The Summer Gala Concert closed HCS' 80th anniversary season in style at All Saints' Church, Hertford on Saturday 29th June 2019.  The evening started with a quarter peal of the church bells and a celebratory drink, followed by a performance that included all genres of music associated with the choir. Accordion5 (Director: Ian Watson) and Blue Steel Band (Director: Mark Cherrie) have both performed with the choir before, and HCS were delighted to welcome them back to join in the celebrations.

Musical Director and Conductor: Derek Harrison

Led by Musical Director and Conductor Derek Harrison, together with Accordion5 (Director: Ian Watson) and Blue Steel Band (Director: Mark Cherrie), both of whom have performed with the choir before, and HCS were delighted to welcome them back to join in our celebrations.

Whilst most octogenarians want a quiet birthday party, this was not the case for the 80Th Anniversary Gala Concert of the Hertford Choral Society. This was a colourful event which was reflected by the decorations in All Saints’ Church and the wearing of Hawaiian Leis demonstrating the affection the Society has for the audience. The evening actually started outside the Church where we were blessed with excellent weather, a glass of bubbly and the sound of a quarter peal being rung on the bells; all making for an excellent start to the evening.

It was not only the Church that was colourful, so was the music. The choir was accompanied by two different ensembles: a group of accordions, which came across as “smouldering red”; and, a definitely “cool blue” steel band. The choir can be thought of as a rainbow as they changed their colour during the varied programme. As the Musical Director, Derek Harrison, points out, this combination falls into the category of “unusual”. The two groups, Accordian5 and Blue Steel have worked with the Society before and they provided very well-crafted arrangements of a range of music that would not normally be in their repertoires.

As with many experimental combinations, some things worked well and others not so well; or is it that the ear is not attuned to certain sounds? The colours did come over as muddy at times; this was noticeable in Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring and in For He Shall Give His Angels where the rhythm of the accordions did not fully match Mendelssohn’s intentions. There were very good colour combinations: Ave Maria had the accompaniment and the choir weaving the lines between the parts, with a special mention of the tenors delicate singing; also, Mozart’s Dies Irae where the accordions made God’s wrath seem that He was making his judgement on the rest of us there and then.

The two ensembles, Blue Steel and Accordian5 are accomplished, exciting professional musicians; and it is to the credit of Derek Harrison that he included them in this celebration. Accordion5 showed their versatility in Karl Jenkins’ Palladio and Gerhard Deutschmann’s Variations on an English Sea Shanty; their brilliant renditions had you transfixed as to where the different sounds were coming from and how it was being produced. As well as traditional calypsos, Blue Steel showed that they have a wide repertoire playing as a modern jazz quintet in October’s Child and a Cuban band in Chan Chan. As with all good groups, both were comfortable and exciting in their performance.

The choir was certainly rainbow and gave us a full range of musical genres: classical pieces; opera; calypso; folk; pop; tango; and, reggae. For the latter, it is difficult for a choir to recreate the Jamaican Patois but this did not detract from the spirit they gave to Marley’s No Woman, No Cry. This is an accomplished choir which is skilfully and musically directed by Derek Harrison. They have a balance and attention to detail which must rate them as one of the best non-auditioning choirs in the country.

Was this Gala Concert a fitting celebration? It certainly was from the moment the conductor appeared in a sombrero and the exciting way the music flowed. The overall colour for this event was a bright celebration yellow with strands of gold to match Derek’s coat!

Jeffrey Goodwin