Rutter Requiem, Bernstein Chichester Psalms and Janacek Otecenas, 24th March 2018, at All Saints Hertford. HCS were joined by soloists Natasha Page (soprano) and Dominic Bevan (tenor), Peter Jaekel on organ, as well as Alex Rider (harp) and Graham Instrall (percussion). Musical Director and Conductor: Derek Harrison

Leonard Bernstein’s passport gave his profession simply as ‘musician’ and he excelled in all branches of his art; as conductor, pianist, and composer. It is as composer that he will perhaps be best remembered, as his works have been taken up by other conductors and orchestras, and have survived almost thirty years after his death. Chichester Psalms is one of his most popular works, existing in no fewer than 38 recorded versions. Saturday’s performance was very fine. It is not an easy piece to sing, and the text is in Hebrew, rendered phonetically in the programme, and with which the choir coped extremely well. Following a rousing opening - Psalm 108, and Psalm 100 – ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord’ an instruction obeyed with gusto, a deeply moving interpretation of Psalm 23 ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ brought a peaceful moment, followed by ‘why do the nations rage?’ surely as true a sentiment today as in King David’s time. The work reaches a hushed conclusion on a prayer for peace and unity. The piece was accompanied brilliantly by Peter Jaekel (organ), Graham Instrall (percussion) and Alex Rider (harp)

The choir had a few minutes to rest their voices during the Grandjany, a charming morceau for harp and organ beautifully rendered by Alex Rider and Peter Jaekel .

Janacek’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer posed a further linguistic challenge to the choir, as it is in Czech. Tenor Dominic Bevan sang the solos with great feeling and Peter Jaekel managed the difficult organ interludes splendidly. The choral work was given very convincingly by the choir.

John Rutter’s Requiem uses parts of the Latin mass with some interjections in English. By omitting the more fiery sections like the Dies irae and Tuba mirum, Rutter creates a work of calm serenity. Natasha Page sang Pie Jesu with a voice of wondrous purity and innocence. The concluding Lux aeterna brings the work to a quiet close. Rutter creates a sense of death, not as a threatening spectre, but as a sublime comforter, bringing the eternal rest invoked in the opening.

Peter Jaekel accompanied splendidly, and the tiny ‘orchestra’ (Alex Rider ( harp), Sue Busby (oboe), Helen Vidovich (flute), Lawrence Durkin (cello), and Graham Instrall (percussion) also made a fine contribution. Maestro Derek Harrison, never a showman, concentrates on giving clear signals to his choir and orchestra, and conducted throughout this difficult programme with precision, yet with fire and passion where required.

All in all, a wholly satisfying performance by all concerned, and one must congratulate HCS for venturing such varied and interesting fare and for their display of linguistic virtuosity.                              

Gordon Williams.