The best classical performances of Christmas 2016 – from the Messiah to an Orkney Wedding

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra pays tribute to the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, while the Hallé brings Handel’s glorious oratorio to Manchester

An Orkney Wedding, Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Edinburgh and Glasgow

One of the year’s greatest musical losses was the death, in March, of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra pays tribute to the composer who made his home and creative base in the Orkney Islands with a programme that features one of his best-loved compositions – An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise – as well as his second Strathclyde concerto. The soloist is William Conway, who premiered the work with the composer in 1989; rising star Alexandre Bloch conducts a programme that also includes Sibelius and Bartók.
1 December, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. 2 December, City Hall, Glasgow,

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

As festive as mince pies and the EastEnders Christmas special, Handel’s oratorio was, of course, written for Easter, and it is far from proven that George II ever attended a performance, let alone stood up during the famous Hallelujah chorus. But don’t let that spoil your enjoyment of what has long since become a fixture of Christmas schedules. This performance, with baroque specialist Christian Curnyn conducting the Hallé orchestra and choir, promises to be fine, with Curnyn’s attention to detail and wit bringing a freshness to Handel’s familiar score.
3 December,

Der Rosenkavalier
Royal Opera House, London

A real Christmas treat comes to the Royal Opera House in the shape of a new staging of Strauss’s charming comedy Der Rosenkavalier. Robert Carsen directs, and the great American soprano Renée Fleming plays the Marschallin, one of her signature roles. Double casting means she alternates with Rachel Willis-Sorensen, while mezzos Alice Coote and Anna Stephany share the trouser role of Octavian, her young lover. There’s star wattage in the pit, too, with Andris Nelsons conducting Strauss’s luminous music.
From 17 December-24 January, The performance on 14 January will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3

The Sixteen at Christmas
Cardiff and touring

This year’s seasonal tour by the outstanding choral group travels from Rutland to Reading, with music inspired by the story of the three kings. Traditional carols sit alongside contemporary compositions, Renaissance masterpieces and Peter Warlock’s hauntingly beautiful Bethlehem Down, a carol written by a practising druid and his drinking companion and poet friend Bruce Blunt. They submitted it to a Daily Telegraph carol competition because they wanted the winnings to fund a drinking spree – in which they duly indulged.

Various venues, including Cardiff, Nottingham, Oxford and London.
From 3-22 December,

Carol concerts

Every cathedral and church in the country hosts a carol concert in the week before Christmas. Few are ticketed, but check for details, since many – particularly at the grander cathedrals – are very popular. Venues don’t get much grander than King’s College, Cambridge, whose traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (bible readings interspersed with music) on Christmas Eve signals the beginning of Christmas for millions across the world. A specially commissioned new carol always features: Michael Berkeley has written this year’s, and the service will also include music by his father, Lennox, alongside works by Michael Praetorius, John Tavener and Herbert Howells. If you don’t mind queuing, you can join the line (“a day or so before” says Kings, wonderfully vaguely) for one of the 600 public tickets. Music director Stephen Cleobury ensures that the music is as exquisite as the surroundings.
Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, King’s College, Cambridge, 24 December, Broadcast live on BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service and across the US  and Canada on local radio stations


Imogen Tilden

The GuardianTramp

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