Written for the Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, The Angels (1994) shares with Harvey’s earlier liturgical music an essential simplicity, resulting from an intuitive understanding of what sounds work best in the inward-facing choir-stalls and massive acoustics of buildings such as Winchester and King’s. For most of the piece, the humming and vowel sounds produced by half of the choir rotate around the same few pentatonic cluster chords, most of whose notes are in common. The sense of eternal calm that this conveys perfectly illuminates Taylor’s words, sung by the other half of the choir in a fluid setting which moves between two-part canon and unison. Complexity of texture is reserved for the approach to the climax, where the introduction of contrary motion illustrates ‘the spiralling turn of a dance’; homophony returns, however, for the final, hushed repetitions of the word ‘holy’.
from notes by Michael Downes © 2011