Review ‘A Festival of Carols’ presented by the Freemasons of Cambridgeshire in Ely Cathedral on Friday 10th December 2010

A wonderful array of high profile personalities, a packed cathedral and Ely Cathedral Choir conducted by Paul Trepte were the ideal combination for an excellent evening to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season.

With Paul Trepte at the helm, and Jonathan Lilley accompanying on organ or piano, the music was impeccable. The event opened with the Choir and audience singing the ‘See amid the winter’s snow’. In keeping with the wintry scene, Tim Pearce Higgins, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, gave a grand reading of ‘London Snow’ by Robert Bridges.

The Cathedral Choir’s first item then charmed the listeners with its fine sound and well balanced harmony in ‘The Truth from Above’ (Ralph Vaughan Williams) and ethereal chorister solos opened ‘Holly and The Ivy’ arranged by W. Davies.

John Betjeman’s picturesque ‘Christmas’ was made even more entertaining by Rex Walford’s expert reading before the audience rose to their feet to join in with ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’.

Next, a couple of highly amusing Christmas descriptions were separated by a carol which captured the wonder and excitement of children at Christmas: ‘Zither Carol’. Joyce Grenfells’ highly amusing Nativity Play, complete with four Kings and the troublesome George, was read by Amanda Bringans, Director of Fundraising for the Macmillan Cancer Support and Mark Peters, Presenter – Star Radio reminded us of the over- zealous young actor wrecking a Nativity Play in Willie Russell’s ‘Shirley Valentine’.

 A nostalgic ‘White Christmas’ sung by the Choir and accompanied by Jonathan Lilly on piano preceded a worthy reading of ‘The Oxen’ by Thomas Hardy by Andrew Lansley, MP, Secretary of State for Health.

The awesome environment of the Cathedral was further enhanced with the Choir’s very moving and sustained phrasing of ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ by Frances Poulenc and everyone joined in the rousing ‘Joy to the world’ to end the first half of the celebration.

Rodney Wolverson, Provincial Grand Master, informed us of the invaluable worldwide contributions of the Freemasons to open the second part of the evening and was followed by a captivating reading by the Head of The King’s School, Ely, Sue Freestone. She read Clemet Clarke Moore’s ‘The Night before Christmas’. The Choir gave a dashing performance of ‘Jingle Bells’ and a stately rendition of ‘O Tannenbaum’ before Nick Warburton, Writer and Journalist, read the remarkable tale of enemy soldiers pausing in their fighting to celebrate the season in ‘A Christmas Truce’ by Captain J. Armes.

The communal singing of ‘It came upon the midnight clear’ introduced an intriguing reading by Nick Pett, Cambridgeshire Freemason, Trustee of the Grand Charity, of ‘Nothingmas Day’ by Adrian Mitchell.

There was not a slip when the Choir sang the challenging ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ arranged by John Rutter and the spirit of the season was clearly explained in Francis P Church’s ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus’ read charismatically by Boni Sones.

Further cheer was provided by the Choir singing ‘We need a little Christmas’ by Jerry Herman and we were brought back to the opening reflective mode with Harold Darke’s ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’.

Dressed in his fine uniform, Nigel Brown, High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, followed with his commanding reading of ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.    

As a cancer survivor myself, I understand the fear and despair the disease creates and the assistance of organizations like Macmillan Support is invaluable and essential. Leanne Grose, a young and beautiful sufferer of the disease, gave a very moving speech in which she described her own experiences and the invaluable part her supporters played.

The wonderful evening ended fittingly with all voices singing ‘Once in Royal David’s City’.  



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