RSNO Christmas Concert

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce, five stars

SINCE 2002, Howard Blake’s score for the animated film version of Raymond Briggs’s story The Snowman, with an actor narrating, has been the centrepiece of our national orchestra’s seasonal offering, which now rolls across the country over the best part of a week. Conductor Christopher Bell’s association with the orchestra stretches back for twice that time, so he was more than entitled to draw attention to the fact that this year’s thespian, Millie Innes, a precocious Scots talent who is now an associate producer of her own CBBC show, Millie Inbetween, was just two years old when that run of live screening accompaniments began. With treble Amit Walkay adding the vocal for Walking in the Air, The Snowman was as utterly charming as always, and of course each year it captivates a new intake of children for whom this concert will be there first classical music experience.

These days RSNO concerts of live soundtracks to movie screenings are a regular feature of the season, so perhaps The Snowman is less of a novelty, but in all other respects the Christmas Concert is unique. That is entirely down to Bell. If, as he says, the Edinburgh audience has “loosened up” over the years (particularly by comparison with the punters at the orchestra’s home base in Glasgow), that is entirely down the ebullient charm of the conductor and his refusal to accept non-participation as an option. With the RSNO Chorus leading the singing after the interval, for The Penguin Song we were all on our feet impersonating that awkward Antarctic gait – as demonstrated by a costumed trombone section – unless we had a valid medical certificate by way of excuse.

It was far from the only curiosity in a programme that boasted rarer music alongside seasonal hits, as well as new arrangements specially commissioned for this year’s run of concerts. The music is always given no less weight than the fun, but this year will be remembered for the dressing-up box extending to the second fiddles wearing Christopher Bell masks to mark his last outing before America’s Washington Chorus, where he was appointed artistic director this year, claims him at Christmas. The RSNO has a real challenge to find someone to fill those (always eye-catching) shoes.

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