A dropped pin might have been heard by the large audience as the lights dimmed and tenor John Baker began Palestrina's prayerfully eager 'Advent Responsory', taken up by four more soloists and the chorus. This and then Tallis's expectant 'O Nata Lux' reinforced the a capella theme of light breaking through darkness. With lights up, the audience rose to join in the ancient hymn of hope, 'Veni Emmanuel'.
Robert Hammersley, conducting sixty voices of the Ardingly Choral Society and Mid Sussex Sinfonia members, with a welcome return by accomplished ex-Ardingly organist David Moore, now moved on to extracts from Handel's Messiah. Its 1742 Dublin premiere had raised the equivalent of over £30,000 for local charities. The oratorio's purpose hadn't changed. Deirdre Prower, a trustee of the community-based St Peter & St James Hospice, explained, before a generous exit collection was taken, that taxes maintain it for under two months a year. Strong, clear, expressive solos by John Baker ('Comfort Ye') and soprano Marianne Goodale ('There were shepherds abiding'), ably complemented by the chorus, particularly in 'Hallelujah', emphasised the joy of Christmas giving
The choral programme was effectively interspersed with carols sung by all (including 'Silent Night' in English and German) and a Mid Sussex Sinfonia string quartet bringing out the appropriate raindrop pizzicato in the largo from Vivaldi's seasonal 'Winter' and the warmth and peace of the conclusion of his teacher Corelli's 'Christmas Concerto'.
Only the mild drizzly evening outside was unseasonal as we left. A smooth, uplifting 'O Holy Night', a nimble, excited 'For unto us a Child is Born' and a roof-lifting 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' remained as powerful memories of an inspiring evening. No wonder, as Hammersley reminded us, that even the atheist Delius said, 'Music is an outburst of the soul'.
Review by: Melvyn Walmsley