We take a sleigh ride on day 14 of our Classical Advent Calendar. Join us!
Since Jonas Kaufmann’s recording of ‘Jingle Bells’ hit the airwaves, the merry jangling of sleigh bells has made me feel a little… uneasy. But Prokofiev has come to the rescue. The suite from his soundtrack to 1934 Soviet comedy Lieutenant Kijé has yielded up a firm festive favourite: the rambunctious ‘Troika’, depicting a sleigh ride through the snow – complete with frosty bells.
The earworm theme is well-known. Greg Lake – he of classical / rock crossover artists Emerson, Lake & Palmer – gave it top billing in his 1975 hit ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’ – though there it is stripped of Prokofiev’s pungent brass textures and tottering, worse for wear harmonies.
What music could be better preparation for an invigorating December walk? Violins are strummed like balalaika; crisp percussion and spikes of icy harp intimate bracingly cold air and the crunch of the first frost underfoot. Prokofiev’s inclusion of the tenor saxophone – the boozed-up uncle of the orchestral woodwinds – makes the whole thing festive: all Christmas Party exuberance and juicy mincemeat.