Hertford Choral Society teamed up with the Hammonds Saltaire Band to deliver an enterprising, entertaining and hugely enjoyable concert. Entitled Jubilification (well – not exactly – ed) the concert promised, and delivered, that very English mix of music-making found in the works of Parry, Elgar and Walton as seen at many coronations, other royal occasions and the last night of the Proms. In keeping with the latter, it also contained a few ‘novelties’ that allowed some cunning planning to balance the exuberant with the more reflective. I had not heard the band before and they are a very polished outfit – and it was great to see so many young faces in their ranks.
The concert opened with Parry’s I was glad from the 1902 coronation (and every one since) complete with the 1953 ‘vivats’ for Her Majesty. After a surprisingly lightweight opening from the brass, this settled down into a committed performance (with very clear words) and came to a rousing conclusion setting the evening off in great style.
Elgar’s Great is the Lord followed in a fine arrangement for the brass with good clear words from the gentlemen. The many contrasts were well managed, though the brass was a little too prominent on occasion.
Walton’s Crown Imperial (from the 1937 coronation) allowed the band to show their strengths with a crisp opening and snappy trumpets contrasted by a fine liquid sound for the 'big tune'. Given the high musical standard, I was slightly surprised by the lack of ‘give’ in the tempo on occasion. The Lincolnshire folk tune Brigg Fair had an excellent flugel horn solo; the rich warm sound evoking a gentle summer’s day.
Walton’s Coronation Te Deum brought us to 1953. Andrew Parnell delivered the very taxing organ score with clarity and élan whilst providing exactly the right amount of support for the singers. The piece ‘came off’ but one sensed that for some of the singers this was right at the limit of what could be done.
The following two songs from Verdi (opera choruses Speed your journey from Nabucco and the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore – ed) were delivered with panache and an excellent legato from the band when needed.
British Sea Songs allowed the band to show a variety of textures and colours and gave the audience some practice in clapping (not that they needed it!).
The second half began with some electrifying playing in Holst’s Jupiter with rippling trumpets and an opportunity for us all to sing ‘I vow to thee’.
Harwood’s O how glorious suffered by comparison. After a rather perfunctory (too fast?) opening, the strong first unison phrases from the choir faded away and the piece never regained the energy and momentum needed to make it work.
Malcolm Williamson’s Jubilee Hymn (from the 1977 Silver Jubilee) was a delightful novelty and was extremely well sung. I wasn’t convinced by the two organ fanfares, which seemed a little at odds with the haunting main melody.
William Mathias’ Vivat Regina, also written for the 1977 Silver Jubilee, was a striking and slickly performed piece. It also made this listener sit up as one movement opens with material used in the organ part of an earlier anthem.
Elgar’s Nimrod was a textbook demonstration by the band of sustained legato control through staggered breathing, the whole piece rising to an impressive climax through a seamless crescendo. Eric Coates’ Dambusters whizzed along – but I wasn’t really able to hear the words.
Finally the audience got to its feet and joined in singing Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem at a collective volume that had to be heard to be believed. Chorus and band both received well-deserved ovations.
Next year Derek Harrison is planning a teaming of choir and percussion – I can’t wait!
Martin G Penny