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.

Hertford Choral Society's Christmas concert It's Christmas was held on 16th December 2017. HCS was joined by soloist Dagmara Jones on the French horn, and the Abel Smith School Choir, all ably accompanied by Christopher Muhley on the organ and piano. The Musical Director and Conductor was Derek Harrison and the concert was compered by Roger Mullis.

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the Hertford Choral Society’s (HCS) It’s Christmas concert. The event had been a festive highlight in my calendar for a while so when the night finally arrived, I was keen to see what it was all about…

As I walked into All Saint’s Church in Hertford, I was greeted with a warm welcome, a glass of wine and a mince pie – we were already off to a good start!

The church was decorated with twinkling lights, garlands and three beautifully decorated Christmas trees. I spent some time chatting with members of the society, who were all extremely friendly and obviously very excited about the evening they had been working so hard to prepare.

The concert began with a rousing Fanfare for Christmas, sung by the full choir, who looked equally festive in smart dress with red bow-ties for the men and corsages for the ladies. Then followed a selection of traditional Christmas carols, as well as lesser-known seasonal pieces. This was interspersed with opportunities for the audience to sing along, French horn solos from Dagmara Jones and a performance from Abel Smith School Choir.

The HCS choir sang beautifully and moved smoothly between gentler pieces like Away in a Manger and more energetic numbers like The Twelve Days of Christmas. The latter of these, I’ve heard performed many times over the years but the choice to use Austin / Humphris’ creative arrangement breathed new life into the song. Featuring different sections of the choir layered over one another, intricate timing and even the odd animal sound (six geese a-laying!), the piece was impressively complex whilst still remaining light-hearted and fun.

Likewise, the Abel Smith School Choir received heartfelt (and well deserved!) applause for their rendition of Silent Night. The children, aged between five and eleven years, not only sang beautifully and from memory but also in German! Their performance was full of energy and confidence and brought a smile to everyone’s faces.

Another youngster who made a big impression was Esme Sabin, a year six pupil from Duncombe School, who delivered a stunning solo at the start of Once in Royal David’s City. The church was silent as Esme delivered the first verse with clarity, confidence and precision. Each note was perfectly pitched and unhurried, providing an enchanting introduction to the classic carol.

Christopher Muhley provided skilful organ and piano accompaniment throughout the evening, whilst compère Roger Mullis kept things moving at an upbeat pace, with amusing and informative commentary around the evening’s repertoire.

All-in-all, It’s Christmas was beautifully presented, skilfully delivered and full of energy. There was variety, fun, a few surprises and plenty of festive merriment. It’s easy to see why so many return each year, to hear HCS perform.

Hanna Kemsley-Gilbert
hertfordarts.com/concert-review-its-christmas-hertford-choral-society

Hertford Choral Society performed Mozart Requiem and McDowall Magnificat on 11th November 2017, with London Mozart Players and Soloists: Katy Hill (soprano), Clare McCaldin (mezzo), Jeremy Budd (tenor), Alex Ashworth (bass).  Musical Director and Conductor was Derek Harrison.

McDowall’s piece, dating from 2003, was new to me, and, I suspect, to most of the audience. It is a sublimely beautiful work featuring extended solos and duets for soprano and mezzo. The sections Ecce enim for soprano solo, and Quia fecit  were especially striking, as was Et misercordia for solo mezzo. The orchestral writing was unusual and effective. Overall, an attractive and interesting piece I would like to hear again.

Photo: Cropwell Photography

With Mozart’s requiem we are in more familiar territory. This is a stunning work, and such a unified whole that it is hard to believe that two composers were involved. (Mozart left the work unfinished at his death, and his pupil Sussmayr completed it from his sketches) It is not “blood and thunder”, like Berlioz and Verdi, but deals with themes such as Dies Irae (Day of wrath) and Tuba mirum (The last trumpet) in a relatively subdued way. The Confutatis, however, is both fiery and dramatic. The work eventually comes to a calm conclusion, appropriate to the theme of eternal rest.

The four soloists, working as a quartet, made a magnificent contribution, and the soprano solos were superb, soaring above the chorus like an angel on the wing. The chorus gave an impeccable performance as usual, delivering the text with clarity and excellent intonation. The London Mozart Players, as one would expect, proved ideal interpreters of all this music, and Maestro Harrison conducted with his usual intelligence and authority.

Great performances of great music. It is a tragedy, of course, that Mozart never heard a note of this work except in his “inner ear” as he composed it. If he and Sussmayr were listening from above they would surely not have been disappointed.

Gordon Williams

Hertford Choral Society well and truely celebrated the summer solstice with the Black Dyke Band.

Held in the familiar venue of All Saints' Church, Hertford, which was packed to capacity, the audience enjoyed a wide-ranging programme, and were treated to a preview of one of Black Dyke Band's new arrangements due to be played during their set at the Glastonbury Festival the next day.

The concert was a very fitting conclusion to the 40th Anniversary year of the Musical Director and Conductor for Hertford Choral Society, Derek Harrison.

Hertford Choral Society featured strongly in a well-balanced programme of music by Haydn ably supported by the Chameleon Arts Orchestra. The concert got off to a good start with Insanae et vanae curae with a rich orchestral sound, effective dimuendi from the chorus and a good legato in the major sections.

Paul Mayes joined the orchestra to perform the evergreen Trumpet Concerto.  The opening showed off his clear bell like tones and the movement concluded with an imaginative cadenza.  The second movement was rather ‘matter of fact’, needing a much more legato line to match the beautiful phrasing of the strings and more care in pointing up Haydn’s ingenious visits to some startlingly remote keys (all designed to ‘show off’ the then new-fangled valve trumpet).  The final movement romped along to a rousing conclusion.  This deserved, and got, an enthusiastic reception.

The opening half ended with the Te Deum in C.  After a bright opening, there was much good detail and an effective balance between the chorus parts.  The demanding chromatics and obscure leaps were all well managed – bringing out Haydn’s sly joke in making the music for ‘confounded’ as awkward as possible with strange leaps and ever shifting harmonies.  The final fugue was well executed with careful, clean runs in all parts.

The second half was given over to the so called ‘Nelson’ Mass.  Derek Harrison reminded us all that as originally performed there would have been gaps, readings, probably a sermon and much else that separated the movements and so it was never Haydn’s expectation that they would be sung ‘straight through’. So for this performance there would be some extended moments of silence. It was helpful to have time to savour what had just been heard – though I felt the gaps were rather too long – in the mass one’s attention would be on whatever else was occurring. Nonetheless a good experiment and one I shall adopt on appropriate occasions.

The arresting opening of the Kyrie lead into some florid writing for the solo Soprano.  Fiona Hammacott made light of this and throughout her taxing solos showed great finesse and not a little stamina.  Whether it was this or familiarity is hard to say, but certainly the chorus sopranos rose to the challenge with added vigour.

The Gloria was our first opportunity to hear the solo quartet, all local singers and they made a well-balanced sound.  Julian Godlee made the most of his one big solo in the central section, punctuated by effective murmurings from the chorus. The final fugue was taken at quite a lick and brought the movement to a strong conclusion. The Credo was equally effective and Haydn’s cheeky use of rising phrases for descendit nicely brought out. The chorus seemed a little hesitant at first but rapidly grew in confidence giving the movement a very strong end. The orchestra had a chance to shine in the extensive opening of the Benedictus with a good internal balance and a short sharp Osanna from the chorus rounded it off well.

After confident and calm treatment of the first two sections of the Agnus Dei the really got their teeth into the final section – relishing the sudden pp’s whilst effectively conveying Haydn’s serene confidence in his maker.

As usual, Derek Harrison’s planning and direction were exemplary, showcasing just how skilled and varied a composer Haydn was.

Martin G Penny

Reviews of Past Concerts