Vocal in their praise

Philippa Davidson

Four hundred of Birmingham's young musicians celebrated Christmas in style in the city's prestigious Symphony Hall. The concert successfully blended music of many styles and cultures with music from the Christian tradition.

The Birmingham Schools' Baroque Orchestra promised an invigorating start to the evening. With repertoire that included Handel's Suite in G and Bach's second Brandenburg Concerto, and baroque trumpeter Crispian Steele Perkins as soloist, expectations ran high. Unfortunately, the difficult Brandenburg was marred by a technical problem, but in the opening trumpet tune by J Stanley and after the interval we heard the instrument at its brilliant best.

The contributions from the city's brass and jazz ensembles showed the breadth of the city's music. The Brass Ensemble's London Miniatures was a welcome change from a diet of Christmas music. This jazzy suite by Gordon Langford depicts London life in contrasting movements in a style at times reminiscent of Kurt Weill.

The Brass Band played with a full, rounded tone in Golden Lady and then again in music by Mozart, Gilbert and Sullivan and Leroy Anderson. The unusually large Steel Band offered an effective, eerie arrangement of Phantom of the Opera and a chance to hear the Harry Belafonte carol, "Mary's Boy Child", in West Indian arrangement.

The real stars of the evening were the choir - more than 300 voices drawn from seven city schools. Thanks to the singers who have worked in primary schools via the Sandvik Vocal Skills Project over the past six years, thousands of children have had a chance to sing on the concert platform. Their pieces varied from uncomplicated arrangements of carols such as "O Holy Night" and "He Shall Feed" (from Messiah) to the delightful Spanish 16th century "Riu Riu Riul".

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