Christmas Classics

Ah, Christmas… that time of year when even the crustiest of old rockers is known to seek out a carol or two to get that festive feeling. Many years ago I remember chatting Christmas to one such gent, a man who made Alice Cooper look like a choirboy. With almost childlike enthusiasm, he told me that it was the wonderful descants which made the carols for him, as if those descants were as traditional as the carols themselves. And in a way, over the passing years, I guess that’s very much become the case. There’s certainly no quicker way to a mutiny amongst the ranks of sopranos in my choir than to confront them with a alternative descant to Hark the Herald.

Almost all of these wonderful counter-melodies were the product of Sir David Willcocks, a man who had very strong links with our part of the world. It was Sir David who really put the choir of Kings College, Cambridge on the international stage and it is from there – every Christmas Eve – that the festival of lessons and carols is broadcast to the world. This year’s will be especially poignant as in September, at the grand age of 95, Sir David made the transition to writing his tunes for the grand angelic chorus in the sky. There’s no doubt that choirs and choral societies the world over will be forever grateful for his marvellous musical legacy.

I have no doubt that a Willcocks arrangement or two will feature at the Saffron Hall on the 19th December as the BBC Singers are the latest in an impressive list of artists to visit East Anglia’s newest concert hall. The main focus of the evening is a semi-staged performance of the enduringly popular prose poem: Dylan Thomas “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”. It will bring to mind Christmasses of long ago when life seemed simpler … nostalgia and humour will be present in equal measure, as will the microphones of BBC Radio 3. Onxy Brass will bring festive brassiness to the occasion, so expect to be ding-donging merrily in the bleak midwinter whilst chestnuts roast upon an open fire.

I’ve written before about the popularity of Messiah at this time of year and Handel fans will not be disappointed by the options this year, with two full performances in Norwich alone. Britten Sinfonia Voices visit the city’s St Andrew’s Hall on the 16th, bringing with them a stellar quartet of soloists. In particular, I would travel some distance to hear Carolyn Sampson, a soprano who has made a speciality of historically informed performances.

Then, three days later, Norwich Cathedral Chamber Choir and Norwich Baroque switch off the lights and light up the candles in the Cathedral to transport us back to how that first performance might have felt back in 1742. If a trip to Norwich is not for you, then why not head to St Edmundsbury Cathedral on the 5th December? For this performance of Messiah, the Cathedral choir will be joined by other musicians from west Suffolk and four young soloists from the Royal Academy of Music.