Concert Review: Mystical Experiences, 25 October 2014

Chamber is on top form again

Over many years of listening to the St Albans Chamber Choir works by early composers such as Thomas Tallis and Tomás Luis de Victoria have always proved to be one of their areas of strength.

So it was a delight to see a programme listing Tallis’ superb 40-part motet Spem in Alium together with Victoria’s Mass Lautatus sum and Josquin des Prez’s outstanding giant canon Qui habitat in adjutorio Altissimi.

Indeed the performance of the works at St Saviour’s Church in St Albans on Saturday was everything I had expected. Because of the large numbers needed for Spem in Alium and the des Prez work the Chamber Choir was augmented with a group of singers who are regular members of other choirs and the resulting sound was magnificent.

But for me the real highlight of the evening was the Chamber Choir’s performance of Jonathan Dove’s The Far Theatricals of Day. For this they were joined by an extremely good, but un-named brass quintet, organist Alex Flood and outstanding young local soprano Emma Huggett, the former head chorister in the Abbey Girls’ Choir.

Dove’s work, a series of settings of poems by the American poet Emily Dickinson is hugely exciting in its form, opening with a demanding soprano solo accompanied by trumpets.

It moves on through a complex series of movements using various soloists drawn from the choir and coupled with powerful sound patterns from the brass ensemble and organ before ending in a thoroughly delightful final duet between soprano and trumpet.

All the soloists gave fine performances but Emma Huggett’s performance was outstanding. Her clarity of sound and ability to accurately hit the highest notes time after time was an absolute delight. Equally the performances of the members of the brass ensemble and Alex Flood at the organ added hugely to the experience.

The other modern piece of the evening was a setting by John Gibbons, the choir’s conductor, of a poem by John Skelton, a favourite teacher of Henry VIII. The work, written in the late 1980s also makes use of the brass ensemble and demonstrates John Gibbons’ great ability to work with choirs.

All in all, a well performed evening of interesting, enjoyable and surprising music.

John Manning, Herts Advertiser, 30 October 2014