The Holly and the Ivy
Saturday 8 December 2012 at St Mary's Church, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham.

"Where good things come in small packages."

Celebrating both Advent and Christmas seasons in the calm of St Mary's Church, David Dewar's debut as Musica Vera's conductor and director proved a gentle, uplifting experience.

Cleverly programmed plainsong and a cappella close harmony choral works in slower tempi created a reverential atmosphere.  In both the traditional and modern music, attention to excellent dynamics lent colour to the narrative of the Christmas story.  Clear but understated conducting indicated the sweeping phrases.

In particular appreciable synchronisation  and accurate intonation in Veni Emmanuel, Qui Creavit Celum and Otche Nash (The Lord's Prayer by Ippolitov-Ivanov) created a devout air in contrast to the usual everyday hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations.  Sung in Latin and Russian along with Tchaikovsky's The Crown of Roses, they gave a classic element to the performance.  Difficult harmonies in Messaien's O Sacrum Convivium and Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium were convincingly confident.

In lighter vein, Holst's Christmas Day and Haydn's The Heavens are Telling escalated the tempo and mood joyously respectful but prone to instability in execution in some passages.

Two excellent organ solos added variety. Walther's 18th century Herzlich Lieb Hab Ich Dich played by David Dewar introduced a single line theme developed fugally on the manuals.  In contrast, John Wade improvised on a Medley of Christmas Carols ending with Gordon Phillips' Carol Prelude.  John's empathetic accompaniment of the Choir was evident throughout the concert.

June Nixon's interesting arrangement of The Holly and the Ivy moved at a quick pace and with increased choral and organ volume would have concluded the concert on a fitting climax.

Though few in number, Musica Vera worked as a small vocal orchestra blending softly throughout with each person being significant.

Jill Bacon, Gloucestershire Echo.