Mystic Voices: Saturday 16 February 2019

Mystic Voices

Saturday 16 February at 7:30pm, St Saviour’s Church, St Albans.

Sergei Rachmaninoff: The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.

Alexander L`Estrange: The Prophet – 60th Anniversary Commission

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s first choral masterpiece, The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, is a setting of the texts of the Eastern Orthodox Eucharist service. It is named after John of Antioch, a fifth-century Archbishop of Constantinople, who was famous for his inspirational sermons (Chrysostom means golden-mouthed). Rachmaninoff composed it in a burst of inspiration in just three weeks. He wrote ‘Not for a long time have I written anything with such pleasure’.

After its premiere in Moscow in 1910, the ecclesiastical authorities refused to sanction it for use in church services and when Rachmaninoff fled into exile after the Russian revolution, the work fell into obscurity. A chance discovery of part books in a monastery in Pennsylvania led to its being republished in 1988 and this glorious piece has now become an established part of the Russian liturgical repertoire.

For the choir’s sixtieth-anniversary commission, local composer Alexander L’Estrange has set three texts from Lebanese-American writer Kahlil Gibran’s book of inspirational poems, The Prophet, published in 1923. The book contains chapters on a number of subjects including joy and sorrow, freedom, work, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching and friendship, and from these Alexander has selected the sections on marriage, children and death and set them for a cappella double choir.

Conducted by John Gibbons

Please join us afterwards for drinks and party nibbles in the Octagon room

Tickets £15 (£5 child/student)

Call 07570 454744 or e-mail

or buy online at TicketSource

Book now

Renaissance Christmas: Saturday 8 December 2018

A Renaissance Christmas

Saturday 8 December at 7:30pm, St Peter’s Church, St Albans.

Polychoral Christmas music from the royal courts and cathedrals of 16th and 17th century Europe.

Two outstanding masterpieces by Franco-Flemish composers form the centrepiece of this concert of multi-part music.

Josquin des Prez (c. 1450/1455–1521) composed the six-part motet Praeter rerum seriem towards the end of his career. A  parody  mass  of  the  same name for seven voices by Cipriano de Rore (1515/1516–1565) was probably written as a homage to his predecessor at the court of the Dukes of Ferrara in northern Italy.

Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/1557–1612) was organist at St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice from 1585 to 1612. We will be performing his setting of the Magnificat for 17 voices.

Pierre de Manchicourt (c. 1510–1564), another Franco-Flemish composer, composed the six-part motet O Virgo virginum in 1534 while maître de chapelle at Tournai Cathedral in Belgium.

Several eight-part motets complete the programme: Nesciens Mater  by  Jean  Mouton (c. 1459–1522), Hodie Christus natus est by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525–1594) and two settings of In dulci jubilo by the German composers Hieronymus Praetorius (1560–1629) and Samuel Scheidt (1587–1654).

Conducted by John Gibbons

Please join us afterwards for drinks and party nibbles in the Octagon room

Tickets £15 (£5 child/student)

Call 07570 454744 or e-mail

or buy online at TicketSource

Book now

Sax & the City: 20 October 2018, St Saviour’s Church @ 7:30pm

Click above to download flyer

Contemporary music for saxophone and voices.

In the 1840s, Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax set out to invent an instrument that could combine the agility of the woodwinds with the power of the brass instruments, to fill the vacant middle ground between the two sections. The result was the saxophone, nowadays said to be the instrument that most closely resembles the human voice in terms of richness of harmonics and expressivity.

Our concert showcases three pieces for alto saxophone and voices, along with two choral works by our president, Will Todd, and other lighter pieces with a city theme.

Timepieces – Three Auden Lyrics (2011) by Ian Stephens sets three poems by WH Auden (Domesday Song, Our bias and Funeral Blues) for alto saxophone and SATB choir.

Richard Sisson set Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem Pied Beauty for the choir of Merton College Oxford in celebration of their 750th anniversary in 2015. It uses alto saxophone and organ.

Vocalise (1915) by Sergei Rachmaninoff is a song without words, sung using any one vowel of the singer’s choosing, and has been has been arranged for many different instrument combinations. We will be performing it in an SATB arrangement with alto saxophone and piano.

Will Todd’s Angel Song II (2008) is part of a larger choral work inspired by the idea of voices from heaven. It is another wordless piece; the text is designed to create the echo of the word ‘hosanna’ but with no consonants, so that the music feels as if it comes from ‘on high’.

Songs of Love (2012) sets three works by the Greek neo-romantic poet Maria Polydouri:  I Love You, A Kiss and I Sing Because.

The lighter pieces in the programme include arrangements of Tony Hatch’s Downtown, New York, New York by John Kander and Fred Ebb and The House of the Rising Sun (trad.)

Conducted by John Gibbons

Isabel Kernthaler       saxophone

Nicholas Robinson       organ and piano

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


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