OVER the years, the Philharmonic Hall’s Spirit of Christmas concerts have become as much a part of the build up to the big day as last minute gift wrapping. Presenting this year’s five dates for the second year running was John Suchet, presenter on Classic FM – the Phil is the station’s official orchestra in the north – who is less exuberant in the role than 2010’s Lesley Garrett but still suitably hearty.
His mulled wine radio tones swept in smoothly during intervals between sequences of carols, to spread a bit of Christmas cheer through poetry readings and a few amusing stories. A high point was his chat with the events’ special guest, the extremely likable tenor Jesus Leon, who with a beaming smile and jokes about Tequila-laced Christmasses back home in Mexico, was the very embodiment of the festive spirit.
But the real star of the show is always the music – with conductor Ian Tracey selecting a well-varied selection of carols and seasonal songs. It was fantastic to see the concert hall’s stage packed with performers – the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra joined by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Youth Choir (the latter conducted by its director Simon Emery). The lone voice of Esther Smith of West Kirby Grammar opened the concert with a moving rendition of Once in Royal David’s City, followed by a jolly syncopated version of Ding Dong Merrily on High and a calypso arrangement of Who Will Come to Bethlehem?
Highlights were the traditional Catalan carol Fum Fum Fum, arranged by the late Edmund “Wally” Walters, a former choir master of the Phil, and the witty Mistletoe Carol, which advised us to remember to defrost the turkey. And to top it all off – a snowfall on stage.