Two ‘Messiahs’ to start the classical Christmas season in north London

The choir of Clare College Cambridge. Picture: Nick Rutter

The choir of Clare College Cambridge. Picture: Nick Rutter - Credit: Archant

Concerts in Hampstead Parish Church and and the Union Chapel will be performing Handel’s classic work, says Michael Joyce.

Christmas hardly starts until you’ve clocked up at least one “Messiah”; and there are two I can recommend over the coming weeks that count as local.

As a coda to this year’s Hampstead Arts Festival, there is a performance in Hampstead Parish Church on Sunday evening, given on the most intimate terms by ten voices from the HPC choir with a small baroque band under music director James Sherlock. And if that sounds as though you might not get your money’s worth, think again.

The HPC choir is professional (very), and draws on singers who combine their Hampstead duties with engagements in elite ensembles like The Sixteen and the Monteverdi Choir, as well as Glyndebourne, Grange Park and assorted other opera companies.

For good measure, there’s also a former member of the illustrious Kings Singers. And had you been at the Southbank recently you might have heard James Sherlock playing the Poulenc Organ Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. So these are all musicians of serious accomplishment and very much worth hearing.

The other “Messiah”, is at that extraordinary circular building near Highbury & Islington Station, the Union Chapel - given by the magnificent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with the choir of Clare College Cambridge under its music director Graham Ross.

Clare ranks alongside Trinity as one of the leading mixed-voice choirs in Cambridge; and since Ross took over a few years ago, its profile and prestige have grown – which is saying something because it was already an outstanding ensemble under his predecessors Tim Brown and John Rutter.

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Larger in scale than Hampstead’s, Clare’s “Messiah” will nonetheless be period-conscious, light on its feet and modestly proportioned rather than a sprawling choral-society endeavour. Ross is sharp, alert, a young conductor of prodigious musical intelligence, and somebody who’s going places.

The Hampstead Arts Festival Messiah is Sunday 29th Nov, 7pm at Hampstead Parish Church NW3. Tickets: .The Clare College/OAE one is Tues 3rd Dec, 6.30pm at Union Chapel, Compton Terrace N1. Tickets: