjeman’s poem Christmas and A Visit From St Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore, which most people will recognise by its famous opening line “‘Twas the night before Christmas…”.
The choir produced some gorgeous harmonies throughout their chorale repertoire, the acoustics adding to the overall warmth of the sound. This was demonstrated beautifully in A Hymn To The Virgin and Sing Lullaby amongst others.
Other highlights for me were Lully Lulla by Imogen Parsley, with its text taken from the Coventry Mystery Plays as hauntingly it tells the tragic story of the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod, incidentally one of the scenes so movingly portrayed in Chester’s own Mystery Plays earlier in the year.
I must also mention the beautiful setting of Bethlehem Down, which was impeccably performed a capella by the choir and Silent Night, which showed off just what a well polished unit the choir are.
The audience were well and truly put through our paces with several more carols, including Hark The Herald Angels Sing and my own personal favourite O Come All Ye Faithful,with its glorious descant, which the choir and several brilliant singers amongst the audience nailed perfectly. When sung well, as it was here, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up!
The evening drew to a close with choir and audience joining together for a spirited rendition of Jingle Bells before the choir bid us farewell with We Wish You A Merry Christmas. Christmas had truly begun!
We award Carols By Candlelight a very festive ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐