I think we’ve milked the Rorate theme as far as we possibly can, so it’s time to move on to our next Advent theme (which probably should have been my first theme, only I got my Advent texts mixed up…), which is all about preparing the way of the Lord. Because let’s face it – you really can’t have Advent without some serious time spent on Isaiah 40:
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
There are several really obvious possibilities here, and I promise, you’ll be getting them all in good time, but I wanted to start with this slightly less-well-known anthem by Michael Wise, who was an English organist and composer born just after the English Civil War. He wrote several really gorgeous verse anthems, which are one of my favourite forms of music, because they combine choral sections, solos and duets or small ensemble pieces into one piece of music.
(I also like them because they usually feature the alto pretty heavily; the Puritans didn’t approve of church music, and it took a while after the Restoration for cathedrals to train up a new set of really good boy sopranos. Verse anthems were a good solution, because you could give the tricky bits to the adult tenors, basses and counter tenors, and just bring the boys in for the chorus. Having said that… Wise was clearly writing for boy sopranos who knew their stuff, so presumably he just liked the form.)
I have not been able to find what I view as a perfect recording, but this one is pretty lovely. I love the way Wise mixes and matches his voices in this piece. But I think my favourite part is the bass solo in the ‘every valley section’, with its brilliant low notes. The duet about all flesh being grass, and the chorus which follows, is also pretty amazing, though I’m less keen on the boy sopranos’ voices than I am on that of the bass.