Michael White’s classical news: Highgate International Chamber Music Festival; London Handel Players; Winterreise


Allan Clayton sings Winterreise at the Barbican on Dec 7. Projected painting: Fred Williams/photo: Bradbury studios

TEN years ago a trio of young musicians based around North London – violinist Natalie Klouda, cellist Ashok Klouda and pianist Irina Botan – came up with the idea of a small-scale but high-quality festival to brighten the darkness of winter nights. They co-opted some friends; fixed on St Anne’s, Highgate West Hill as a venue; and the result was what’s become the thriving Highgate International Chamber Music Festival whose 10th anniversary season runs Dec 7-11.

It’s a few days of intense activity, with 10 events packed tightly together, and star performers like violinist Jack Liebeck, clarinettist Julian Bliss and jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock on the roster playing core reper­toire. But there are also things you won’t have heard before, including works by the early 20th-century Croatian countess/ composer Dora Pejacevic and by Festival founder Natalia Klouda, who is making a name for herself these days as a creative as well as performing musician.

For added interest, there’s a Schubert night on Dec 9 with Rowan Atkinson reading from the composer’s letters – presumably without pulling faces or walking into walls: Schubert enjoyed a joke, but lived a life at some remove from slapstick. chambermusicfestival.co.uk

One of Holborn’s hidden treasures is the museum to that great 18th-century charitable venture the Foundling Hospital at Coram’s Fields, forever associated with Handel who used to organise performances of Messiah to raise money for it. The museum recreates some of the grand interiors of the hospital, with a fabulous picture gallery.

And in that very space, surrounded by Gainsboroughs and Hogarths, the London Handel Players offer a programme of baroque Christmas music on Dec 2. Details: foundlingmuseum.org.uk

Speaking of Handel, we are on the brink of Messiah season, and there’s a slew of perfor­man­ces coming up – with a jugger­naut from the Philharmonia Orchestra and massed voices including Highgate Choral Society at the Festival Hall, Dec 4 (southbankcentre.co.uk), and a sleeker, slimline version from The Sixteen at St Martin in the Fields on Dec 6 (stmartin-in-the-fields.org).

Other festive choral nights you ought to know about include the legendary John Rutter doing his annual Christmas gig at the Albert Hall with the RPO, Dec 6 (royalalberthall.com) and a traditional carol concert at St Paul’s Cathedral, also Dec 6 (barbican.org.uk)

• Something else you might call seasonal, although it’s hardly cheering, is Schubert’s great song cycle Winterreise, which describes a journey through a winter landscape into bleakness and despair. Consider your forthcoming energy bills and you’ll be in the right frame of mind for a staging of the piece at the Barbican on Dec 7, sung (and acted) by the magnificent British tenor Allan Clayton – who is bound to give a harrowing performance. barbican.org.uk

And if that doesn’t generate enough misery, there’s always English National Opera – whose plight continues, though it’s putting on a brave face with a concert performance of Britten’s 1953 coronation opera Gloriana on Dec 8. A finer work than people tell you, it’s a pageant-piece about Elizabeth I with colourful as well as poignant music – though I’m bound to say I’d rather see it fully staged. eno.org

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