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The Durham Singers, Elvet Methodist Church, Durham City
The Durham Singers wrapped up a successful year with a Christmas Concert with a twist. Winter Journeys, staged at the Elvet Methodist Church in Durham City, transported an audience on a virtual sleigh from the mighty River Vistula in Poland to the windswept lakes and mountains of Finland; taking in themes of love, nostalgia the spirit of Christmas itself on the way. The evening opened with Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer, with its lovely anthem O for the Wings of the Dove taken to stratospheric heights by soloist soprano Clare Wills. Edward Elgar’s My Love dwelt in a northern land is a ghostly setting from the poem Romance by Andrew Lang and is a test to any choir. Musical director Dr Julian Wright shaped an exquisite account, with soaring soprano voices underlain by the warmest of bass lines. The delivery of the closing "His heart is colder than the clay" left shivers down the spine. There was a change of tone with Jean Sibelius’s Rakastava, sung in Finnish and featuring the rich soprano voice of Rosie Corner and the earthy strains of baritone Robert Millmoor. The theme of love was rounded off with Herbert Howells’ Walking in the Snow. Between performances, members of the audience were exhorted to "sing lustily" along with carols for all. The theme of yearning to return home was introduced by Henryk Gorecki’s Wislo Moja, Wislo szara. Sibelius’ stirring Finlandia hymn was sung with fervour, while James Erb’s richly-scored arrangement of the American folk song Shenandoah tugged at the heartstrings. There were sterling performances from soprano Rachel Wearmouth, and three kings Colin Thomson, David Harris and Andrew Wright in Mendelssohn’s When Jesus Our Lord. Another highlight of the evening was Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas carols, underpinned by the powerful and mellifluous baritone voice of soloist Simon Tasker. The singers, backed by Jonathan Clinch on organ, were in top form throughout, ending with an infectious rendition of We wish you a Merry Christmas. After enjoying a festive spread, complete with a mulled drink, one was left with a warm glow - and feeling fully sated in every sense.