The Full Works Concert - Friday 20 December 2013

Jane Jones has more festive music for Friday - including Britten's haunting A Ceremony of Carols.

Tonight's concert of festive favourites kicks off with Nigel Hess’s bustling A Christmas Overture. This exciting piece was commissioned by John Rutter who conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in tonight's performance.

Rutter returns to the podium to direct Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasy on Christmas Carols. First performed at the 1912 Three Choirs Festival at Hereford Cathedral, the work is a single movement which consists of the English folk carols "The truth sent from above", "Come all you worthy gentlemen" and "On Christmas night all Christians sing", all folk songs collected in southern England by Vaughan Williams and his friend Cecil Sharp a few years earlier. These are interposed with brief orchestral quotations from other carols, such as The First Nowell.

Victor Hely-Hutchinson's Carol Symphony is based on four carols, given additional orchestration and arrangements. They are "O Come All Ye Faithful" in the style of a Bach chorale prelude; "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in Russian mode; the third movement is based on the "Coventry Carol", with a central interlude on "The First Nowell"; and the finale uses "Here We Come A-Wassailing".

A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten consists of eleven movements, with text from The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems in Middle English. The piece was written in 1942 while Britten was at sea, returning from the United States to England. Originally conceived as a series of unrelated songs, it was later unified into one piece with the framing processional and recessional chant in unison based on the Gregorian antiphon "Hodie Christus natus est", heard at the beginning and the end.

Leroy Anderson's A Christmas Festival was composed in 1950 at a time when he was an arranger with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Their chief Arthur Fiedler required a piece of music that would cover two sides of a ‘single’ record for the holiday season. Anderson created an ambitious concert overture subtly weaving together well-known Christmas songs and carols.

Stephen Fry then joins us to narrate Clement Clarke Moore's poem The Night Before Christmas over Philip Lane's music, followed by Emma Kirkby, perhaps the finest of all sopranos specialising in early music, singing Alessandro Scarlatti's Pastoral Cantata for the Birth of our Saviour.

The concert ends with the Carol Fantasia by John Fox, a medley of Christmas chestnuts, beautifully wrapped for your pleasure.

Nigel Hess: A Christmas Overture

John Rutter conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasy on Christmas Carols
Soloists: Stephen Varcoe, Stephen Orton
John Rutter conducts the City of London Sinfonia and the Cambridge Singers

Victor Hely-Hutchinson: Carol Symphony
Gavin Sutherland conducts the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra

Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols
Harp: Sioned Williams
Harry Christophers conducts The Sixteen

Leroy Anderson: A Christmas Festival
Jerry Junkin conducts the Dallas Wind Symphony

Philip Lane: The Night Before Christmas
Narrator: Stephen Fry
Barry Wordsworth conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra 

Alessandro Scarlatti: Pastoral Cantata for the Birth of our Saviour
Soprano: Emma Kirkby
Charles Medlam conducts London Baroque

John Fox: Carol Fantasia
Gavin Sutherland conducts the Royal Ballet Sinfonia