Ten of the best pieces of Advent music

The greatest pieces of choral music to sing during the Advent season, as chosen by Andrew Nethsingha, choral conductor and director of music at St John's College, Cambridge

Ten of the best pieces of Advent music

John Joubert: There is no rose

Arguably the most perfect Advent carol of the 20th-century. Exquisitely crafted, with charming simplicity.

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Herbert Howells: A spotless rose

An iconic early Advent work, written some 25 years before his most famous canticle settings. One of the gems of the season!

James Burton: Tomorrow shall be my dancing day

When St John’s College, Cambridge commissioned this piece for Advent, I asked the composer for ‘something fun, wacky, quirky, catchy, fast…’ and he certainly ticked those boxes! This is a favourite with our choir, using a well-known text which describes much of Jesus’s life.

* St John’s College, Cambridge Advent commission

Orlando Gibbons: This is the record of John

John the Baptist plays an important role in the Advent season. This elegant 17th-century verse anthem is a model of compelling storytelling.

* Will be featured in the St John’s College, Cambridge 2020 Advent broadcast on BBC Radio 3

Cecilia McDowall: A Prayer to St John the Baptist

An attractive new Advent work combining two texts from the 8th and 20th centuries, over a rippling organ accompaniment depicting the water of baptism.

* St John’s College, Cambridge Advent commission
* Will be featured in the St John’s College, Cambridge 2020 Advent broadcast on BBC Radio 3

Elizabeth Poston: Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree

A traditional American text set to music of sublime simplicity, by a composer who loved folk-song.

Jonathan Harvey: The Annunciation

A profound, spiritual work: one of Harvey’s final compositions, in which he returned to the Edwin Muir poem he had first set over 40 years earlier.

* St John’s College, Cambridge Advent commission

Giles Swayne: Adam lay ybounden

A virtuosic, compelling and highly original setting for double choir and cello. A whole world seems to be contained in just five minutes!

* St John’s College, Cambridge Advent commission

Roxanna Panufnik: The Call

An evocative setting of George Herbert’s famous poem, scored for choir and harp.

* St John’s College, Cambridge Advent commission

Otto Goldschmidt: A tender shoot

Another perfect miniature, composed by the founder of the Bach Choir in London. It was included on the first St John’s LP back in 1958.

The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge’s Advent Live, Vol. 2 comes out on 27 November on Signum Records. The Choir’s A Service for Advent with Carols will be broadcast live from the Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge at 3pm on Sunday 29th November on BBC Radio 3.

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