Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, adapted by Neil Brand – with Philip Jackson, Tracy Ann Oberman, Carl Prekopp – BBC Singers & Symphony Orchestra/Martin André

“Bah, humbug. Join Ebenezer Scrooge and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, for Charles Dickens’s festive tale, adapted by composer Neil Brand. A version of the seasonal classic adapted for actors, the BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Orchestra by the composer, in which Ebenezer Scroooge questions his ghostly guides and demands answers to the great questions we all face. Enjoy the perfect festive treat with this timeless classic.” [Barbican Centre website]

Christmas Eve – Suite
Neil Brand
A Christmas Carol [adapted for actors, choir and orchestra]

Ebenezer Scrooge – Philip Jackson
Ghost of Christmas Past, et al – Tracy Ann Oberman
Ghost of Christmas Present, et al – Carl Prekopp
Mrs Fezziwig, et al – Liza Sadovy
Fezziwig, et al – Patrick Brennan
Benjamin, et al – Shaun Mason
Cratchit, et al – Paul Heath
Mrs Cratchit, et al – Hannah Genesius
Tiny Tim, et al – Evie Killip

BBC Singers

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Martin André

David Hunter – Director

Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran

Reviewed: 2 December, 2016
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Charles Dickens (1812-70)The BBC Symphony Orchestra gave us an admirable presage to the festive season, opening with a wonderfully energetic and atmospheric performance of the Suite from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, Christmas Eve. The dramatic, almost cinematic sweep of Rimsky’s music outlines the narrative of Gogol’s folk tale, of rural simplicity, sinister forces and the triumph of true love over adversity.

The freezing night was beautifully evoked by harp, glockenspiel and celesta in the opening section as the hero Vakula flies through the starry skies on the back of a devil in search of the Tsarina’s slippers. The BBC Symphony Orchestra’s brass came into its own in the Tsarina’s grand Polonaise, before another nocturnal flight returned Vakula to his beloved Oksana. The strings and oboe created dark and mysterious textures, Rimsky’s masterful orchestration communicating every shifting mood.

Neil Brand’s A Christmas Carol was written for the BBC in 2014, a collaboration between Radio 4 and Radio 3, using much of Charles Dickens’s original text together with orchestral accompaniment and narration. The opening ‘City of Iron’ sets the tone of an industrial, inhuman landscape immune, as Scrooge is, to the warmth and inspiration of Christmas. The combination of music and dialogue gives dramatic impetus to the story. The musical idiom is understated and accessible, with hints of Lionel Bart’s Oliver.

The BBC Singers commenting on the action in restrained close-harmony. Philip Jackson was a perfect curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge, his surly stinginess transformed to joyous generosity with more alacrity than the Victorian original. Tracy Ann Oberman played Ghost of Christmas Past persuasively and took on multiple roles with a change of hat. The actors conveyed an enormous cast of characters very convincingly, especially Evie Killip, whose Tiny Tim was depicted with heart-breaking innocence.

Scrooge’s brushes with Past, Present and Future matched the journeys in Rimsky’s Christmas Eve, Brand employing imaginative percussive effects with bells, drums and vibraphone to create a magical atmosphere, impressively conjuring Dickens’s London.

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