Concert Review: Festive Bach, Saturday 28 April 2018

Alan Knott reviews St Albans Chamber Choir’s recent Festive Bach concert

St Albans Chamber Choir’s concert Festive Bach on Saturday, April 28 attracted such a large audience to St Saviour’s Church that extra chairs had to be put out.

Escaping the cold and damp evening (and wall-to-wall snooker on TV), the music lovers of St Albans and Harpenden flocked to hear the choir, with Amici Voices and the Lawes Baroque Players, performing Bach cantatas composed for church services from Easter to Pentecost.

Close your eyes and you could have been in Leipzig three hundred years ago, hearing music which is not only universal in its inevitable working out to a satisfying conclusion, but personal in its direct and joyful confirmation of faith.

Musical director John Gibbons set a cracking and exhilarating pace throughout, emphasising the playfulness of the music. Bach can be fun.

The performers were well up to the challenge. Amici Voices – Rachel Ambrose Evans, Helen Charlston, Hiroshi Amato and Michael Craddock – confidently and superbly provided the solo parts.

The Lawes Baroque Players ably and securely underpinned the whole performance, with trumpets providing an extra flourish. The choir excelled throughout, showing their virtuosity in the demanding unaccompanied motet, Fürchte dich nicht, as well as in the joyful affirmation O ewiges Feuer. This must have lifted the spirits of everyone in the audience.

Alan Knott

Herts Advertiser, 10 May 2018

Concert Review: Songs of Farewell, Sunday 25 February 2018

John Manning reviews St Albans Chamber Choir.

Music of the 20th century by such composers as Duruflé and Fauré did much to endear French music of that period to audiences in the UK but until Sunday night few in St Albans had heard of Alfred Desenclos.

Yet his Requiem Mass written in 1963, the main work in St Albans Chamber Choir’s concert in St Peter’s Church, was a real delight.

John Gibbons, the choir’s musical director, first heard the work in a BBC Radio 3 review of a new recording by a London choir and immediately decided he wanted to perform it.

The result was Sunday’s fine performance by the chamber choir accompanied by organist Martin Stacey, who had stepped in as a last-minute replacement for Christopher Cromar who was indisposed. The work is very French, and while not quite up to the standard of Duruflé or Fauré, is a welcome addition to the repertoire.

Hubert Parry’s Songs of Farewell opened the concert. Written during the latter years of World War One, they came at a time when the composer was depressed at the futility of the situation. The six songs are deeply moving, and the choir’s performance reflected the mood of the music.

For me the high spot of the evening was Sir Michael Tippett’s five spirituals from A Child of our Time. The five are choral gems and the choir’s performance was excellent, particularly the solo spots by unnamed members of the choir.

They opened the second half with the short song O Tod, wie bitter bist du by the Bavarian composer Max Reger.

Best known for his organ music, performances of Reger’s songs are something of a rarity and, for me something of a revelation for, I must admit, I generally find his organ works too heavy and loud for my taste.

The song, in contrast, exhibited a much lighter touch and the performance by the choir. My personal views of Reger’s music applies to Martin Stacey’s choice of his second solo, Reger’s Introduction and Passacaglia in D minor which followed the song.

But it has to be said his performance of the work and his earlier performance of Herbert Howells’ Master Tallis’ Testament proved his skill and artistry and also that he had great respect for St Peter’s Church’s powerful organ

JOHN MANNING

Herts Advertiser, 1 March 2018

Concert Review: A Tudor Christmas, Saturday 9 December 2017

John Manning reviews “A Tudor Christmas” with St Albans Chamber Choir at St Peter’s Church in St Albans.

Even though they lived in turbulent times, English composers of the Tudor period wrote some of the most complex and beautiful church music ever written in this country.
And members of the St Albans Chamber Choir gave a fine exposition of some of the best of their Christmas music at its concert in St Peter’s Church, St Albans, on Saturday.

As well as music by the better-known composers of the period such as William Byrd, Thomas Tallis and Orlando Gibbons, the programme included works by some of the lesser known including John Sheppard, Richard Pygott and George Herbert.

The concert opened with works by William Byrd, including his well-known Hodie Christus natus est and parts from his Christmas Mass and was followed by Sleep, Fleshly Birth by Robert Ramsey, the Scottish-born composer who followed King James to England after the death of Queen Elizabeth I.

The second half of the concert featured works by John Sheppard and Richard Pygott, before moving on to Thomas Tallis’ seven-part Missa Puer natus est nobis.

While fragments of the work had been known, it was only finally put together in 1961 after additional sections were found in a collection on loan to the British Museum.

This complex work is believed to have been written for Philip II of Spain, the consort to Mary Tudor.

Although easy listening for the audience, all the works in the concert were complex and presented a technical challenge to the choir members which the singers and their musical director John Gibbons took in their stride.

The result was an evening of first class, well sung music which was accompanied by a series of readings given by members of the choir.

St Albans Chamber Choir’s next concert, Songs of Farewell, will take place on Sunday, February 25 at St Peter’s Church at 8pm.

John Manning

Herts Advertiser, 14 December 2017

Concert Review: Birds and Beasts, Saturday 1 July 2017

Chamber choir delights its audience

There was disappointment and delight for St Albans Chamber Choir and its audience at its concert on Saturday, July 1.

The disappointment came because so many members had been struck by a summer bug that a performance of Francis Poulenc’s delightful Quatre Petites Prierès had to be dropped from the programme.

And the delight was provided by Isabel Kernthaler who demonstrated her fine ability as a saxophonist by providing the soprano sax accompaniment in Karl Jenkins’ A Parliament of Owls. The Jenkins work was originally written to include a saxophone and the addition of the instrument to last Saturday’s performance at St Saviour’s Church in St Albans added an amazing lift to the overall sound. Isabel’s performance was a real treat.

The concert had opened with German composer Carl Orff ’s Laudes creaturarum, which was then followed by four well sung pieces from his far better known Carmina Burana.

Then followed William Walton’s complex and beautiful Cantico del sole, which largely uses the same works as the first Orff piece. The Cantico is very demanding on the choir but the members under musical director John Gibbons gave a very fine performance.

Works by 16th century French composer Clément Janequin and Monteverdi followed before the first half ended with Jonathan Dove’s extremely complex but amusing and delightful setting of the nursery rhyme Who Killed Cock Robin?

More modern music opened the second half with Eric Whitacre’s beautiful setting of Rudyard Kipling’s The Seal Lullaby. Another movement from Carmina Burana, Olim lacus colueram, followed together with works by Adriano Banchieri and Orlando Gibbons before the fine performance of A Parliament of Owls.

The choir was accompanied on the piano by Nick Robinson, director of music at St Peter’s Church, St Albans. Nick also played four movements from Camille Saint-Saën’s Carnival of the Animals, a welcome chance to hear his excellent performing abilities.

Despite the difficulties caused by illness, the Chamber Choir members once more achieved a very good and entertaining evening of music.

 

John Manning

Herts Advertiser

Concert Review: Miserere – Renaissance Masters, Saturday 4 March 2017

Chamber choir weaves ‘a tapestry of harmonies’

Music of the Renaissance and early Baroque has a style probably best heard in the music of The Sixteen, yet few amateur groups handle it better than the St Albans Chamber Choir.

Although they have a wide repertoire, which has included fine performances of works by modern composers such as Eric Whitacre and Will Todd, they always delight when they return to the early forms of music.

Saturday’s concert at St Saviour’s Church in St Albans was just such an event with a programme packed with some of the finest music from the period.

Starting with works by Orlande de Lassus and ending with Giovanni Pierluigi da Palastrina’s tremendous Stabat Mater, the whole evening was a heady delight of first class unaccompanied music.

The choir, under musical director John Gibbons, wove a tapestry of harmonies and fine sound patterns originally designed to fill ancient churches and court chapels of Europe’s nobility.

Without a doubt the best-known piece of the evening was Gregorio Allegri’s oft recorded Miserere, famed for the top C’s in the soprano part. A work which rarely fails to thrill, the chamber choir’s performance was exactly as expected.

Much less well known but equally exciting was Antonio Caldara’s amazing 16-part Crucifixus. A brief five-minute work, it has an intense beauty which the choir handled superbly.

No concert of music from this era by the St Albans Chamber Choir would be complete with- out music by the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria and on this occasion, it was his Missa Salve Regina for double choir.

Adding another layer of interest to the evening was outstanding British lutenist Lynda Sayce, who performed two fine solos both by little known composers. The first was Vita in ligno moritur by Swiss composer Ludwig Senfl and the second, English composer Cuthbert Hely’s Fantasia in F Minor.

JOHN MANNING

Herts Advertiser

Concert Review: At the Court Of Krakow, Saturday 2nd July 2106

Live premier for Polish piece 300 years after it was written

 

It is a peculiarity that a piece of music written by a significant composer around 300 years ago should receive its UK premier – at least in modern times – at a concert in St Albans on Saturday.
But that appears to be the case with the setting of Psalm 122 by the Polish composer Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki, one of the composers featured in a programme of music from Poland staged by the St Albans Chamber Choir.

And, even though Borkowski’s Gloria II has been recorded on several occasions since it was written in 2012, Saturday saw the world premier live performance.

The concert at St Saviour’s Church linked music mainly from the late 16th and 17th centuries with contrasting modern works by Marian Borkowski and London born Roxanna Panufnik.

And it demonstrated the strong influence Italian music had on the Polish royal court and provided music of a style members of the chamber choir are well versed in singing. The result was that the early works were both well-sung and enjoyable.

Equally the chamber choir and conductor John Gibbons have a reputation for good performances of modern music and their handling of the Borkowski pieces and Roxanna Panufnik’s 2009 work All Shall be Well were fascinating.

The six Borkowski pieces all relied on a powerful use of vocal dynamics. Some were based on the use of a single word while others had no words at all with singers simply humming or using other vocal techniques to great effect.

Panufnik’s work, written in 2009, is for double choir and solo cello, in this case played by Michael Wigram. The work makes great use of dissonances and the pleasing tones of the cello bring it all together.

Also taking part in the concert were violinists Kamila Bydlowska from Poland and Joana Valentinaviciute from Lithuania who together with organist Nicholas Freestone joined the choir for the performance of Gorczycki’s Laetatus Sum. Kamila also performed an arrangement of a Chopin nocturne with John Gibbons at the piano.

JOHN MANNING

Herts Advertiser