News Archives

Eleanor Bron to narrate at Britten and Mozart concert

Actors Eleanor Bron and Christopher Good will join St Albans Choral Society for a performance of Benjamin Britten’s The Company of Heaven and the Mozart Requiem in St Albans Abbey on Saturday 22 March at 7.30pm.

Bron (pictured below), whose many roles in theatre, film and television have included the Beatles film Help! and the comedy series Absolutely Fabulous, will join former RSC actor Christopher Good as the narrators in The Company of Heaven, composed in 1937 at the start of Britten’s brilliant career.

This dramatic but little-known work is about angels and their part before the creation of the world, in the Holy Scriptures, and in daily life and death. It features texts from the Bible, hymns and passages by Christina Rossetti, Emily Brontë, William Blake and John Bunyan, with incidental music for soloists, choir and small orchestra.

The work starts with a sombre orchestral passage that wanders chromatically, suggesting the primordial chaos. It progresses through movements of tension, sweetness and brilliance, culminating splendidly with the hymn tune Lasst uns erfreuen, sung to the words ‘Ye watchers and ye holy ones’. Britten noted in his diary that the original instrumentalists said ‘it’s the best incidental music they’ve ever played’.

The soloists in this piece and the much-loved Mozart Requiem are Marianne Cotterill, soprano, Marta Fontanals-Simmons, mezzo soprano, Greg Tassell, tenor, and Christopher Foster, bass-baritone. Orchestral accompaniment is provided by Orchestra Nova and George Vass, the Society’s Music Director, conducts.

Tickets priced at £25, £20, £15 and £10 are available from SACS Ticket Line on 07884 231958, online at or Information Desk, Chapter House, St Albans Abbey on 01727 860780.


Carols raise over £800 for Grove House

Singers from St Albans Choral Society raised a record of £840.69 from generous commuters in aid of Grove House during more than two hours of festive carolling at the City station on 19 December.

The singers formed two four-part choirs at each station exit and entertained homecoming workers in the wind and rain with a selection of well-known carols including Ding Dong Merrily on High and Away in a Manger. 

“The singing was wonderful and we’re so grateful,” said Nicola Mackinnon, Community Engagement Officer for Grove House. Over the past six years, the Society has collected around £3,500 for Grove House with its station carols each Christmas.

The Choral Society also took the Christmas cheer to Verulam House nursing home and Cotsmoor retirement estate, where residents were invited to request carols and join in the singing. Richard Harvey, the Society’s accompanist, played the keyboard and conducted, while George Vass, music director, and bass singer Ken Young conducted the two choirs at the station. The two venues served mince pies to round off the events.

“It was a very successful evening all round,” said Rod Cowper, the Society’s chair. “We raised a fantastic amount for Grove House and the residents at Cotsmoor and Verulam House really enjoyed our visits. We’re looking forward to doing even more next Christmas.”

Christmas Concert offers treats

A number of treats were in store when St Albans Choral Society gave a festive concert of Christmas music, carols and entertaining readings at Marlborough Road Methodist Church on Sunday 15 December at 7pm.

Rising young baritone Henry Manning, who is in demand as an opera singer and concert recitalist across the UK and Europe, sang solos in Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols, Bob Chilcott’s O Little Town and Harold Darke’s In the Bleak Mid-Winter.

Adding to the enjoyment at this ever-popular family concert was the choir of Fleetville Junior School, who performed a variety of lively Christmas songs.

The Choral Society, conducted by George Vass and accompanied on the organ by Richard Harvey, also sang Britten’s Hymn to the Virgin, Poulenc’s motet Hodie Christus natus est, and Sleep, Holy Babe by composer Alexander Campkin, who was in the audience.

There was an opportunity for concert-goers to join in with some of the most popular carols, such as Good King Wenceslas.

“This was a wonderful heart-warming evening to get people in the mood for Christmas,” said Mr Vass. 

World première companion for Fauré Requiem

The Fauré Requiem, to be performed by St Albans Choral Society on Saturday 9 November, is one of the most beautiful and best-loved works in the choral repertoire. There’s just one problem: it is too short to fill an entire concert, so music directors have to find another piece to sit alongside it.

This time organist and composer Richard James Harvey, who is the Society’s accompanist (pictured below), has ridden to the rescue with a new work, Vespers. The piece in seven movements will have its world première at the concert, which starts at 7.30pm in St Saviour’s Church, Sandpit Lane, St Albans.

“It’s written as a companion piece to the Fauré and uses the same forces, with soloists, a four-part choir and a chamber orchestra, including harp,” said Harvey, who has worked with the Society since 1996. “I’m hoping that other choirs might take it up.”

He was particularly pleased to be commissioned to write a piece for the Choral Society – his second after the carol suite This Endris Night in 2009 – because he is so familiar with the sound of the different voice sections, as well as the ensemble.

“I knew how far I could go with different things,” he explained. “I was keen on giving the Altos more of a starring role, since they often fill in, and the men’s section is strong compared with some choirs so I felt I could write a movement for men only.”

Vespers uses a mixture of texts traditionally associated with the evening church service, such as three psalms and the Magnificat, and others that do not usually feature, including The Annunciation, a setting of a poem by the 20th century Orcadian writer Edwin Muir.

“I’d had it in mind for a while to use The Annunciation in Vespers because the service of Vespers focuses on the Virgin Mary,” said Harvey. “It is ready-made for soprano and baritone – the girl and the angel – and the harp fits quite well.”

The soloists for the concert, which also features Fauré’s tender Cantique de Jean Racine, are Kirsty Hopkins, soprano, and Michael Burke, baritone. George Vass will conduct the singers and Orchestra Nova.

Tickets at £18 (£15 concessions), £15 (£12 conc.) and £1 for children are available from SACS ticket line 07884 231958 or online at

Colin Dunkerley took this photo of Richard Harvey at the piano.


Passion performance "worthy of professional choir"

St Albans Choral Society's performance of the St John Passion in the Abbey on 20 April was praised by reviewer Mary Cook as "worthy of a professional choir". Writing in the Herts Advertiser, she said "the glories of the work were presented in a meticulously-prepared performance by the choir and soloists sung in the original German."

Mark Dobell, who had the demanding role of Evangelist, was "completely at home in the language, allowing the natural light and shade of the words to propel the story forward".

The choir, under Music Director George Vass, was at its best when in full cry, "and the closing chorale in particular provided a thrilling finish", she concluded.

Read the full review in the attached PDF - see link below.



Building up to St John Passion

Members of St Albans Choral Society are preparing for a performance of Bach's intensely moving oratorio, the St John Passion, on Saturday 20 April.

Mark Dobell, tenor with The Sixteen and The Orlando Consort, and acclaimed soprano Helen-Jane Howells are two of a superb line-up of soloists who will join the choir for the performance in St Albans Abbey at 7.30pm. 

Dobell will have the demanding role of Evangelist in the Passion, which will be sung in the original German, accompanied by Orchestra Nova under the baton of George Vass, the Society's Musical Director. Charles Gibbs, bass, will take the part of Christ, while Howells, mezzo Clare McCaldin, tenor Christopher Bowen and baritone Michael Bundy will perform the other parts and arias. 

Although less well-known than the St Matthew Passion, the St John Passion is often regarded as bolder and more dramatic, with its vivid scenes of Peter’s betrayal and of the trial and anguish of Christ combined with the intense hope and reflection of the opening and concluding choruses. 

The choir alternates between the theatricality of the 16 choruses, variously portraying the soldiers, the high priests, and the crowd baying for the blood of Jesus, and the lyric tenderness of the 11 chorales which culminate in a rousing vision of eternal life (Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein). 

Bach was the outstanding master of the oratorio passion, incorporating operatic recitatives, hymn-like chorales which were originally sung by the congregation, non-biblical poetic texts mixed with the Gospels, and extensive use of an orchestral ensemble. 

His St John Passion was first performed during Holy Week in 1724 as part of a church service, with a sermon preached between Part 1 and Part 2. Bach continued to revise it until the last years of his life, but it is the original version that remains most familiar today. 

Tickets priced £25, £20, £15 and £10 can be bought from SACS Ticket Line on 07884 231958, online at, or from the Information Desk, Chapter House, St Albans Abbey on 01727 860780.

"Best of British" concert review

A large audience turned out for the Society's concert of works by living British composers at St Paul's Church, Hatfield Road, on Saturday 27th October. The choir performed John Rutter's Requiem, Bob Chilcott's Canticles of Light, and a work by local composer Alexander L'Estrange, And the Stones Sing. L'Estrange attended the performance, was warmly applauded and said afterwards that he was thrilled.  

In a review for the Herts Advertiser (1st  Nov), Mary Cook described the "interesting and challenging" programme put together by Music Director George Vass and congratulated Soprano soloist Charlotte Mobbs, the "superb musicians" of Orchestra Nova, and the choir for their performances.


Society features local composer

An exciting vocal piece by local composer Alexander L’Estrange will feature alongside John Rutter’s Requiem and Bob Chilcott’s Canticles of Light in St Albans Choral Society’s next concert on Saturday 27 October at 7.30pm at St Paul’s Church, Blandford Road.

And the stones sing by 38-year-old L’Estrange (pictured below), who lives in Wheathampstead, is an energetic, colourful piece with words by singer and writer Adey Grummet about the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and the glory, betrayal, shame and hope of the Passion story.


L’Estrange, a former boy chorister who studied Music at Oxford University and is a highly versatile jazz musician, composer and performer, says it means a lot to him that the work is being performed on his home turf.


“Although I'm from Oxford originally, we're happily settled in Wheathampstead, just up the road from St Albans, and we're hoping our two sons might be able to be choristers at St Albans Abbey in the next few years, so we're here to stay!” he says. “I can’t wait to hear the piece again.”


L’Estrange has won wide acclaim for his compositions, and is best known for his African/gospel cantata Zimbe!, which has been performed 100 times around the world. Composer and broadcaster Howard Goodall has said of him: “If you had to create from scratch the perfect 21st century musician, Alexander L’Estrange would be your template.”


The 12-minute piece is scored for soprano soloist, chorus, strings and percussion. Charlotte Mobbs will be the soloist, with Orchestra Nova under the baton of George Vass, the Society’s Music Director. Vass commissioned the work and conducted the premiere at the 2010 Presteigne Festival in Wales, where it proved an immediate hit.


“Together with John Rutter’s beautiful setting of the Requiem, the moving Canticles of Light by Chilcott, and Cecilia McDowall’s orchestral work Great Hills, this will be a wonderful celebration of contemporary music by four very approachable British composers,” said Vass.


Tickets are priced at £18 (£15 Concessions), £15 (£12 concessions),  £1 children, and are available from SACS Ticket Line 07884 231958 or online at





Christmas Concert 2012

We are pleased to announce that Cunningham Hill Junior School Choir will be taking part in our Christmas concert to be performed at the Marlborough Road Methodist Church on the 9th December 2012

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