Today is the First Sunday of Advent, and with it comes the first carol service of the new Church year, once again from St John’s College, Cambridge.
This year’s newly-commissioned carol came from Jonathan Harvey, who explored the Annunciation through words by the Orcadian poet Edwin Muir. It’s a stunning text, and Harvey clothes it in an emphatically melodic music, passing it between solo voices, creating an intimate effect. Part of the second stanza (“Immediacy of strangest strangeness…”) brings the voices together, and the prosaic third stanza leads to a brief flurry of rhythmic interest, the words curt to the point of being half-spoken. But overwhelming calm prevails, Harvey ramping up the intensity as the dynamics fall to almost nothing, the “deepening trance” of the closing stanza brought entirely alive in a simple but gorgeous series of closing chords.