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.




Four composers to attend concert

A QUARTET of composers will attend the next concert by St Albans Choral Society at 7.30pm on Saturday 8 November at St Saviour’s Church, Sandpit Lane, to hear their works performed. 

Cecilia McDowall, the society’s composer in association, will be there alongside Gabriel Jackson, James Francis Brown and Will Todd for a concert of music on the theme of Autumn Reflections. 

“It is simply brilliant to be welcoming four of Britain’s finest choral composers to St Albans, making an already exciting evening of music even more thrilling,” said George Vass, the Society’s Music Director. 

The concert will also feature acclaimed baritone Ross Ramgobin, whose voice has been described as “elegant and delicious to hear”, together with the choir of Parmiter’s School and Orchestra Nova, under Vass’ baton. 

The most substantial piece is McDowall’s Stabat Mater. Commissioned by the Society for its Diamond Jubilee 10 years ago, it is a poignant, solemn and beautiful setting of the Latin hymn. 

Also on the programme is Will Todd’s uplifting version of The Lord is My Shepherd, Gabriel Jackson’s joyful Countless and wonderful are the ways to praise God, and Elgar’s popular Serenade for strings.

The fifth piece in the programme is a dramatic and plaintive setting by James Francis Brown of a hard-hitting text by the author and poet Brian Levison. Entitled The Most Fortunate Generations, the work deals with climate change. Levison calls the poem an apology to future generations “for the environmental mess I and my contemporaries are leaving behind”.

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

When you're smiling - debut for singing group

A new Singing Group formed of volunteers from St Albans Choral Society made its debut performance entertaining elderly residents of Grace Muriel House in Tavistock Avenue on 15 October as part of a community outreach initiative. 

The group sang popular songs including When You’re Smiling, Bring Me Sunshine and The Ash Grove, inviting residents to join in. They gave poetry readings and chatted with residents afterwards. 

“You really have made their night,” said Siouxsie Liddle, activities coordinator and senior carer at Grace Muriel House. “It was very special.”

The group will be giving more performances at housing schemes and care homes in the coming weeks.


St Albans Choral Society Golf Day - 24th July 2014





The inaugural St Albans Choral Society Golf Day took place on Thursday 24 July at Verulam Golf Club. Eight golfers took part, playing in pairs on one of the hottest days of the year. The fairways were hard and running very fast but the Verulam greens, as always, proved tricky. The competition winners were Peter and Iain Aubusson (the latter deputising for his mother) and they received a prestigious trophy, specially made for the occasion by John Harris Bass.  The Longest Drive on the 9th was won by Adrian Heard (partner of Claire Browne) while John Harris-Bass took Nearest the Pin on the 17th. After the round, golfers and partners retired for a meal at Mumtaj where the presentations took place.


The full results were:-


Peter Aubusson

Iain Aubusson



Colin Dunkerley

Alistair Holt-Thomas



Jon Harris-Bass

Adrian Heard



Rod Cowper

Claire Browne







It was agreed that the Golf Day was a great success and should become an annual event. The organiser, Colin Dunkerley, would like to hear from other choir members who might be interested in taking part.  


"Dramatically charged performance"

The Choral Society gave a "dramatically charged performance" of Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle on Saturday 5 July, according to reviewer Mary Cook, writing in the Herts Advertiser.

Cook writes of some "very tender and moving moments" both supporting the four soloists and in dialogue with them. She also describes the different style of the first half of the concert, featuring works by composer-in-association Cecilia McDowall and arrangements by Bob Chilcott, in a "cleverly devised programme of new and old works" that ensured a full house in St Saviour's Church.

The full review can be read here.


Music feast for summer night

Rossini’s popular Petite Messe Solennelle will be the centerpiece of a feast of 19th and 21st century music as St Albans Choral Society performs its summer concert in St Saviour’s Church, Sandpit Lane, at 7.30pm on Saturday 5 July.

Recognised by his contemporaries as the greatest Italian composer of his time, Gioacchino Rossini regarded the graceful mass which he wrote in 1863 aged 71 as one of his péchés de vieillesse (“sins of old age”).  He declared he was born for comic opera, and in this mass he produced a work that is neither small, nor notably solemn, despite its name.

Composed to be performed in private salons, Rossini decided to orchestrate it after a reviewer at the time wrote that there was enough fire in the piece to melt a marble cathedral were it to be scored for full chorus and orchestra. Operatic drama and beauty abound, especially in the tenor and bass solos and the final Agnus Dei for contralto and chorus.

The soloists for the concert conducted by George Vass are Mary Nelson, soprano, Louise Winter, mezzo soprano, Christopher Bowen, tenor, and Michael Bundy, bass-baritone. Timothy End will play the piano and Richard Harvey the organ.

The choir will also perform works by composer-in-association Cecilia McDowall, A Wedding Blessing, written two years ago to celebrate the Diamond Wedding Anniversary of long-time Choral Society member, Alun Hopkins and three movements from her 2011 work Northlight, commissioned by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and with the theme of renewal, and two arrangements of traditional songs by Bob Chilcott, The Lily and the Rose and The Skye Boat Song.

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

"Society is perfect company"

In an enthusiastic review in the Herts Advertiser, Joseph Phibbs describes the balance, sonority and sensitivity of our performance of Benjamin Britten's The Company of Heaven with narrators Eleanor Bron and Christopher Good, soloists and Orchestra Nova, conducted by George Vass in St Albans Abbey on 22 March 2014.

He praises the narrators' expert diction, the "elegant and expressive solos" of tenor Greg Tassell and soprano Marianne Cotterill, the impeccable intonation of the orchestra, and the "perfectly balanced, sonorous interjections" of the choir.

The second half was devoted to Mozart's Requiem, which Phibbs also much enjoyed. "With a performance of this precision, clarity, and dramatic intensity, I for one felt eager to rediscover this most celebrated of Mozart's choral works," he concludes.

The full review can be seen below.


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