If like me, you’ve been so busy that you haven’t had time to even think about Christmas yet, then the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs concert Carols at the House was a lovely way to slow down and get into the Yuletide mood; in fact, I really felt that “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” by the end of the evening.

The theatre program had “Ho Ho Ho!” emblazoned across its front but the repertoire didn’t really venture into Jingles Bells and Santa territory; instead it was a stirring selection of Christmas music from Bach to traditional carols to a dash of musical theatre and popular standards like White Christmas – with a brand new piece by Australian composer Luke Byrne called Capricornia emerging as one of the highlights of the evening.

Carols at the HouseBrett Weymark. Photograph © Keith Saunders

With conductor Brett Weymark at the helm, the concert featured a 500-strong choir made up of the Sydney Philharmonia’s Chamber Singers, VOX and Symphony Chorus, as well as the Christmas Choir, which began rehearsing six weeks ago, together with the Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra, an organist up top, and Kerrie Anne Greenland and Teddy Tahu Rhodes as guest soloists.

After a tongue-in-cheek introduction by “Her Majesty The Queen” and a handover to a “very handsome conductor”, the concert began with a suite of Christmas carols including Silent Night, which, as we were told, celebrates its 200th birthday this year.

Throughout the concert, the audience was invited to join in for certain carols including Silent Night, O Come, All Ye Faithful, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing among others, ending with an exuberant Deck the Halls.

The choir also sang a selection of Australian Christmas carols by John Wheeler and William G. James including the uplifting Christmas Day. Act II began with a delicate arrangement of Amazing Grace (arranged by Erik Esenvalds) sung by choristers standing along the side aisles of the theatre, their voices soaring across the auditorium.

Throughout the concert, the lush arrangements of the carols and traditional songs were beautiful, detailed and inventive, offering something slightly different and allowing incredibly familiar material to surprise afresh, while the orchestra’s jaunty rendition of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride was a delight.

Carols at the HouseKerrie Anne Greenland. Photograph supplied

Kerrie Anne Greenland showed her vocal and dramatic class as she moved from O Holy Night to a fun Twelve Days of Christmas to We Need a Little Christmas from Mame. She unleashed a convincing New York accent in a sardonic Christmas poem by Judith Viorst, and then became terribly British as Mary Poppins for Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes sang an aria from a cantata in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, read a Siegfried Sassoon poem about Christmas Eve on the front line of World War I when the German and English soldiers laid down their weapons and celebrated together, and sang You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel.

But it was the choir that performed the most moving moments, particularly Morten Lauridsen’s radiant setting of O Magnum Mysterium with its beguiling blend of harmonies, and Luke Byrne’s mellifluous Capricorn. Byrne adapted the lyrics from Ruth Park’s novel The Harp in the South and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snowman. The piece also included the Gloria. Dramatic and lusciously melodic, it soared, swelled and plucked at the heartstrings. Gorgeous!


Carols at the House plays until December 9

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