Hertford Choral Society performed Handel's Israel in Egypt on 31st March 2012.  A review is below, while pictures were created by members of Hertford Art Society inspired by the piece.

Why Handel’s Israel in Egypt is not performed more often is a bit of a mystery.  Too challenging for the choir?  Too musically rich for the audience? Needs a really competent orchestra? 

The first part, Exodus, is unbroken and challenging for the choir, blended and enriched with continuous support from the orchestra.  Under Derek Harrison’s guidance the choir maintained a fine musical flow and the balance between the choir and the excellent Brandenburg Sinfonia was just right.

The first part in particular is full of vivid baroque word painting – the melody hopping about all over the place to “their land brought forth frogs”, or the wonderfully percussive settings of “He gave them hailstones” and “He smote all the first born of Egypt” bracketing the dense harmonies of “He sent a thick darkness over the land”. 

It was helpful having these texts in the programme to follow in order to join in the sheer fun that Handel’s music generates.  Whoever would have guessed that Handel was not entirely solemn? 

The Song of Moses saw the soloists take up their share of the work.  These were all students from the Guildhall School of Music, well on the road of promise but not always having the mature voice volume to fill the vast spaces of All Saints’, whose acoustics are not of the kindest. 

The voices of the two sopranos came together with beautiful balance in their duet The Lord is My Strength, particularly effective near the beginning of part two and the soprano solo Thou Didst Blow With the Wind was confident and clear. 

A thoroughly stimulating evening from Hertford Choral Society, which was abetted by the Hertford Art Society. The selection of their paintings inspired by the oratorio’s text responded in different modes.  The most successful were the more visionary responses, notably the baroque Rubenesque swirls of Janet Benge’s Flies and Worms and John Jarret’s storm clouds.

Richard Henderson

It's not just Gareth Malone who can inspire men, women and children to sing - you only had to hear Saturday's Christmas concert given by Hertford Choral Society and the choir of Hertingfordbury Cowper Primary School to realise that. Musical Directors Derek Harrison and Katie Neilson's imaginative seasonal choices made for a thoroughly enjoyable programme without a "turkey" in sight!

The indispensable Nicholas Robinson provided brilliant accompaniments on piano and organ, augmented by the accomplished trumpet soloist Paul Mayes. Even suffering from a bad cold , Paul was every inch a star performer, blowing us all away with his own variations on Angels from the Realms of Glory  and Harry James' Concerto for Trumpet. It was a masterclass in trumpet virtuosity.

Compere Roger Mullis contributed much more than a good-humoured commentary. The Chelsea scarf he presented to Arsenal fan Nicholas Robinson was accepted with only slight protest, but Nick had the ladies of the Chorus on side with the bright red scarves they were wearing.

Joining with Derek Harrison , Roger sang in a counter-tenor duet of Purcell's Sound the Trumpet  to the surprise and delight of the listeners.

Katie Nielson's 24 strong choir from Hertingfordbury Cowper Primary School tackled their adventurous and jazzy programme with confidence and a great sense of fun - especially in Sheep, Sheep Sheep. Their recorder players added a special atmosphere in Midnight and the Christmas Cake they "baked " with HC went down very well indeed. I wish Katie had been my music teacher at school.

It is always a pleasure to hear the many strengths of the Choral Society. Harold Chaplin's lyrical solo in Rutter's Down in yon Forest chimed with the gentleness of this harmonious work. My only wish was to have been able to hear this and some of the other softer passages of the night with greater ease. By contrast Hilary Laidler's reading in Another 12 Days was full of feisty, hand-on-hip attitude. Don't buy her socks this Christmas!

The Chorus was in good form, singing descants with the Audience carols, punching out rag-time rhythms and ending with the powerful staccato lines of Sir Christemas. A great performance from individuals from our own local community.

Rose Pullum

Hertford Choral Society's concert in All Saints' Church on November 12th was described as an "eclectic" journey and, my goodness, it was - choral and instrumental music from the 16th and 20th centuries,stopping on the way in 1736 and 1885.

The choir, with the brass and percussion of The Chameleon Orchestra, began with five Renaissance songs and dances that suited the acoustic well.  After a nervous start, the singers produced a splendid climax to the final verse of Arbeau's Pavane.  This tune, made familiar in Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite, provided a tenuous link to the next work by Warlock's friend Gerald Finzi.  Finzi's Eclogue for piano and strings is pastoral and melancholic with swells of emotion that were beautifully interpreted by pianist Elizabeth Shepherd.  She showed mastery of an entirely different style in Constant Lambert's Rio Grande with jazz, Brazilian dances and abundant flamboyance.  Here, the choir made a confident entrance and, skilfully controlled by Derek Harrison, continued to negotiate their way effectively through unexpected turns of mood and style, integrating well with orchestra and piano.  Some of Sacheverell Sitwell's words were not clear, but his description of dancing and singing was beautifully delivered.  Kate Symonds-Joy, a young mezzo soprano gaining national acclaim, provided the soaring solo.

Bruckner's Ecce Sacerdos combines trombones and organ with taxing choral parts, particularly upper voices, but they coped well and the plainsong Gloria was lovely.  Peter Jaekel was the soloist in Handel's G minor Organ Concerto with a sensitively ornamented performance, but the string accompaniment lacked vitality and period style.  John Rutter's Gloria ended the programme, demonstrating more complicated and harmonically interesting writing than many of his very popular carols.  The choir needed some athleticism and were mostly successful, although sometimes overpowered by the brass.  This was a most enterprising concert and a tribute to the innovation of Derek Harrison and his enthusiastic choir.

Jennifer Hopkins

Hertford Choral Society teamed up with the National Saxophone Choir of Great Britain to deliver an enterprising, entertaining and hugely enjoyable concert in All Saints Church on Saturday 25th.

This latest exploration in a succession of imaginative pairings showed its great strengths in the opening number. Handel's Zadok the Priest was lively, crisp and bounced along with a tremendous sense of life and joy. The following transcription of Bach's Fugue in G Minor was a foot-tapping/head-nodding dance.

The Saxophone Choir brought some of their "party pieces" including exhilarating renditions of Dick Barton - Special Agent and Mozart's Magic Flute Overture, an impressively choreographed treatment of Bohemian Rhapsody and a luscious treatment of Ketelbey's Sanctuary of the Heart.

We were also reminded of a local connection in Simon's Mangrove Groove a piece commissioned for Simon Balle School by the Choir's composer in residence Roger May.

HCS treated us to a very well prepared and clear rendition of two movements of Elgar's Bavarian Highlands and a well controlled rendition of Morten Lauridsen's Dirait-on. For me the upper voices rather outshone the gentlemen in terms of expressive lyricism and delivered pin point accuracy of tuning. The same could be said of the spirited rendition of Chilcott's Singing by Numbers though the gents redeemed themselves in the well executed slides during Cruet MacNightshade (words by Spike Milligan!).

The one piece that did not come off for me was Elgar's Spirit of the Lord. The rich sound of the Saxophone Choir meant the ethereal opening and closing were far too solid and earth-bound with the Saxophone Choir never really managing to achieve a true pianissimo and drowning the singers on occasion.

Nevertheless this was a very worthwhile exploration of the scope of an unusual collaboration and well worth hearing - as evidenced by the vivacity of Bernstein's West Side Story and the final Over the Rainbow with a (conscious?) tribute to the late and great George Shearing in the final harmonisation.

The concert deserved and received a standing ovation.

More please!

Martin G Penny

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