I have sung in 51 HCS summer concerts so it seemed odd to be sitting, quite far back, in the nave of St Albans Abbey, as part of a large audience.

Peter Bodden’s introduction in the concert programme set the scene for a promising evening.    Two of the three works in the first half (Finzi’s Eclogue and Sumsion’s choral piece) are relatively unknown but the concert began with a confident rendition of Mendelssohn’s familiar Hebrides overture ‘Fingal’s Cave’ by the Chameleon Arts Orchestra. At times the playing could perhaps have been a touch lighter, but it was all very musical.

Our wonderful accompanist Sue Graham Smith, who is sadly leaving us at the end of the season, was then the piano soloist, playing with the strings in Finzi’s beautiful Eclogue to her usual high standard.   The choir then got up and sang the short piece They that go down to the sea in ships by Sumsion, sung sensitively and with the lyrics clearly audible.

After the interval came the rousing opening of Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony. Throughout the work, the rapport of the choir with the Chameleon Arts Orchestra was admirable.   Derek Harrison conducted a rousing version of ‘Behold the sea itself’. The ‘itself’, like some of the other lower pitched parts, was not as audible as the ringing tone of the higher parts. The sopranos sang particularly clearly; there were some tuneful alto lines; and the men sang positively throughout. The baritone solos by Robert Gildon were well sung, but the Abbey’s acoustics made some of them fainter at times. The audience could follow the Walt Whitman poem from the programme, but the choir’s enunciation was excellent.    The soprano solos by Sarah Fox were finely sang, particularly at the start. The semi-chorus could perhaps have been a little louder in the huge abbey but contributed an effective and poignant element to the performance.

The second movement, ‘On the beach at night alone’ was sung beautifully, in suitably quiet tones.  In the third very animated movement, ‘The waves’, the rhythms were well brought out.  The final movement, ‘The explorers’ was delivered confidently and sounded splendid.

The last pages were sung with gusto and the quiet ending was most effective.  Throughout the work, the conductor Derek Harrison was in complete control of the various musical forces, making for a moving and uplifting symphony. It inspired me – and other members of the audience – to resolve to acquaint myself better with other works by Vaughan Williams, thereby underlining the value of the performance.

Katharine Lawson

Social media comments on HCS St Albans concert

Wonderful venue @StAlbansAbbey for @HertfordChoral concert A Sea Symphony and the sound was superb. Really enjoyed it!

Well done @HertfordChoral - still swaying from the Sea Symphony! Thanks for a really enjoyable evening.

What a fantastic evening. First time since 2006 that the Hertford Choral Society has staged a concert at the Cathedral. Honoured by the presence of the Lord Lieutenant, the Chairman of County and the Mayor of St Albans. A superb concert.

What a fabulous experience!

A wonderful concert in the magnificent setting of @StAlbansAbbey. Thank to all concerned.#StAlbans

A wonderful setting for a very enjoyable concert by @HertfordChoral

What a wonderful concert, the choir were great, the orchestra amazing and the venue magnificent!

Photographs of HCS St Albans concert

You can find a wider selection of photographs taken at our concert by Mark Green here

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

Latest News

Come and sing with HCS in our 80th Year

Hertford Choral Society is having its summer break and we re-start rehearsals from Tuesday 4th September 2018 at Sele School, Hertford, SG14 2DG. If you are interested, or in coming along in September, please be in touch.

New members are very welcome to join, whatever your level of experience. You have the opportunity to join Taster Rehearsals free and, if you decide you would like to sing with us, you can do so for a term for a Taster Fee of £20, including music.

HCS is a non-auditioned choir, you can find out more about a typical rehearsal here or contact our Membership Secretary, Trish Goldsmith, on 01992 589730 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   Don’t hesitate to ask any question at all.

We look forward to welcoming you to HCS! Click here for more news from Hertford Choral Society.

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