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The Independent Culture
I Fagiolini play at Christ Church, Spitalfields, London (0171- 377 1362) on 16 Dec at 6.30pm

Fire and ice - all within an hour, and lit by 289 candles, too. That's the menu for an early evening concert from I Fagiolini in the evocative Christ Church, Spitalfields. It opens a mini- winter festival of three choral concerts put together by the organisers of the summer Spitalfields Festival.

There's Victoria's Quem Vidistes Pastores, Mateo da Flecha's El Fuego, Byrd's "A Caroll for Christmas Day", and four movements from Britten's Sacred and Profane, as well as the London debut of "Sun, new moon and women shouting" by the gifted young English composer Edward Dudley Hughes.

Hughes wrote his a cappella piece for six voices specially for I Fagiolini's performance. "It's just the right time of year," he enthuses, "for it deals with the winter solstice and the dawning of new light." "Sun, new moon and women shouting" is a setting of a poem by Tom Lowenstein describing the moment at the turning of the year where the Alaskan Tikigag tribe chant from the roofs of their igloos."

"The poem is evocative, eerie, moving," Dudley Hughes continues, "and I hope the music conveys some of its raw energy and mystery."

But are the singers up to transporting themselves to the great Northern wastes, while losing none of their accuracy and intonation? "Absolutely," says Hughes. "They're all soloists in their own right and they can all pitch and come in on some very exposed notes. But there's nothing tentative about them, either - if any group can capture a sense of rapturous epiphany, it's I Fagiolini."


Left booking your tickets to the Messiah too late? Why not try a Romantic alternative. In Manchester, the Royal Northern College Orchestra & Chorus under guest conductor Kent Nagano play Berlioz's evocative Christmas setting L'Enfance Du Christ.

Bridgewater Hall, Lower Mosely Street (0161-907 9000) 19 Dec, 7.30pm, pounds 8-pounds 27.50