The liturgical year began in earnest on Sunday, the Advent clock once again beginning the countdown to Christ’s (first and/or second, depending on your eschatological mindset) coming. Here, then, a couple of days late (due to personal circumstances, including, in reverse order, a world première in Birmingham and a car crash in Bicester) are highlights from the Advent Carol Service, broadcast, as last year, from St John’s College, Cambridge. It would be nice to think they choose St John’s as John the apostle’s writings are so significant and, indeed, drawn upon during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but it may simply be accidental; either way, St John’s continues to be one of the finest choirs in the land.
The second part of the service included a gorgeous recent carol by Michael Finnissy, Telling, the anonymous words of which carry resonances beyond Advent and Christmas, pointing towards distant Passiontide. It is to my mind something of a unique text, one that bespeaks a profound understanding about the nature of humanity, seeking God (consciously or otherwise) but not necessarily in the most healthy or rewarding places; with its emphasis on love rather than damnation, its easy to see why Michael was drawn to this text, and his setting is fittingly mellifluous, the unresolved cadence at the close of the refrain a particularly powerful ellipsis (its resolution lies with the listener, and what they do next).
Arvo Pärt‘s Богородице Дево (Bogoróditse Djévo) is all froth and twittering, its initially playful imperative to the Virgin finally melting into soft, quiet warmth, as enthusiasm gives way to reverence.