On Wings of Hope, 9th March 2024

John Gibbons, our musical director, once again put together a magical sequence of pieces for this concert, this time matching the darker aspects of life with ones of hope and aspiration.

The evening opened with the energy of Stanford’s Magnificat lifting the building, the audience, and the choir. This was followed by the beautiful and intricate Mass for Double Choir by Frank Martin filling 9th Century Lady Chapel with swooping praise. After the intermission there was the haunting poem “Why?” by Emily Dickenson, set to music by John himself. Following this with George Lloyd’s setting of Psalm 130 “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee” was a poignant and deeply beautiful reminiscence of his experiences of surviving the sinking of his ship, the loss of comrades and the fragility of life. And then ending the concert we had the lovely “Lark Ascending” – a choral work of the original poem by George Meredith, which inspired Vaughan Williams and then re-arranged by Paul Drayton – the violin solo was played by our very own Jenny Wigram and as the last notes lifted into the rafters you could hear a pin drop in the Abbey. A superb evening.

Some Audience comments:

What a wonderful concert. Blown away by the arrangement of Lark Ascending, and we’re going to take a deeper dive into George Lloyd

A level music student Alexander was a little exercised that George Lloyd had written three symphonies by the age of 19!😂

Why?: very atmospheric. Re the concert: … truly wonderful concert. I really enjoyed it. You were all so good.

Details

A concert of hope and optimism with uplifting pieces of music from European composers spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, including Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, composed in 1914 and most commonly heard in the orchestral version with beautiful solo violin. Paul Drayton’s arrangement transcribes the orchestral accompaniment into an intricate vocal web using the words of the poem by George Meredith that were the inspiration for the original work. Regularly in the top three of the Classic FM ‘Hall of Fame’, the work is also used heavily in film and TV, even as accompaniment to a poignant moment in Coronation Street.  

Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir, written in 1922, is one of the great masterpieces of unaccompanied choral music. Fervently religious, Martin initially considered it as a work just for himself and God and kept it in a drawer. Only in the 1960s was it premiered. 

In the 1930s George Lloyd was hailed, alongside Britten, as one of the great talents of the age. He nearly died during WWII as a Royal Marine on HMS Trinidad doing Arctic Convoys to Murmansk. His late setting of Psalm 130 ‘Out of the depths have I cried unto thee’ is a poignant and deeply beautiful reminiscence of his experiences of surviving the sinking of his ship, the loss of comrades and the fragility of life.  

The final piece is Stanford’s wonderful setting of the Magnificat, in Latin, for double choir. Known in Cathedrals for many arrangements of the Evening Canticles, this version is notable for its luxurious sound world, soaring melodies and rich harmonic textures. A glorious statement of hope and light in a world full of darkness. 

Vaughan Williams/Paul Drayton – The Lark Ascending
Frank Martin – Mass for double choir
Why – Emily Dickinson / John Gibbons
George Lloyd – Psalm 130
Stanford – Magnificat for double choir

Epiphany, 6th January 2024

Performance Review

Amongst the rest of the programme, the choir had the pleasure of performing “Polaris”, a lyric by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage set to an original tune by St Albans teenager Rebecca, it won the Radio 3 Carol Competition 2023.

Rebecca pictured with our Musical Director John Gibbons and Choir Admin Suzie Renshaw

One of our audience had this to say – “St Saviour’s is a beautiful concert venue, with fairy lights strung across the nave.  It can be chilly though – and a cup of mulled wine was an inspirational idea to help warm the audience on arrival –  and St Albans Chamber Choir certainly further warmed our spirits with their singing.  The Choir was on excellent form with all voices and parts blending well together.  The programme was varied, ranging from the sixteenth century right up to 2023 with John Gibbons’ introductions adding both background context and insight. The concert opened with Peter Cornelius’ well known “The Kings” , the solo part beautifully sung by Ralph Penny.  We were then treated to a performance of the winning carol in BBC Radio 3’s 2023 Carol Competition Junior Category – a setting of Simon Armitage’s Polaris by Rebecca from St Albans. This was enchanting, superbly accompanied by choir-member, Susie Renshaw, and it was particularly special to have Rebecca and her family in the audience.  Other highlights for this audience member included Morton Lauridsen’s  “O magnum mysterium” , Elizabeth Poston’s “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” and John Tavener’s “The Lamb”.  These were goose-bump inducing with their clarity and musical sensitivity.  Howard Goodall’s “Romance of the Epiphany”, by contrast, showcased the joyful, almost playful side to the Choir, leaving the audience tapping their toes.  The Choir’s energy was sustained throughout the programme and their enjoyment of the music was evident – not surprising when they produced such a beautiful sound.”

Original Description

Celebrating Epiphany – when a star led the Magi to Bethlehem  – this concert is full of joy and hope to reflect on the meaning of Christmas and kick off the new year with a festive selection of music and carols spanning the centuries.

We’re pleased to be given an opportunity to perform “Polaris” with music composed by a local St Albans resident – Rebecca composed the piece to accompany the poem by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, and in the process, at 13 years of age, this year became the youngest ever winner of the BBC Radio 3 Carol Competition.

Dating from the time of Mary I, Missa Puer natus est nobis by Thomas Tallis was unusual at the time. Written for 7 voice parts, rather than 5 and without switching between solo and chorus, the mass provides a rich sound with dramatic effects throughout.

Twentieth century delights include Bethlehem Down by Peter Warlock, written in 1927 together with poet Bruce Blunt, apparently to raise some money for Christmas drinking funds! John Tavener(the modern one) also took the words of a poem and set William Blake’s the Lamb to music in just 15 minutes, packing it full of unconventional harmony and interlocking lines.

Morten Lauridsen, the American mystic composer, sensitively and spiritually tells the story of the birth of Jesus in his composition O Magnum Mysterium, based on a Gregorian chant traditionally used for vigil on Christmas Day. Just slightly more contemporary, written in 2000, we sing the joyful and uplifting carol Romance of the Epiphany by Howard Goodall.

Please join us in the church hall after the concert for tea and cakes post concert.

Polaris – Rebecca
Peter Cornelius – The 3 Kings
Arnold Bax – I sing of a maiden
Thomas Tallis – Mass: Puer natus est nobis, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei
Peter Warlock – Bethlehem Down
Marenzio/Palestrina – Tribus Maraculis
Morten Lauridsen – O Magnum Mysterium
Elizabeth Poston – Jesus Christ the apple tree
Andrew Carter – 12 days of Christmas
Howard Goodall – Romance of the Epiphany

Here Comes the Sun, 28th January 2023

Miki Phillips reviews St Albans Chamber Choir’s ‘Here comes the sun!’

Although the advert for the St Albans Chamber Choir concert at St Mary’s in Walkern on 28th January 2023 optimistically promised sunshine, on the day of the event winter gloom prevailed outside.  But inside the talented members of the choir brought their own light and colour, not just in the mix of their bright jackets, jumpers and scarves, but also in the variety of music with which they entertained the music lovers crammed into the pews and the overflow seats at the back of the church. 

The choir was led once again by their gifted and understated music director, John Gibbons BEM, who kept his singers on their toes by announcing the concert numbers as they occurred to him (rather than by following a set programme), and who’s off the cuff introductory comments about the music and its background were both informative and a delight.  These ranged from the sound picture he painted before the Rachmaninoff piece (monks chanting a bass line on autopilot while soprano angels swooped overhead) through to the sensory illusion of thousands of candles and billowing incense accompanying a very orthodox backdrop for the “Ave verum”.  This contrasted with his personal story about his family’s purported descent from the famed Orlando Gibbons prior to the introduction of “The Silver Swan”.

With only his tuning fork to find the note, John guided the choir through intricate multi part harmonies down the centuries and across music genres, from sacred and classical to folk and pop tunes.  Some were lesser known works, some were very familiar and some like the Howard Goodall version of “Love Divine”, opened the door to a joyous new setting of this traditional hymn’s well-loved lyrics.

And finally, after a fascinating medley of Beatles hits given the Gibbons treatment, the sun came out for us all with an upbeat version of George Harrison’s famous song, followed by tea, coffee wine and cakes. Funds raised at this event will be shared between Friends of St Mary’s and the St Albans Chamber choir.

Miki Phillips, March 2023 Walkern Journal

Love DivineHoward Goodall
Adam lay yboundenBoris Ord
Tomorrow shall be my dancing dayarr Willcocks
Verbum caroJohn Gibbons
O Radiant DawnJames MacMillan
… and a Beatles medley

The St Albans Chamber Choir concert in 2022.
A rare musical treat to lift the spirits
On 5th February 2022, on a fairly murky afternoon, more than 80 music lovers gathered in St Mary’s church to listen to the St Albans Chamber Choir perform a concert of choral music designed to lift the spirits into the light. The programme ranged from the sacred and sublime to operatic and concert pieces (including an intriguing fast changing miscellany of well known numbers where the audience was challenged to “Name that tune”) and ended in less highbrow music including a rousing toe tapping Tequila Samba. The choir’s Musical Director John Gibbons BEM provided an entertaining and instructive commentary on each piece of music and the choir members clearly enjoyed themselves singing a cappella using St Mary’s excellent acoustics to their best advantage.
(from a review by Miki Philips in the Walkern Journal)

A wonderful Choral Celebration, 1st November 2022

We all thoroughly enjoyed joining St Saviour’s Choir and String Ensemble last night to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the dedication of the church.

The virtuosic solos within Haydn’s Nelson Mass were beautifully sung by Fleur and the whole piece was full of energy and jubilation. Haydn himself stated  ‘At the thought of God my heart leaps for joy, and I cannot help my music doing the same.’  – a truly fitting piece for the occasion.

A wonderful St Cecilia Concert, 15th October 2022

Saturday 15th October saw 4 local choirs join together – Aeolian Singers, Hardynge Choir Radlett Choir and ourselves – with St Albans Chamber Orchestra to sing Haydn’s Creation in St Albans Abbey. Always an amazing privilege to sing in such surroundings and it was fantastic to be part of the 150 or so voices performing the work to a large audience. Many thanks to all that came out to listen.