We spent this afternoon catching the last performance of The Messiah for this season’s run. It was wonderfully done, with zest and energy even in the slower pieces. The orchestra had a light touch, and the highlight of the performance for us was the choir. (No, we’re not biased at all, why would you think that?) Their diction was good, their sound bright, and they were -oh rarity -always together. In a large choir, that’s no easy feat.
As ever with The Messiah there was a fair bit of elasticity, and pieces were sung by parts we normally associate with others. On that note, we wanted to give you this communion hymn that ambushed us the other week. We never expected to like anything with a tambourine (they’re too often used to soppy effect) but the jocundity here is contagious. You may or may not recognise the text as Comfort Ye My People. We associate it with Handel’s Messiah, but that’s about all they have in common -well, that, and as it happens, we love both arrangements. We hope you will too.
Now, the concert over, we’re drinking a tea billed as being White Cranberry Bark. It’s herbal, pink, and tastes tart -the cranberry, presumably. You have to let this one steep. Our first effort was impatient and it tasted mostly of hot water, but about ten minutes into brewing the cranberry came through, and the white chocolate is merely a culinary afterthought. So you see, we can like a tea with chocolate in it after all. Though we still think it’s a bit odd.
And on the subject of oddities, we’re taking a risk here and giving you a poem we haven’t made up our mind about. We first heard it two or three years ago when the St Salvator’s Chapel Choir, St Andrews, premiered a carol cycle arranged by a composer we now forget -possibly John MacMillan. It was interspersed with poetry, and we found this Advent Carol in verse. See what you make of it.
The Midwife’s Carol
Michael Symmons Roberts
Deserts freeze and oceans glaze,
The polar sun turns blue,
Then on winter’s whitened page
A single star prints through.
New-made maker, helpless king,
Born to joy and suffering,
Our rescuer, our child,
Our rescuer, our child.
I haul my catch into the world,
I shake him into breath,
His cry, so clear it splits the skies,
Could wake a man from death.
He cries for milk who gave it taste,
He aches for touch of skin,
Yet he spun every human hair,
And ushered love begin.
I count his fingers, wipe
Then whisper in each ear.
I wrap him in my thickest shawl,
Bound tight to keep him here.
My hands have cradled many heads,
Cut countless cords and cauls,
But never held eternity
Within such fragile walls.
The maker of all worlds is made,
From speed of light to feet of clay,
My saviour in my arms.
For our money, if you’re interested, if that italicised bit is a chorus, it’s unnecessary. Strictly speaking, its superfluous anyway, but if it’s meant to repeat, well, look for us cowering in a corner somewhere waving a cross in the general direction of all things uncomfortably sentimental. And yes, there are probably quite a few Victorian hymns that fall under that description too, we include them here. But strange italics aside, there are some lines here that give us shivers even on the nth rereading. For years people have been trying to articulate the strange duality of the infant Christ, and for us this comes as close as anything to articulating His humanity and divinity simultaneously. If nothing else, it has nerve. That’s a great thing in poetry.
What do you think? Are we too hard on the italics? Is it altogether gloopy anyway? Let us know. We’re collecting opinions.