Just finished the year of ‘Beyond the Barline’ talks at St George’s with a festive twist, looking at Christmas favourites with Dr David Bednall. I started with Corelli’s Christmas Concerto because it was one of the first pieces I conducted and it still has a nostalgic pull for me. The concert grosso mainly feels Christmassy because of the ‘Pastorale’ movement at the end, evoking the shepherds at the crib with a sicilienne – the first time any composer had included this dance in such a formal setting. I think Handel’s version in the Messiah sounds more like shepherds’ pipes, with their trills and free lines, but it was Corelli who showed the way.
Second choice had to be Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, with its glow of treble and harp sounds and ingenious three-part writing.
I finished with Prokofiev’s violin concerto no 1 because of the fantastical winter landscape that is conjured by the opening paragraph of the first movement. It has a real feel of ‘once upon a time’, with the soloist marked ‘narrante’ – ‘narratingly’. Russians and Finns are excellent at winter music, unsurprisingly, and I think Prokofiev’s brand of lyricism fits beautifully here.
Have a listen on Spotify to the playlist if you have a moment: