BBC S0/Davis, St Giles, Cripplegate <br/> BBC Singers/Chilcott, St Giles, Cripplegate, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Refreshingly, the BBC Symphony Orchestra avoided Christmas entirely but, in appropriately festive spirit, celebrated the return of Sir Andrew Davis to its podium with an all-French programme. In its first half were two works entitled Gloria. But while the second of them was Poulenc's over-familiar 1960 setting from the Latin Mass, the opener, a British premiere from the Frenchman Philippe Féne-lon had no singers at all.

The programme note explained that this Gloria was "imaginary, purely Utopian" and muttered something about glorifying polyphony and ending in E major. Listening to it with the BBC Symphony Chorus waiting patiently behind the orchestra for the Poulenc added to the vaguely postmodern implications.

But Fénelon's music itself actually proved compelling. Beginning in a somewhat anonymous modernist manner, it looked as if it was really just going to be about adding to the stock of well-written, timbrally alluring soundscapes that occupy so many of its composer's compatriots. As it went on, the piece acquired triadic and other consonant gestures that were elaborated with real sophistication. The path to that final E major was accordingly achieved with a rare musicality, and entirely without postmodern irony. Fascinating.

In the Poulenc, Christine Brewer delivered a glorious stream of unforced lyricism, the BBC forces supplying an energetic contribution. In Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, the balance between moment-to-moment passion and symphonic cohesion was well maintained.

In the early-evening concert over at St Giles, the BBC Singers under Bob Chilcott also offered French fare, but this time overwhelmingly Christmassy and candle-lit. However enjoyable, this programme hardly seemed very penetrating as a survey of the repertoire in question. And though the new carols by Judith Bingham and Chilcott himself were adept examples of their kind, why was no French composer commissioned to provide something genuinely French for this entente cordiale de Noel?