At St John’s Smith Square, the magnificent 18th-century former church in Westminster that is now a focal point for music on a more intimate scale, the 31st Christmas Festival includes music ancient and modern, from both top professionals and rising stars.
The festival opens (9 Dec) with the Choir of King’s College London in a programme of music marking the traditions of the Orthodox church. They sing Ikon of the Nativity, by the modern mystic composer John Tavener, and the profound Rachmaninov All-Night Vigil.
Tavener’s beautiful carol The Lamb is among the many short items in the concert by The Gesualdo Six (10 Dec); other works include the Coventry Carol, John Rutter’s There is a Flower, and the ever-popular Gaudete.
Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day and Away in a Manger are among the favourite carols sung by the City of London Choir in Carols by Candlelight (11 Dec). Then Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford, choose Rutter too – his Shepherd’s Pipe Carol – in a programme (12 Dec) that also includes In the Bleak Midwinter, with Howard Goodall presenting the programme.
The Choir of Merton College, Oxford (13 Dec) sing music by earlier composers including Praetorious and Victoria, then round off with modern classics – and more Rutter, of course.
Renaissance composers, Victoria again, with Lassus, Byrd and Palestrina, are the focus of The Cardinall’s Musick whose programme entitled In Honour of the Virgin is conducted by founder Andrew Carwood (14 Dec).
There is more music by candlelight (15 Dec) from Ex Cathedra, conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore, and music from across the centuries when the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge (16 Dec) sing Praetorius, Mendelssohn, and seasonal modern favourites Tavener, Rutter and Bob Chilcott.
A Very English Christmas is the title of the outstanding choir Tenebrae, whose programme (18 Dec) includes Byrd, Holst, Vaughan Williams, and arrangements of Away in a Manger and Jingle Bells.
La Nuova Musica are joined by the soprano Lucy Crowe for cantatas by JS Bach, Mozart and Hayden (19 Dec), with trumpeter David Blackadder. Then the Holst Singers and the City of London Sinfonia under Michael Collins present An English Folk Christmas (20 Dec), with music by Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock and others.
The Tallis Scholars sing Renaissance music (21 Dec) before the festival’s big finish. The mighty Bach B Minor Mass is sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and soloists Katharine Watson, Iestyn Davies, Gwilym Bowen, and Neal Davies, festival director Stephen Layton directing.
On the last night (23 Dec), Handel’s Messiah, with its depiction of the entire life of Christ, from the Nativity to the resurrection, is performed by the same soloists and orchestra, with choir Polyphony.
Tickets are available now, and early booking is advisable: the ever-increasing scale of the festival now in its fourth decade is an indication of its popularity.
|What||31st Christmas Festival, St John's Smith Square|
|Where||St John's Smith Square, 30 Smith Square, London , SW1P 3HF | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Westminster (underground)|
09 Dec 16 – 23 Dec 16, times vary: lunchtime and evening events
|Price||£10 - £59|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|