Advent Calendar Day 2: The Record of John (Orlando Gibbons)

I know I link to this every year, but to me, this is where Advent starts.  I’ve been singing this with the Wesley Choir for about twelve years now, most of that time as the alto soloist, though I have also dabbled with the first alto and soprano lines in this and other choirs.  It is, I think, one of the most beautiful and evocative pieces of church music out there, and whenever we walk into choir on that day in late November and our conductor plays the opening bars, some part of me just settles into a place where all is well, and Advent is here, and it’s all just *right*.

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Advent Calendar Day 2 – Magnificat (Purcell)

I was trying to find a version of Purcell’s ‘Thy Word is a Lantern’ for today, but given a choice of excessively mannered male alto * or pleasing but very quiet female alto with lots of background rustling, I was less than inspired (I’m not sure why this particular search string also brought me up the Alto’s Lament, but that is a question for another day).

Fortunately, it also brought up this gorgeous verse anthem by Purcell, which is ever so much more appropriate for Advent anyway, being as it is a Magnificat. This is Mary’s song early in the book of Luke, after the Angel tells her that she will conceive and bear a son and all that. I believe I’ve expressed the opinion before that Advent is All About Mary, and we might as well start early on this one. You’ll be seeing a lot more Magnificats around here before Advent is over.

I’ve never actually heard this piece before, but already I want to sing it – I have a weakness for verse anthems (anthems which alternate between a soloist or group of soloists and the full choir) and particularly love the way Purcell alternates between full choir and trios composed of lower and then upper voices. I strongly suspect that this is an all-male choir, and I do wish it wasn’t, but it is a very good one for all that.

And you really can’t ever go wrong with Purcell (despite the evidence beside the asterisk below).

No embedding for this video – hie thee to YouTube and watch it there!

Magnificat, composed by Henry Purcell, and sung by the choir of Christ College, Oxford

* seriously, I was waiting for him to start singing the No Kissing At All song. That’s how mannered he was. And yes, he was really that camp.

Edited to add: In fact, I did get to sing this at Christ Church Brunswick, a few years later, and I couldn’t figure out why it seemed so familiar – now I know.