Baroque Music for Christmas, All Saints’ Church, Northallerton

IN SOME ways this was an odd evening’s music. Billed as Baroque Music for Christmas, the North Yorkshire Chorus concert began with part one of Messiah and continued with Bach’s Advent cantata Wachet Auf.

If that seems pernickety criticism, the final work was Pergolesi’s Magnificat which, apart from having no obvious connection with Christmas, was almost certainly not written by Pergolesi.

It may be argued that authorship and seasonal relevance hardly matter when the music is fun to sing and joyful to hear, but inconsistencies meant the overall effect of the concert was possibly less than the sum of its parts.

Greg Smith, director and conductor, had assembled an excellent small group of strings and oboes. With Andrew Christer providing discreet organ accompaniment, the instrumentalists were superb, silken in tone and alert to every nuance.

There was much to enjoy from the soloists, with soprano Penelope Appleyard the standout performer. While bass Dominic Barberi, alto Charlotte Tetley and tenor Campbell Russell sang for the most part accurately and pleasantly, Appleyard's pure bell-like tone and evident delight in the music illuminated the scene each time she rose to her feet.

She gloried in appropriate stylistic ornamentation in Handel’s Messiah culminating in a thrilling cadenza before the chorus entry of Glory to God in the Highest. It is a shame the other soloists were not encouraged to follow her lead, especially as the accompaniment allowed individual lines to emerge so clearly.

Smith opted to have the full choir singing in unison in the fourth part of the Bach, normally given to a tenor soloist. The effect was arresting, and not a little strange, but it sat oddly with the rest of the piece.

As for the Chorus, it was a demanding evening’s work and stress showed in some quarters. The sopranos were very good, not least because they smiled, opened their mouths and made a joyful noise all evening.

This was not always so with the lower voices which were sometimes difficult to hear. The opening chorus of the Bach was very muddy. Entries were often tentative and lack of confidence was apparent.

Not a Christmas cracker of a concert, perhaps, but neither was it a damp squib. Penelope Appleyard, chorus sopranos and instrumentalists raised the spirits on a dank and chilly evening.

Andrew Bennett