United Kingdom RSNO Christmas Concert: Royal Scottish National Orchestra & Chorus, Christopher Bell (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 20.12.2015. (SRT)
When you go to review a concert like this, the music is almost beside the point. What really matters is the spirit, and in that sense I take my hat off to the RSNO team for crafting a concert that was so open, warm and participatory. It’s an excellent form of outreach, hopefully something that will build future audiences, and it’s to their credit that, as far as I can see, they’re the only one of Scotland’s national performing organisations that have a Christmas family event like this. The Usher Hall was packed full of people of every age, often behaving very raucously, and nobody seemed to mind a bit.
Christopher Bell, normally seen directing choruses like the Edinburgh Festival Chorus or the National Youth Choir of Scotland, conducted the whole thing with dry wit, garish suits and a keen understanding for both the repertoire and the audience. The programme itself featured some dependable Christmas hits, such as Leroy Anderson’s Christmas Festival and Sleigh Ride, as well as suites from the films Frozen and The Polar Express.
There was plenty of audience participation in traditional carols and The Twelve Days of Christmas (with actions), and the centrepiece was a showing of The Snowman, with the music played live by the orchestra, narrated by Georgie Glen and sung by Andrew Whitelaw. Listening to it with my “critic ears” on for the first time, the score struck me as (whisper it!) actually rather rudimentary, with lots of descriptive sounds and a couple of good tunes, but not an awful lot else by way of themes or development. Who cares what a crusty old fart like me thinks, though? The packed hall loved it, and with a bit of luck some of them will be back for other concerts in the season.