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Winter Wonderland

feat. Prokofiev, Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, Handel & more

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Christmas must be the most exciting time of the year from a musical perspective: the opportunity to revel in a huge body of wonderful repertoire that for the rest of the year we're not technically supposed to be listening to.

In fact it's the musical equivalent of bringing in and then taking down the Christmas tree, and a bit like Christmas decorations there's an extent to which each year what we want are the old favourites. Continuity and tradition. However this is Grammofy, so whilst our Winter Wonderland collection does include some old festive favourites, we've also wanted to give you a few works you'll be less familiar with. The other thing we've done is to slightly extend this collection's by featuring a few works that are more wintry than full-on Christmassy, and in fact that's how we open: with Prokofiev's Troika, the depiction of a fast sleigh ride written for his score to the 1934 film Lieutenant Kijé, which he then turned into a suite.

We stay in Russia for our second work - although traveling back a few decades to the turn of the century - for Glazunov's four-movement ballet, The Seasons, and of course it's Winter we've got for you here, which after an introduction presents a series of dances portraying frost, ice, hail and snow, before two gnomes come and light a fire, which brings on Spring. From there we zip right back to Baroque Italy for Fabio Biondi playing Vivaldi's Christmas E major Violin Concerto “Il riposo – per il Santissimo Natale”, which stands out for its low volume, achieved by mutes being used throughout. After which it's time for a carol, and we've chosen London Brass performing Quem pastores laudavere.

Next up, early Romantic meets Baroque for the London Philharmonic's recording of Mendelssohn's Bach-inspired “Von Himmel hoch, da komm ich her”, based on a Christmas Eve hymn written by the author of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. Then some pure Baroque, with Torelli's technically demanding Trumpet Concerto in D major, played by Alison Balsom, which is a more festive-sounding than genuinely Christmassy work, but it does hit the seasonal mood perfectly. Still what's required next is something genuinely seasonal, and this felt like the moment to bring in a work from 2019's anniversary man, Hector Berlioz (2019 being the 150th anniversary of his death). So that's his Epiphany oratorio of 1854, L'Enfance du Christ, which you're hearing in a classic recording conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini.

Another oratorio follows, but this one almost needs no introduction because it's Handel's Messiah, and our recording is a beautiful Anglo-Franco collaboration: Emmanuelle Haim directing her period ensemble Le Concert d'Astree, with some top English soloists: Lucy Crowe, Andrew Staples, Tim Mead and Christopher Purves.

Then solo piano doesn't get much of a look-in at Christmas time, but there is the odd gem, and the one we've programmed here is “Christmas” from Tchaikovsky's The Seasons: a suite of twelve piano pieces, each attached to a month of the year, which were commissioned by a St Petersburg music magazine and then published one by one over the course of 1876, attached to their respective months; and Freddy Kempf is the pianist.

Finally, to bow out in full Christmas style we've got Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on Christmas Carols for baritone, chorus and orchestra. Composed in 1912, this is a medley of English folk carols which Vaughan Williams had gathered from across Britain a few years previously with his friend the folk music expert Cecil Sharp, and it's perfect music to end on: alive with great tunes, and awash with nostalgia. So, that's a lot of music for you, and we hope it gives you many hours of pleasure. Happy Christmas!

Curation & Text: Natascha Klotschkoff, Charlotte Gardner

Speaker: Charlotte Gardner

Visual Art: Philipp Nicolai Hertel

  • Winter Wonderland

  • Leutnant Kijé op. 60 - IV. Troika Preview Only

    Sergei Prokofiev

    London Philharmonic Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt
  • Die Jahreszeiten op. 67 Preview Only

    Alexander Glazunov

    Philharmonia Orchestra, Yevgeny Svetlanov
  • Concerto in E major RV 270 »Il Riposo-per il Santo Natale« Preview Only

    Antonio Vivaldi

    Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante1999
  • Quem pastores laudavere - I Preludium & Fugue Preview Only

    Anonymous (arr. Simon Wills)

    London Brass
  • Cantata No. 6 »Vom Himmel hoch« (Weihnachtskanate) Preview Only

    Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

    Vladimir Jurowski, Lisa Milne, Ruxandra Donose, Andrew Staples, Christopher Maltman, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Choir, Neville Creed2009
  • L'Enfance du Christ - (Evolutions cabalistiques) Preview Only

    Hector Berlioz

    Sir Colin Davis, Yann Beuron, Karen Cargill, William Dazeley, Matthew Rose, Peter Rose, London Symphony Orchestra, Tenebrae, Nigel Short2006
  • Suonata con stromenti e tromba in D major G 1 Preview Only

    Giuseppe Torelli (arr. Edward H. Tarr)

    Alison Balsom, The Academy of Ancient Music2016
  • Messiah HWV 56 Preview Only

    George Frideric Handel

    Lucy Crowe, Tim Mead, Andrew Staples, Christopher Purves, Le Concert d´Astrée, Emmanuelle Haïm2013
  • The Seasons op. 37a - XII. December (Christmas). Tempo di Valse Preview Only

    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

    Freddy Kempf2014
  • Fantasia on Christmas Carols Preview Only

    Ralph Vaughan Williams

    Stephen Roberts, London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Hickox

(Preview Only)