Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Christmas at St John's Smith Square

St John's Smith Square presents its 30th annual Christmas Festival. This season is particularly impressive, bringing together fine choirs and baroque ensembles.

First highlight,  Lars Ulrik Mortensen directs the European Union Baroque Orchestra on Thursday, 3 December, with "Music for Feasts and Banquets" -  Biber, Muffat Marcello and Telemann. Then a series of major choirs, starting with the City of London Choir, the Choir  of Christ's College, Cambridge and the Choir of King's College, London. the Choir of Merton College, Oxford, and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge,.  For me, treats will include the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford  on 14 December with a lovely programme of  English carols, and, on 22 December, Stephen Layton leads the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in what promises to be a very fine Bach Mass in B Minor. Alas, it s been  sold out for ages. 

Plenty of other  treats, too. On 12 December, the Chapelle du Roi from Paris bring music from the Chapel Royal Choirs of 16th century England and Spain and on 13 December Siglo De Oro presents a programme of English song, including works by Roderick Williams (as composer), Howells, Warlock and Leighton. On 15 December, Jeffrey Skidmore conducts Ex Cathedra and on 17 December Ensemble Plus Ultra does Praetorius, Victoria and Byrd.  On 21 December, Solomon's Knot returns to SJSS for the fifth year running with Schelle, Kuhnau and Bach.  The Tallis Scholars and Peter Philips have a concert on 19 December. This being Christmas, there's no escaping Handel Messiahs, but  really good Messiah reminds us why it is done so often and by so many, some more earnest than excellent. With Stephen Layton, Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Enlightenment on 23 December, we can be sure of the highest standards, though. Soloists are Katherine Watson, Iestyn Davies, Gwilym Bowen and  Neal Davies no surprise that this has been sold out for ages, too!  The photo above shows Polyphony performing the Messiah at SJSS in recent years.

Celebrations continue into the New Year and culminate with Victoria O magnum mysterium (Mass and Motet) on the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January).  Christmas and the Baroque are closely intertwined. But no-one needs to be religious to enjoy some of the most uplifting music in western civilization. 

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