With the impending Coronation of King Charles III, this concert celebrates uplifting and joyous music. We take a look at pieces from coronations dating back to James II in 1685, with music from Boyce, Purcell, Blow, Clarke and of course Handel. Handel’s setting of Zadok the Priest has been used at every coronation since George II in 1727, so will be in this line up but along with a few surprises. We look forward to seeing you there
Composed in early 1915, which was a time of great political upheaval in Russia and across the world, Rachmaninoff creates a reflective and deeply moving set of Vespers inviting a call for the resolution of conflict through prayer. An unaccompanied piece, he uses the choir as the orchestra, to divide and merge and create ethereal harmonies full of richness and colour with an impressive bass sound. Described as ‘the greatest achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church’, it is loved by singers and audiences alike. The call for resolution in conflict is still much needed and it’s an honour to be performing Rachmaninoff Vespers in the tranquil surroundings of the 14th century Lady Chapel of St Albans Cathedral. A huge work, full of tradition and emotion, yet aspiration for a resolution to conflict in a difficult time which still resonates today.
The programme stays in the Romantic period with MendelssohnDer zweite Psalm and Mahler Ich bin der Welt and dips into Renaissance for Allegri Miserere, originally solely sung in the Sistine Chapel.
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
Adam lay ybounden
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
O Radiant Dawn
… 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)
Celebrating Christmas with music and festive nibbles
Clocks have gone back, nights are drawing in and Christmas is coming. Our Christmas concert is a real celebration of glorious festive music this year telling the Christmas story with A Ceremony of Carols by Britten and O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen and ending with Love Divine by Howard Goodall.
The concert is at St Peter’s on Saturday 10th December at a new time of 3pm so you can pop along after some Christmas shopping and join us for mulled wine and festive nibbles after the concert. There will be both traditional and modern carols so little ones will recognise some and are more than welcome.
Taking its title from a set of brilliant improvisations by Antony Saunders of George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm for choir and piano, this concert showcases jazz-enriched choral music.
John Rutter celebrates another jazz great – George Shearing – in his choral suite Birthday Madrigals, written for his friend’s 75th birthday. Five poems from the era of the Elizabethan madrigal and two by Shakespeare are set to jazz rhythms combined with the styles of the English madrigal and part-song.
In the Beginning by Aaron Copland takes text from the Book of Genesis (King James Version) to describe the six days of creation followed by a day of rest. It is scored for choir and mezzo-soprano soloist.
Mystic composer Morten Lauridsen uses poems in French, Spanish and English by the twentieth century poets Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda and James Agee with the common theme of night in his song cycle Nocturnes for choir and piano.
In Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, composer Eric Whitacre and poet Charles Anthony Silvestri create a soundtrack to Leonardo da Vinci’s imagination as he dreams about the possibility of flight.
Heitor Villa-Lobos believed that if Johann Sebastian Bach had been born in twentieth century Brazil, he would have composed music like the Bachianas Brasileiras suite, fusing his own style with Brazilian folk and popular music. No 9 is written for an ‘orchestra of voices’.
Please join us after the concert for summer refreshments in the garden
A collection of a cappella choral music for Lent on the themes of grief and suffering and the promise of Paradise in the afterlife.
The legendary Miserere by Gregorio Allegri, with its mixture of plainsong and glorious ornamentation, has a complex history. Originally composed in 1638 for the Sistine Chapel Choir, the story goes that transcribing it or performing it elsewhere was prohibited by the Pope on pain of excommunication. The fourteen-year-old Mozart on a visit to Rome in 1770 is alleged to have transcribed it from memory and allowed it to be published. In 1831, Felix Mendelssohn heard it sung a fourth higher and so produced the section including the famous top Cs. Consequently, the version sung nowadays has been described as a patchwork derived from many different sources.
As senior choirmaster at St Mark’s Basilica in Venice in the early eighteenth century, Antonio Lotti composed much high-quality sacred music. His eight-part setting of the Crucifixus from the Credo of the Mass depicts the pain and exhaustion of crucifixion using musical devices such as suspensions, chromaticism, discords and modulation.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was one of the most prolific and highly acclaimed musicians of the sixteenth century. His work is seen as setting the standard for Renaissance polyphony. The intricate Stabat Mater dolorosa for double choir, written for the Sistine Chapel Choir around 1590, has many changes of rhythm and mood to describe Mary’s suffering at the foot of the Cross.
Palestrina’s influence, along with that of Wagner, can be heard in the motet Christus Factus Est composed by the devoutly religious Austrian composer Anton Bruckner. First performed in 1884, it depicts Christ’s journey of ‘obedience unto death’.
The wingbeats of angels bearing us to Paradise are represented by a solo viola and cello In Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds’ piece In Paradisum (2012). The words from the Requiem Mass antiphon sung as the body is taken from the church for burial are voiced by the choir.
Similar words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet are used in John Tavener’s piece Song for Athene, sung at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, together with text from the funeral service of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
In All Shall Be Well (2009), for double choir and solo cello, Roxanna Panufnik sets 14th century texts from the plainsong hymn Bogurodzica sung by Polish knights as they went into battle and from the Revelations of Divine Love by the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich. The knights’ pleas that they go to Paradise are answered by Julian’s comforting words: “at the last day, you shall see it all transformed into great joy”.