Thursday, 15 December 2011


Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Tuesday (13 December 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 15 December 2011 with the fitle "Fun songs that deck the halls".

Honestly, how does one begin to review a Christmas concert? Does one appraise the performances of itsy-bitsy little pieces that invariably crop up, or give a blow by blow account of what transpired? This reviewer feels it is the warm feelings engendered by time, place and context of the festive season, fuelled by appropriately cheery music, that ultimately matters most.

On this account, the year’s yuletide offering by an otherwise secular outfit, succeeded beyond the sum of its parts. There were no big works, merely excerpts such as dances from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and the longest works were probably Philip Lane’s narrated The Night Before Christmas and the repetitive Twelve Days Of Christmas.

The much touted audience sing-alongs often have the effect of a damp squib, which is why conductor Lim Yau enlisted the irrepressible William Ledbetter to be his cheerleader. Looking like Ebenezer Scrooge’s more generous kid brother, he was a hoot. Dispensing with all formalities, he coaxed his listeners into a state of relaxation, and a mood to sing.

For Franz Xavier Gruber’s Silent Night, usually sung by candlelight, he got the audience to reach out for their cell-phones and voila, instant illumination! To complement this, conductor Lim was handed an electric candle to conduct. There was an onstage dialogue about King Wenceslas and his good deeds, an act which did not quite gel as the laconic conductor is neither an actor nor totally comfortable as a speaker.

The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah was lustily sung by the Singapore Symphony Chorus, which led some in the audience to re-enact that Georgian tradition of standing up for its entire duration. Some clueless usher’s efforts to force them to sit down were stoutly ignored, even rebuffed. Good on them.

Despite not playing Mahler, the orchestra had many moments to shine. Lustrous strings in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, energised brass in a Dixieland styled arrangement of Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and David Smith’s neighing trumpet for Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride.

The Children’s Choir sang like angels, and John Rutter’s saccharine-infused carols stirred the spirits. The sea of red, green and gold donned by choir and orchestra members, many with accessories like Santa hats and reindeer antlers, added to the sense of occasion. All in all, great fun but where were the balloons?

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