Concert Review: Duruflé Requiem by Candlelight, Saturday 6th February 2016

Chamber Choir Requiem concert shows the way

One of the delights of concerts by the St Albans Chamber Choir is that musical director John Gibbons frequently springs surprises.

Often it is a performance of a work by a little-known composer or a neglected work by a well-known one and occasionally he puts his own twist into something with outstanding results.

Saturday’s concert by the choir at St Peter’s Church in St Albans was full of all three starting with Charles Villiers Stanford’s wonderful and all-too-rarely performed unaccompanied Magnificat for Double Choir, a powerful and joyous work which made a fitting start to a concert where the first half was made up mainly of 20th century English music.

The choir followed with the setting of Psalm 130 – Out of the depths I cry unto thee – by the little known English composer George Lloyd.

At the heart of the work is a stunning soprano solo, delightfully sung by Joanne Scott.

Yet another little-known English composer is Edmund Rubbra and here John Gibbons introduced his own twist to the composer’s Song of the Soul.

Normally performed with just an organ accompaniment, John added a cello part to Saturday’s performance which was exquisitely played by Michael Wigram.

The first half ended with Parry’s At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners from his Songs of Farewell, a fine and moving work well handled by the choir.

A feature of the first half of the programme was two short organ solos by St Albans Cathedral Organ Scholar Nicholas Freestone with Herbert Howells’ Master Tallis’s Testament and In Paradisum by the French organist Jean-Yves Daniel- Lesur.

The main work of the evening was Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem.

While the work itself is undoubtedly a masterpiece, the all-too-brief Pie Jesu which lies at its heart is its absolute highlight and on Saturday its performance by mezzo soprano Helen Charlston accompanied by Nicholas Freestone and Michael Wigram was, for me, the pinnacle of  the entire evening.

Helen, former head chorister of the St Albans Abbey Girls’ Choir and founder of Amici Voices, together with the two instrumentalists, produced one of those spine-tingling moments which will stay with me for a long time.

The tenor solo in the Requiem was sung by Andrew Shepstone.

JOHN MANNING, Herts Advertiser, February 2016

Duruflé Requiem by Candlelight: Saturday 6th February 2016

Next Concert – Saturday 6 February 7.30pm

St Peter’s Church
St Albans
AL1 3HG

Stanford Magnificat for double choir
Rubbra   Song of the Soul
and works by Hubert Parry and George Lloyd

John Gibbons conductor

Nicholas Freestone organ

Helen Charlston mezzo-soprano

Andrew Shepstone baritone

In his 1947 Requiem, Maurice Duruflé blended themes from the Gregorian plainchant Mass of the Dead with mid-20th century rhythms and harmonies to create a work of great spiritual intensity. His consummate skills as an organist are demonstrated in the accompaniment, which fully matches the calm and meditative character of the vocal parts.

Duruflé’s masterpiece will be complemented by four 20th century works of English mysticism: Charles Villiers Stanford’s Magnificat for double choir, George Lloyd’s powerful and lyrical setting of Psalm 130, Edmund Rubbra’s Song of the Soul, a 1952 composition of great beauty and spiritual depth, and Hubert Parry’s At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners, from his seven Songs of Farewell (1918).

For this performance, the Choir will be accompanied by organist Nicholas Freestone, with mezzo-soprano  Helen Charlston and baritone Andrew Shepstone, and directed by the Choir’s informative and charismatic conductor, John Gibbons.

Tickets £14 (£1 child/student)
Tel 07570 454744 or email tickets@stalbanschamberchoir.org.uk
or online at allaboutstalbans

Concert Review: Bach B Minor Mass, 28 November 2015

Mass meets Bach’s hopes

One of  the pinnacles of  Johann Sebastian Bach’s huge career is his monumental Mass in B Minor yet surprisingly the great man never heard it in its entirety as it did not receive its complete performance until more than a century after his death.

But I would like to think that the performance given on Saturday by the St Albans Chamber Choir with the Lawes Baroque Players and four outstanding young soloists from the Amici Voices would have met his expectations.

The combination of the choir, soloists and orchestra in St Saviour’s Church, St Albans, produced a performance of exceptional quality.

The mass is a monumental work which demands great stamina from hose performing it but throughout the choir performed excellently. Its performance of the section of the credo beginning Et incarnates est de Spiritu Sancto was particularly fine.

Equally the four soloists, soprano Bethany Partridge, alto Helen Charleston, tenor Hiroshi Amako and baritone Michael Craddock brought real quality to the overall performance. These are young performers of great quality and talent which shone though in their performances.

But equally the outstanding performance by the Lawes Baroque Players, both collectively and individually, was an essential part of making a great overall impact.

The group, brought together by Harpenden-based violinist Miles Golding, is made up of some of the country’s leading exponents in the use of period instruments and throughout the evening the quality of the music they produced was an absolute delight.

One must not forget conductor John Gibbons who steered the epic work through its many changes in mood and tempo. His direction produced a sensitive and well regulated performance.

JOHN MANNING, Herts Advertiser, November 2015

Bach B Minor Mass: Saturday 28th November 2015

Next Concert – Saturday 28th November at 7.30pm

St Saviour’s Church
St Albans
AL14DF

Bach – B minor Mass

St Albans Chamber Choir

Conductor: John Gibbons

With Amici Voices

Bethany Partridge   soprano

Helen Charlston   alto

Hiroshi Amako   tenor

Michael Craddock   bass

and the Lawes Baroque Players

leader Miles Golding

A rare local opportunity to hear what is arguably Bach’s masterpiece performed with Early Music professionals of the first rank.  The soloists are all members of Amici Voices, a young professional consort group specialising in authentic one-per-part performances of Bach’s sacred works.  Formed in 2012, the members of Amici Voices are all now experienced consort singers and soloists in their own right, but still perform together regularly.  They are accompanied by the Lawes Baroque Players, an instrumental consort that includes many top Early Music specialists, led by Miles Golding.

Wynde, whirlwinds & flight: 28 February 2015

]Next Concert – Saturday 28 February at 7.30pm

St Peter’s Church
St Albans
AL1 3HG

St Albans Chamber Choir will whirl you away at their concert Wynde, Whirlwinds and Flight on Saturday 28 February at St Peter’s Church, in an imaginative programme that spans almost half a millennium, from the court of Henry VIII to the invention of powered flight. 

The Tudor composer John Taverner took the popular love song Westron wynde when wyll thou blow? as the basis for his Western Wynde Mass.  Despite using the delightful melody no less than thirty-six times in all, Taverner varies it with such brilliance that the ear never tires of his inventive figurations and counterpoints. 

Flying on to Renaissance Italy, contemporary American composer Eric Whitacre vividly depicts in sound Leonardo da Vinci’s dreams of a man acquiring the ability to overcome gravity and fly like a bird in the Tuscan sunrise.  Whitacre drew his inspiration for Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine from the inventor’s famous notebooks, and this atmospheric work has deservedly become his most popular composition for unaccompanied choir. 

Ralph Vaughan Williams is best known for his evocations of the English countryside through the use of folksong and traditional melodies, and Valiant-for-Truth (1940) and The Voice out of the Whirlwind (1947) are typical examples of his style.  In the last years of his life, though, his compositions take on a far darker and more enigmatic mood, and in A Vision of Aeroplanes (1956) he provides a highly imaginative setting of the prophet Ezekiels apocalyptic dream of the four creatures flying over the earth in wheeled chariots. The choral writing is very virtuosic, while the organ part is positively cataclysmic, described by one critic as being like the roar of an aircraft squadron!