On the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin was written for the choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 1997 and sets a beautiful poem by Jeremy Taylor (1613–1667) about transformation – the ‘winged harbinger’ who ‘might shift his clothes, and be / A perfect man, as well as we’. This is perfect territory for MacMillan, whose setting for five-part choir and organ reflects the wings of the harbinger in his decorative progress as well as the divine peace in the slowness of its movements. The long-breathed phrases, the shifting lights of harmony, the warmly undulating murmurs of seeming approbation (echoed by the organ) which accompany ‘How good a God have we …’ lead to the climax of the poem: ‘Let us like ourselves make man, / And not from man the woman take, / But from the woman, man.’ Quiet Allelujahs are joined by a joyfully dancing single organ line which continues long after the voices have ceased – becoming gradually softer as it dances into eternity.
from notes by Paul Spicer © 2005
1.Television Medieval Mind. A BBC Television Production