A night of medieval carols and operatic excerpts

Joglaresa (the five in Sheffield): from left, Tim Garside, Ruth Fraser, Jean Kelly, Belinda Sykes, Jim O'Toole
Joglaresa (the five in Sheffield): from left, Tim Garside, Ruth Fraser, Jean Kelly, Belinda Sykes, Jim O'Toole

A COUPLE of Christmas concerts that can be described as off the beaten track, from early music group Joglaresa and Sheffield City Opera, take place some 50 yards from each other this Friday.

Joglaresa present an evening of Medieval Christmas Carols at the Crucible Studio and across the road at Victoria Hall, Sheffield City Opera are in party mood with operatic, operetta and musical excerpts before succumbing to the festive season, though not always predictably.

Highly thought of, Joglaresa have been in existence since 1992 and are said to “imaginatively push, and often transcend, the limits of what is often thought of as early music.”

They are active in music from medieval times and backwards, being pioneers and making a speciality out of unearthing ancient examples and performing Jewish and Arabic music and texts.

Programmes in their repertoire such as The Scimitar and the Sword, built round the Crusades, for instance, see them from Jewish and Islamic viewpoints, as well as a Christian perspective.

With a core group of six, Joglaresa are described as a British/Irish/Israeli/Arabic ensemble because they call on regular guests from Middle East countries (also Iberia and Italy) when music of Jewish and Arabic origin is performed, which is often, and all are specialists in their field of endeavour.

Four of the core group, including the group’s director Belinda Sykes, are in the British/Irish ensemble of five on a UK tour during December with On Joolis Night, Christmas music from the 12th to 15th century.

It takes in music from medieval instrumental dances played on historical instruments, including fidels (fiddle forerunner) and a citole (sort of early guitar), to Middle English lullabies with four of the group singing as well as blowing, bowing and plucking. Samplings of the items being performed are Lordings, Listen to Our Lay, Comencerai a fere un lei, Nowell, Nowell, Lei de Nostre-Dame and Coventry Carol.

Meanwhile, across the road at Victoria Hall, Sheffield City Opera’s chorus and soloists are in celebration mood with the Drinking Song (Verdi’s Traviata), What a Feast and Champagne Chorus (Fledermaus) and Now To the Banquet We Press (G&S’s Sorcerer).

‘Presents’ are offered in the form of Baubles, Bangles and Beads (Kismet) and The Jewel Song (Gounod’s Faust). The composer’s Juliet (Roméo et Juliette) drops in to sing her sparkling Waltz Song.

From Scrooge (Bricusse) there is Thank You, Very Much and December the 25th, and Jerry Herman’s Mame proclaims We Need a Little Christmas which moves proceedings into more readily recognisable seasonal territory with Rutter’s Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind and, later, The Angel’s Carol. Tom (TC) Sterndale Bennett (grandson of Sheffield-born William) gets a look in with The Carol Singers and there are two local carols from Worrall, Good News and Merry Christmas – a Manchester Carol too, Mirabile Dictu (words from Carol Ann Duffy).

Other offerings include Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols (four from Sussex and Herefordshire) for baritone (Matthew Palmer), chorus and orchestra (the evening’s pianist/ organist Robert Webb) and Matt also sings the third of Peter Cornelius’ six Christmas Songs, Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar.

Other soloists include Lorraine Webb, Sophia Carroll, Debra Finch, Gareth Lloyd, Nigel Rothery and there are three singalong items, Hark! The Herald Angels, Silent Night and Little Town of Bethlehem.

Trisha Cooper is the narrator for the evening and Gavin Usher is conducting proceedings.