J S Bach’s monumental late composition, completed just before his death in 1750, received a fitting performance at this concert. The number of singers to be used in this work has been the subject of much discussion, with selections ranging from one voice per part to full massed choirs. For me, there is no question that the piece works best in live performance with large forces, and HCS, with over one hundred singers, demonstrated that.

The four soloists were of high quality, Grace Davidson’s soprano has  a timbre of rare beauty, and the same can be said for alto Tim Travers-Brown, whose contributions held the rapt attention of the audience. Tribute must also be paid to the horn player who accompanied Colin Campbell’s soulfully sung bass aria and played the subsequent horn solo with complete command. Nick Madden sang his tenor parts with fine voice and depth of feeling.

The great choruses were handled by the choir with splendid unison and fine intonation, obviously well-rehearsed, but not lacking in spontaneity, and the overall impact was simply overwhelming. The problems of balance sometimes apparent at this venue were on this occasion solved, with maestro Harrison judging the orchestral volumes perfectly, to render the singers clearly audible. His choice of generally moderate tempi and avoidance of extremes brought out all beauty implicit in this masterpiece and steered it to an impressive conclusion.

Gordon Williams

Hertford Choral Society's concert, 'In the spirit of Christmas' was a musical celebration enhanced by top flight guest performers.

These were the spellbinding saxophanist Catherine Evison and the award-winning young students of The Bax Choir from Heath Mount School.

Leading the Choral Society, Derek Harrison's imaginative programming gives his singers a fresh and interesting challenge each year - as bright and modern as the stylish decorations in the Church that evening. The Choir sang works ranging from the atmospheric 'My Lord has Come' by contemporary composer Will Todd, to gentle lullabies, including the lovely torch-lit 'Sing Lullaby and What Child is this' to the slavic splendour of the beautifully shaped 'Christmas Canticle'. It takes a very versatile and experienced choir to encompass all these styles so successfully.

On a different scale, Catherine Evison on saxophone, with Christopher Benham at the piano, employed the resonant acoustics of the Church to the full.  Whether the mood was mellow and poignant, elegantly jazzy or fast and frolicksome, their performance was magical.  With a scarlet HCS carnation in her hair and adding highlights to the larger choral works, Catherine stole our hearts.

The 40 strong Bax Choir impressed with their confident and tuneful performance, keenly responsve to the conducting of Musical Director Andrew O'Brien. Their three outstanding soloists, Sam Townend, David Shaw and Vinnie Avvoltoio, deserve particular mention. Matthew Woodward accompanied the choir  in their singing of works by Britten, Harold Darke and Michael Head, clearly demonstrating why they were 2012 Junior School Choir of the Year.

Good humoured compere Roger Mullis guided us through the evening and urged us to 'raise the roof' in the audience carols - we tried our very best!

Rose Pullum

From Credo to Cannibals Hertford Choral Society demonstrated their confidence in tackling contrasting themes and styles. All Saints Church provided the perfect setting for the Little Organ Mass by Franz Haydn with the outstanding Willis organ, expertly played by Peter Jaekel in the Benedictus, solo from which the Mass takes its popular name. Moods ranged from the powerfully rhythmic Kyrie to the tranquil sections of the Credo (well done Altos, lovely sound), contrasted with yearning passion of the Agnus Dei and culminating with an exciting Gloria. In what may be a creative trademark of Music Director Derek Harrison, the movements were reordered and expanded by the inclusion of a duet from Haydn’s Oratorio The Seasons. Here the two soloists Philip Salmon (Tenor) and Dominique Thiébaud (Soprano) demonstrated their musical prowess to the full expanding on the theme of selfless love that ran throughout the programme.

Following this Benjamin Britten’s St Nicholas Cantata was performed in a manner that would have pleased the composer. Professional and amateur musicians joined to give a convincing rendition of music that requires fine tuning with Britten’s unique bi-tonal harmonic language. The Amadeus Chamber Orchestra, expanded by percussion and piano duet were more suited to the imaginative and highly efficient brilliance of Britten’s scoring. They provided an exciting accompaniment to the frequently angular melodic style so bravely taken on by the choir. Philip Salmon once again came to the fore with a powerful portrayal of the Saint, now joined by the crystal clear sound of Will O’Brien as the young St Nicholas and Michael Ochman-Bates, Hugh Reid and Stephen Curley as the Pickled Boys in this extraordinary murderous tale.

This was a spirited and convincing performance, much in keeping with the composer’s original intentions and very much reflective of a choir that seeks to expand its repertoire. Their outreach programme creates opportunities for keen singers of all abilities to enjoy singing beyond the everyday pop song and perform alongside professionals, expertly supported by their conductor. With future performances including Bach’s B Minor Mass, Voices and Jazz and an open rehearsal / performance day ‘’Raise Your Voice’’ now planned keen singers will find much to enjoy. 

Steve Wright
Head of Music, Richard Hale School

Hertford Choral Society teamed up with Sounds Aloud Percussion Ensemble to deliver an exhilarating, entertaining and hugely enjoyable concert in All Saints Church on Saturday 22nd June. The decorations and subtle up-lighting transformed a rather dull June evening into something warm and welcoming.

This latest exploration in an annual series of imaginative pairings showed its great strengths in the opening numbers. Pastime in good company was crisp and bounced along with tight foot-tapping rhythms. The following transcription of Pachelbel’s was gently engaging, with words (not always entirely clear) by Sheila Dorling.

The excerpt from Bach’s St John Passion showed the down side of such an ensemble.  The beautiful and mellifluous tones of the marimba smoothed out the harsh tensions of the original string writing – losing the sense of the drama to follow. Kumpo, using three African drums, certainly got the adrenaline flowing with a set of strong rhythmic patterns tossed from player to player.

Following Geoffrey Shaw’s Shakespeare Songs, which were well sung if a bit under-characterised, came Graham Install’s Chasm.  This used percussion as melody and voices as percussion. Its three-part structure featured vigorous outer movements and a lyrical central Gloria – sunshine after the stormy night of the Kyrie - all blended together in the final Sanctus. The choir obviously relished the challenge and the performance was delivered with great panache.

The percussionists ‘summonsed’ us to the second half with a fine treatment of the British Grenadiers.  Derek Harrison’s delicate re-arrangement of Britten’s Sally Gardens was stylishly understated and was followed by an equally imaginative treatment of She moved through the fair by Graham Install, both getting first performances tonight.

HCS then sang some very fetching arrangements of some lollipops before Daniella Ganeva stunned us in leading a virtuosic (and physically demanding) performance of Marimba Spiritual.  The relentless energy and drive was a tour-de-force for the players and a‘white-knuckle’ ride for the listener.

Three movements from Orff’s Carmina Burana brought the concert to a rousing conclusion and triggered a well deserved ovation.

What can Mr Harrison come up with next year? – I’ll certainly be there to find out!

Martin G Penny

This was a rousing performance of Mendelssohn’s masterpiece, completed in the penultimate year of his too-short life, and premiered in Birmingham in 1846. Potential audience members put off by Saturday’s  dreadful weather missed a rare treat. Choir, soloists, and orchestra gave of their utmost, and Michael Pearce in the title role was especially noteworthy, never flagging throughout his long and strenuous part. The other solos were finely sung, Hannah Mason  appropriately angelic , Fiona Hammacott in fine voice, and Nicholas Sharrat’s  ringing tenor convincing as Obadiah.

Special mention should be made of young William O’Brien as the youth, a brief but important part for boy treble beautifully sung with confidence and maturity.

Conductor Derek Harrison is always in control of his forces, and the choruses were given with precision as well as passion. The fine organ playing of Peter Jaekel added extra power and depth to the climaxes.

The aptly-named Bartholdy (Mendelssohn’s hyphenated surname) Orchestra, which was originally formed for a performance of this piece, played well, as one would expect, and the various solos were accompanied with taste and discretion, allowing the words to be heard clearly. Unfortunately, due in part no doubt to the cavernous acoustic of this very high-roofed church, the orchestra, as usual placed in front of the choir, frequently seemed too loud in the climatic choral passages, drowning the efforts of even the 100-plus singers at maximum volume. Despite this, however, the overall impact of the work was overwhelming, and at the final exultant chorus, Elijah, orchestra, choir, and audience ascended figuratively to heaven, if not in a fiery chariot, at least in the rapturous glow of Mendelssohn’s heavenly inspiration.

Gordon Williams

Hertford Choral held a workshop led by Lord Berkeley of Knighton, as part of the preparation for this concert, you can read more about it here.

Reviews of Past Concerts