The set of ‘Four Carols for Dark Times’ was written between 2003–5 and commissioned at the rate of one piece per year for the Birmingham Bach Choir to perform at their Christmas concerts. The third carol, entitled Carol, was inserted later to provide a ‘scherzo’ movement to provide balance to the set.
The poems are all by that extraordinary Welsh priest-poet R S Thomas (1913–2000) whose poetry speaks to the composer “with a directness unmatched by any other 20th century poet”. Thomas’s writing is rich with the imagery of human frailty in relation to religion. The final poem, Festival, is as good an example as any of his approach: the trappings of Christmas – gold, holly, mistletoe – are used to contrast the cheapness of our self-centred celebration with the commitment required to nurture real faith. Beautifully constructed with intricate but accessible harmony and varied textures and moods, this intriguing set of carols will bring an original and thought-provoking perspective to Christmas concerts and services.