REVIEW: Christmas Concerts, Chichester Festival Theatre, until Saturday, December 9.

The Marines
The Marines

Once again, the CFT’s Christmas concerts prove the perfect start to the festive season.

The combination of The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth and Chichester Cathedral Choir is irresistible, the impact of the one the ideal foil for the beauty of the other.
Under Charles Harrison, the cathedral choir continues to scale new heights of excellence, and in the second half, as usual, the men of the choir go it alone as Close Company, combining wit and huge artistry across a range of festive favourites.
Alternating with the voices is, of course, the band, as splendid as ever, this time under the direction of Captain Andy Gregory who combines with Charles Harrison to be our host for the evening, the two playing off each other beautifully, vying for the honour of telling the night’s worst Christmas-cracker joke.
And along the way, there is even time for a couple of community sing-alongs as we rattle through the carols at break-neck speed.
From the band, the clear highlights were O Holy Night with trumpet solo and a dazzling clarinet-solo jazz piece to end the first half.
Overall, perhaps, there is just a little feeling that the pendulum has swung a touch too far in favour of the unfamiliar. The very best Christmas concerts are like meeting a succession of friends you suddenly realise you haven’t seen for a year. In the second half, the balance is much better.
The drummers of The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth add their own very special frisson to the occasion twice, and A Life on the Ocean Wave is always a thrill, delivered with all the colour and the mastery the band so wonderfully stands for.
Maybe, though, it’s time to reintroduce into these Christmas concerts the third of their traditional elements. OK, we might not ever get Richard Stilgoe back, but the combined school choirs we used to have would be a massive addition. Oh, and proper programmes too, please.