The narrated work is currently available. The version for full orchestra will be available in 2022.
Richard Allain's A Christmas Carol was written in 1996 and was originally scored for narrator and string quartet, who also undertook percussion duties. It was premiered at London’s Purcell Room by the Bingham String Quartet and Richard Stilgoe. The work has been performed many times over the years, but 2020 saw the completion of a long-anticipated orchestral version. The actor, comedian and writer Stephen Fry recorded the narration during the Covid 19 lockdown, but the pandemic meant that a recording of a full symphony orchestra, complete with a lavish percussion section, was out of the question due to social distancing requirements, and so a third, chamber orchestra version (strings, harp, percussion and celeste) was created for a recording by the BBC Concert Orchestra under the baton of David Hill.
The tale of the Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghostly visitors has been portrayed in many different ways since it was first published in 1843. In this version the text, abridged by Thomas Allain, is entirely faithful to the original Dickens. The story is set on Christmas Eve. Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his long-dead business partner Jacob Marley, who warns Scrooge that he must change his miserly ways. He is visited the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas yet to come. The first spirit shows Scrooge moments from his own past - his lonely childhood, his beloved sister, his cheerful, generous employer Fezziwig and Belle, Scrooge’s one and only love. The second spirit reveals the joy of Christmas to those both rich and poor. Scrooge witnesses the happiness of his impecunious clerk Bob Cratchit at home with his family, including the cripple Tiny Tim. He sees too, the helplessness of those in need, whose lives only know ‘ignorance’ and ‘want’. The third ghost is silent, and leads Scrooge forward in time where he witnesses, ‘unwatched and unwept’, his own death. Breaking down at the sight of his own gravestone, Scrooge pleads with the ghost that he might change his ways, only to find the ghost gone and that the bells are ringing on Christmas Day. Scrooge is a changed man. He sets out to honour Christmas and help those around him.
The various ghosts, characters and events from Scrooge’s life are accompanied by a series of musical scenes which include the wintery cold of Scrooge’s office, Scrooge’s lonely schoolroom, Fezziwig’s Christmas ball, the lighting of the pudding in Bob Cratchit’s house, Scrooge’s own gravestone, and music to accompany the appearance of Jacob Marley and the three spirits. Woven into these scenes are references to a number Christmas carols. Some, such as Coventry Carol and Somerset Carol are fully voiced. Elsewhere, there are merely snippets of The First Nowell, Ding Dong Merrily on High, Deck the Halls, and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. And, almost hidden, are fragments of Silent Night and Once in Royal David’s City. The piece is divided into five staves: Stave One - Marley’s Ghost, Stave Two - The First of the Three Spirits, Stave Three - The Second of the Three Spirits, Save Four - The Last of the Three Spirits, and Stave Five - The End of it. Although the story is nearly two hundred years old, its themes of poverty and greed, social injustice, forgiveness and compassion are as relevant today as they were in Dickens’ own time.