Review: Advent Carol Service

Sunday 27 November 2016

Happy New Liturgical year!

On Sunday evening, the chapel was filled to bursting to celebrate the start of the Christmas period. Beautifully decorated with hundreds of candles, the space resounded over the course of a highly moving service. 

With the choir expertly conducted by Alex Hodgkinson, the service was structured around the seven ‘O Antiphons’, which hark back to the very beginnings of Christian music. Interspersed amongst the traditional plainsong were a number of anthems, ranging in style from Renaissance Spanish polyphony to the English Twentieth Century. The music was picked to reflect on the readings: their marriage was impeccable – the final anthem, for example, was And the Glory of the Lord from Handel’s Messiah, which is a verbatim setting of the final reading of the service.

The service opened with Diego de les Muelas’s Cum Audisset Joannes delicately sung from the antechapel and moved through Charles Wood’s ‘O Thou the Central Orb’ to a vibrant rendition of the Handel mentioned above.

The real highlights of the service came in the Chamber Choir’s performance of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Hymn to the Virgin’, written by the composer when he was just fourteen, and the Junior Singers’ ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, here taking Holst’s famous tune in a new arrangement. The seasoned group of older singers moved effortlessly from spine-tingling hushed tones to an enormously full and rich sound in the louder passages, while the first outing of this year’s crop of Junior Singers showed that the future of the choir is safe indeed with over 40 performers in the group of Shell girls.

With beautiful music, beautiful readings, and a beautiful atmosphere, the service provided a wonderful time for reflection in this busy time of year, and a taster of the treats to come as the Christmas Carol Services loom on the horizon.

James Bartlett
Graduate Music Assistant

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