Music old and new to launch Christmas season

Familiar seasonal favourites combine with new carol settings by some of the finest contemporary British composers at St Albans Choral Society’s ever-popular Christmas concert at 7pm on Sunday 13 December in Marlborough Road Methodist Church.

The choir will perform the prize-winning Chanticleer by composer Richard Harvey, who is their regular rehearsal accompanist and will be playing the organ. Chanticleer, which refers to the cockerel proclaiming the dawn of a new age, won the Crouch End Festival Chorus 30th anniversary carol competition.  

Also on the programme are the uplifting motet O Radiant Dawn by James MacMillan, the leading Scottish composer of his generation, and A Winter’s Night, a cantata based on traditional European carols by Cecilia McDowall, the Society’s composer in association.  

“Many of our regular audience regard this concert as the real start of the Christmas season,” said George Vass, music director. “There will be many carols for the audience to join in, together with festive readings from members of the choir – a feast of music old and new.” 

Tickets for “A Celebration of Christmas” cost £13 (£1 for children) and are available from SACS Ticket Line on 07884 231958 or online at


Handel centre stage at autumn concert

HANDEL's Dettingen Te Deum, one of his most colourful choral works, will be the centrepiece of St Albans Choral Society’s autumn concert in St Saviour’s Church, Sandpit Lane, at 7.30pm on Saturday 7 November.

Peppered with trumpet fanfares and echoes of Messiah, the jubilant piece was composed to mark George II’s victory over French forces at Dettingen am Main in 1743 during the Austrian War of Succession. It was the last time in history that a British king led troops into battle, and the Te Deum formed part of a triumphant reception at the court on his return to England.

The soloists are Greg Tassell, tenor (pictured below), Martha McLorinan, mezzo soprano, and Simon Preece, bass.

The programme also features two new choral works. Some Corner of a Foreign Field by Cecilia McDowall, the Society’s composer in association, dramatically conveys the horrors of the First World War. Love and Harmony is a warm, lush setting of a William Blake poem by rising composer Toby Young, a former choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, whose wide-ranging output includes work with dance and urban artists.

George Vass, the Society’s Music Director, conducts the choir and Orchestra Nova, who perform two orchestral works: Elgar’s Sospiri, written just before the outbreak of the First World War, and Sibelius’ Romance in C

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

Tenor Greg Tassell

Singing Group Update - October 2015

Singing Group Update – October 2015

The Singing Group’s Autumn Schedule is now well under way.

We have new musical Directors this term in Alison Burroughes and Julia Priseman, who have introduced some new music including O Waly, Waly (for upper voices) and an arrangement of Three Spirituals. Some previously rested songs such as Down in the River to Pray and Charlie is ma Darlin’ have been brought back. Group numbers continue to steadily increase with 26 singers attending and enjoying rehearsals during September in Dagnall Street. This term’s accompanist is Frank Guest.

The Autumn programme comprises six performances around St Albans through to late October. Our venues include care homes such as Tara’s Retreat, Lyndon House (both Sandridge) and Fosse House plus two senior residential establishments, Milton House and Fonthill House. Our other venue is Grove House – a charity and establishment which the choir supports in various ways.  

Our first performances have been well received and enjoyed by residents and performers alike. See photos from Tara’s Retreat.

All our performances include short readings by volunteers from the Group. Solos have been / will be performed by James Shipp, Ros French and Phil Waller.

Two or three Group carol singing sessions are planned in Senior Living establishments for after the Choir concert on 13 December. These will be open to all members of the choir. New joiners to the group will be most welcome when rehearsals restart in January.


Colin Dunkerley

Singing Group Organiser

3 October 2015


New season for singing group

The Choral Society's offshoot Singing Group is about to start a new season of performances at communities and homes for senior residents in and around St Albans.

The group, comprising about 30 members of the Society, will be taking a recital of popular songs and readings to venues including Fosse House and Milton House in St Albans, and Lyndon House and Tara's Retreat in nearby Sandridge, over the autumn. There will also be a performance at Grove House.

The singers have been busy rehearsing a selection of enjoyable pieces including John Rutter's arrangement of All Things Bright and Beautiful, Moon River, and the folksong O Waly, Waly. They are looking forward to meeting residents at the forthcoming performances. 

Premiere of The Story of St Alban

Children from three junior schools will join St Albans Choral Society on Sunday 12 July for world premiere performances of a work about the life of St Alban, Britain’s first Christian martyr in Roman times.

The children from Bowmansgreen, St Bernadette Catholic and Fleetville junior schools play “chirpy pagans” in the dramatic choral work, which the Society commissioned from composer Liz Lane and librettist Andy Rashleigh.

The project is part of the choir’s exciting community outreach programme and aims to give the children a unique musical opportunity and encourage them to become the choral singers of the future. They have been learning their parts in The Story of St Alban with the help of choral animateur Jo McNally (see photo below).

Alban was a citizen of the Roman town of Verulamium and gave shelter to a Christian priest, Amphibalus, who was being hounded for his faith. Alban took the priest’s place when Roman soldiers arrived to arrest him. Refusing to make offerings to the Roman gods, and declaring his Christian faith, he was put to death. Amphibalus was also later caught and executed.

“When writing The Story of St Alban, I was surprised how few people I talked to knew of the tale behind his sainthood,” says Liz, a former primary schoolteacher. “I hope this new work will help bring to light this important figure.”

Baritone Michael Bundy sings the part of Alban, and the choir provides the commentating chorus in a variety of roles, culminating in the final movement, a setting of The Alban Prayer. The narrator is Andy Rashleigh, a writer/actor who was on the writing team for The Archers for many years. George Vass conducts the choirs and Orchestra Nova Ensemble.

The choir will also perform the five beautiful Spirituals from Michael Tippett’s moving oratorio A Child of Our Time.

The performances take place at 5pm and 7pm at the Weston Auditorium, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield. Tickets are available at £12 (£1 children) from SACS ticket line on 07884 231958 or Weston Auditorium box office on 01707 281127.


"Thrilling" performance of Handel and Haydn

Soloists Alexander Ashworth, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, Pippa Goss and Christopher Bowen joined the choir and Orchestra Nova

St Albans Choral Society "gave a supremely confident and thrilling" performance of Handel's four Coronation Anthems and Haydn's Nelson Mass at its 70th anniversary concert in the Abbey on 9 May, writes reviewer Mary Cook in the Herts Advertiser. Here is her review in full:


Songs of Praise on St David's Day

Members of St Albans Choral Society handed out daffodils and leeks at their rehearsal to get in the mood for their forthcoming St David’s Day concert in aid of Grove House, which takes place at 4.30pm on Sunday 1 March at Marlborough Road Methodist Church.

The choir will perform anthems and motets including Ave verum corpus by William Byrd and Hear my prayer by Henry Purcell, as well as Spirituals from Sir Michael Tippett’s A Child of our Time.

With Richard Harvey at the organ, conductor George Vass will invite the audience to join in popular hymns including the Welsh compositions Guide me, oh thou great Redeemer and Love Divine, and Praise my soul the King of Heaven.

The Sunday afternoon concert is a new departure as part of this year’s celebrations of the Society’s 70th anniversary. 

Tickets £10 (£1 children) in aid of Rennie Grove Hospice Care are available from SACS Ticket Line on 07884 231958 or online at, or at the door.

Bringing sunshine to residents

A group of volunteers from St Albans Choral Society brought sunshine on a wintry evening to residents of Davis Court retirement flats on 3 February with a performance of readings and popular songs as part of a community outreach programme.

“It’s a lovely idea,” said Joyce, a resident in her 90s. “There are so many songs which local choirs used to sing, and which I used to sing, that aren’t performed these days, and it’s a good thing to do them.”

The songs included When You’re Smiling, the Morecambe & Wise hit Bring Me Sunshine and Pack Up Your Troubles, and residents enthusiastically joined in. The readings included If music be the food of love from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Afterwards, members of the choir chatted with residents over tea and cake. “Everybody I’ve spoken to has been very happy,” said Peter Lloyd, site manager. “They’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and hope you come again.” Sylvia, a resident, added: “I loved it. It’s nice to join in the old songs, and the readings were good too.”

The group plans more performances, after singing at local retirement and care homes including Grace Muriel House, The Orchard, and Fosse House.

Praise for challenging contemporary programme

Baritone soloist Ross Ramgobin's clear tones and gravitas were highly praised by reviewer Mary Cook in a piece about the Society's "Autumn Reflections" concert, which launched the new season on 8 November in St Saviour's Church.

Cook said the programme, put together by Music Director George Vass and featuring works by four contemporary composers, was one of the most challenging of the Society's to date. She writes of the sopranos' "pure ethereal sound" in Gabriel Jackson's Countless and wonderful are the ways to praise God, and describes the sharply contrasting moods of Cecilia McDowall's Stabat Mater and James Francis Brown's The Most Fortunate Generations.

Her review, an edited version of which appeared in the Herts Advertiser of 4 December, can be read in full below. 


In what must have been one of its most challenging programmes to date, St Albans Choral Society launched its seventieth anniversary season in St Saviour’s Church on Saturday evening with a programme of ‘Autumn Reflections’ by contemporary British composers, three of whom were in the audience.

Conductor George Vass has a reputation for promoting and commissioning new music in his role as the Society’s Music Director and also Artistic Director of the Presteigne Festival.

Stabat Mater was commissioned by the Choral Society from composer-in-association Cecilia McDowall to mark its Diamond Jubilee in 2004, and it received another performance on Saturday. As in the earlier performance, a children’s chorus was drawn from Parmiter’s School in Watford which has a strong musical bias. The work’s close and sometimes dissonant harmonies convey the sorrows of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross in seven movements in palindromic structure shared between the choir, childrens’ chorus and baritone solo. Maestro Vass favours a natural, unforced tone from the choir; perhaps on this occasion, a more mature sound would have provided a greater contrast to the youthful voices of Parmiter's. Baritone soloist Ross Ramgobin was most touching in his two solos. His clear tones, with an almost Italian-tenor quality to the high notes, cut through the warm sound from the chorus. The work ended with a single muted horn note fading to silence, the audience reluctant to break the spell.

Composer Gabriel Jackson wanted “a text that was sacred but not liturgical”. He selected Countless and wonderful are the ways to praise God, from Estonian writer Doris Kareva, part of a longer work described by the author as “a message of hope through beauty”. After an assertive statement of the first three words, the texture of the music changes with the orchestral lines chasing each other in a lively canon; the sopranos then return restating the opening words which gradually calm the frenetic orchestral episode. The sopranos maintained a pure, ethereal sound which was very effective, while all voices clearly articulated the central section with its short phrases rather in the style of Poulenc. The viola solo was played by Philip Hall with great tenderness.

From optimism, to a stark warning about the fragility of our planet. The Most Fortunate Generations by James Francis Brown to words by Brian Levinson refers to those born in the 40s and 50s who have exploited the world’s resources and are in danger of leaving an “environmental mess” for future generations. The opening warning motif on trumpet is developed with other material throughout the work. Choir members are to be commended for sustaining the mood of this piece with its bleak and disturbing message. In this, the world première of the revised version, Ross Ramgobin brought a gravitas to his solos, the words of which were given to a narrator in the original; and again when joining with the choir in the very dark and harrowing ending.

Will Todd is known as a composer and jazz pianist, but his version of The Lord is my Shepherd was a serene and beautiful setting well suited to the natural sound of the choir. The programme also included a lyrical and delicately phrased performance of Elgar’s Serenade for String Orchestra.

The members of Orchestra Nova displayed their usual high standard of technical ability and musicianship under Maestro Vass who brought forward the composers Cecilia McDowall, Gabriel Jackson and James Francis Brown to receive warm applause from the capacity audience.




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