Monday, November 28, 2016

sharing Evensong music

Along with another sister and an associate, I attended a beautiful service of Advent Lessons and Carols at St. Stephen's, Providence Sunday, November 27, Advent I. Sr. Kristina Frances sings in the choir there, which is, of course, added incentive for us to make the trip to Rhode Island. Some of the music was new to me, so I looked it up on my return; others were old favorites. Such beauty is to be shared, so I'm offering a few recordings for your Advent reflection.

Lessons and Carols opened with the Matin Responsory from Palestrina (Willcocks' adaptation) which I've sung, but never so beautifully.

It was followed immediately by the Advent hymn, "Lo! he comes, with clouds descending" (Helmsley), which was written by Charles Wesley. Other than the "deeply wailing" bit, I do love it. And it's hardly Advent if you don't sing it, after all. The recording below has an unusual (to me) descant at the end to add to the experience.

Following the bidding prayer, the choir sang the Advent Prose. Now, I know and love the plainchant version, and Sr KF sings it beautifully. This Lessons and Carols service offered a choral version by Richard Lloyd that I'd not heard before.

After a reading of Genesis 3:1-23 (Adam & Eve's rebellion), they sang one I recall learning back in the previous millennium in my other life as a boarding school teacher and faculty infiltrator of the girls' choir (it helped that I was young and short; I didn't stick out quite so badly as I might have otherwise). I still enjoy it and was, of course, singing along in my head.

Next up, Haggai 2:6-9, and a piece that was just wild. I'd heard that this Pizzetti motet was quite challenging. That was a bit of an understatement. It was certainly out of my range of singing ability - just too unpredictable and crunchy - but they sang it well. The translation of the text begins with "Howl ye Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty." Yikes. Have I mentioned that Advent begins with much apocalyptic scripture? For both reasons, better them than me! It is, however, worth listening to.

Next up, Isaiah 7:10-15, one of the passages traditionally read in Advent.

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.

The anthem responding to the reading is a variation of a beloved hymn; you'll recognize it. This setting of Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is by Johann Hermann Schein.*

Finally, time for the rest of us to sing again, this time "How bright appears the morning star."

Fourth Lesson: Isaiah 35:1-10, one of my favorites.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
   the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
   and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
   the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
   the majesty of our God. 

Strengthen the weak hands,
   and make firm the feeble knees. 
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
   ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
   He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
   He will come and save you.’ 

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
   and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
   and streams in the desert; 
the burning sand shall become a pool,
   and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
   the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 

A highway shall be there,
   and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
   but it shall be for God’s people;
   no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray. 
No lion shall be there,
   nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
   but the redeemed shall walk there. 
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
   and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
   they shall obtain joy and gladness,
   and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. 

If that isn't enough to make you sing, I don't know what would be.

Following Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, an anthem by Orlando Gibbons, O Thou, the central orb.
Then Luke 1:5-25, and Hymn 272, "The great forerunner of the morn."

...followed by my second favorite of the evening, Ut queant laxis, by Orlande de Lassus - "So that with unrestrained hearts they servants might sing the wonders of thy acts, remove the sin..."

This next piece, by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978!) was my favorite of the evening, though the text isn't one I normally pray with. Along with "The angel Gabriel from heaven came" (Hymn 265 in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982), it accompanied the Gospel account of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38).

After the Rector's greetings and an organ voluntary, there was the Vesper Responsory, a prayer, and an Advent blessing before the final hymn, Veni, veni, Emmanuel.

O come, o come, Emmanuel, indeed.