Review: The Glory of Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall

On Monday, Panicos – the winner of our Epic Winter competition – and his wife, enjoyed the first of their Epic Winter events: The Glory of Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall. So on this lovely Christmas Eve, sit back, take a sip of mulled wine and get in the festive spirit with his review…

Since opening in 1871, the Royal Albert Hall really has seen it all. Titans of the classical world like Wagner and Verdi. Modern legends like Sinatra and Hendrix. And who can forget Akon’s performance of “Smack That” in 2013 (oh, you too?).

Nevertheless, despite having lived in London my entire life, I somehow hadn’t “found time” to visit one of the most iconic venues in the city until last night.

Perhaps, then, it was fitting that my first visit proved to be for a Christmas show. A show celebrating the birth of a man who – by my age – had already “found time” to perform most of the thirty-seven miracles documented in the gospels and whose to-do list was already almost complete save for “rise from the dead / save mankind”!

My wife and I arrived around thirty minutes early and took a few of those minutes to stop and admire the exterior of what is truly a beautiful building. The majesty that comes from its size and striking design was enhanced by the soft golden glow of lights both inside and outside which really set the building off against the night sky.

Happily, there was no queue at our entrance so we got in with time to spare for a drink. The first thing I noticed was the real variety of people there for the show. There were families with young children; teens; and adults from eighteen to eighty, dressed in everything from jeans and Christmas sweaters to tailored suits and expensive-looking gowns. As a first-time visitor I don’t know whether this is typical for the venue but I certainly got the impression that the annual Christmas shows appeal to a wide range of visitors, many of whom probably return year after year.

We took our seats five minutes before the show was scheduled to start and were thrilled to find that we were only five rows back from the stage and had a great view (thanks Ticketmaster!).

The London Philharmonic Choir and Trinity Boys School Choir took their places on either side of the stage and the orchestra – including a large and beautiful harp – was spread out in front of them. At the rear of the stage is the huge grand organ that has 10,000 pipes – the largest of which look like upturned rockets – a number which is bested only by the Liverpool Cathedral Organ (10,268 pipes). The greens, reds and golds of the Christmas decorations and lights – dominated by two large Christmas trees flanking the organist – gave the whole stage a beautiful, festive feel.

The show opened with an uplifting strings-led excerpt from Handel’s Messiah (“For Unto Us A Child Is Born”) and within seconds we knew that we were in for a real treat, about to witness a performance from people who really are at the very top of their musical professions.

After this first piece, it was time for the audience to get involved and take part in singing The First Nowell. There were some audible sighs of relief when the conductor, John Pryce Jones told the audience it was ok to stay seated. Relief was however short-lived as he followed up by saying that anybody staying seated would not be able to sing well and would probably injure their diaphragms!

We were also treated to some great individual performances. These included the “Suite of Airs” on the trumpet played by Crispian Steele Perkins; and “Panis Angelicus” (which, I was disappointed to learn, translates to “Bread of the Angels” rather than “Pani’s Angels”) by the opera singer Ed Lyon. Ed’s performances were, however, punctuated by the distracting (but forgivable!) laughter of a five or six year old French girl sitting next to us who found his, erm, “operatic” facial gestures too amusing to bear!

The next song with audience participation was “Good King Wenceslas” and this time the conductor upped the ante by asking the men and women to sing different parts and to stand only when it was their turn to sing. It was fairly amusing to see how many fully-grown adults suddenly forgot their gender when singing was thrown into the mix!

The show continued through a range of performances from energetic Christmassy numbers such as “Ding Dong Merrily on High” through to lullaby-like pieces such as Silent Night which was so relaxing that it took a few moments for the audience to float back into the moment and applaud!

The big finale was an all-inclusive rendition of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” which saw the audience divided up into – you guessed it – twelve sections, each taking a line in the “round. Each “day” had its own accompanying physical act e.g. flapping like a chicken for the “three French hens” (which was our section!) or a milking action for the “eight maids” (a somewhat dodgy-looking motion which the Trinity Boys Choir demonstrated a little too enthusiastically!). After finally managing a successful run all the way through everybody left full of Christmas spirit and with smiles on their faces.

So, a great night and definitely something to put on your own “to-do” list if you haven’t experienced it before.

Thanks to Ticketmaster and all those who performed so ably last night. Akon would be proud…

Merry Christmas!

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