Dutch traditional. English translation by RC Trevelyan, taken from the Oxford Book of Carols (E-L)
Choral level of difficulty: 3 (5 greatest)
An unusual and lovely carol first performed in the St John’s College Epiphany carol service. MacMillan originally wrote this carol when he was nineteen and, along with other early works (like parts of Who are these angels?), has recently been rediscovering what he might call into service for his more recent works.
The atmosphere set up by the opening oboe soliloquy is magical and it could almost be singing the opening words as the first two phrases fit them beautifully. A tenor voice takes over the melodic line seamlessly. The trio of voices then sings a short contrapuntal passage and is joined by the oboe. Varied scoring, contrasting dynamics, and a mixture of counterpoint and chordal writing leading to a revisiting of the opening material at the end makes for an effective and memorable experience. The challenge here is taking up the oboe’s lyricism in the vocal parts and matching its expressiveness.
Repertoire note by Paul Spicer