'Thrilling' concert reviewed by Herts Advertiser

Our October 2010 concert of Britten, McDowall and Vivaldi was positively reviewed by the Herts Advertiser under the headline 'Sacred setting for society's sparkling symphonies'.

Reviewer Mary Cook wrote that 'the choir is always exhilarating when in full flow'. She described 'a spirited rendering' of Vivaldi's famous Gloria and said the choir coped confidently with the changes in rhythm in Cecilia McDowall's Magnificat, producing a thrilling climax before the quieter central section.

Here is the full review, from the Herts Advertiser, 4 Nov 2010: 

ARRIVING in good time last Saturday evening for the first of four concerts in the St Albans Choral Society’s new season, I had the chance to take in the lovely interior of St Saviour’s Church which was the perfect setting in which to enjoy an evening consisting mostly of sacred choral music.

 The 18 members of Orchestra Nova under the baton of George Vass opened the programme with a sparkling performance of Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony. The fine musicians of Orchestra Nova under the leadership on this occasion of Alexandra Wood romped through the Boisterous Bourée and Playful Pizzicato with ease, after which the serene ending of the Sentimental Sarabande was particularly affecting. The Frolicsome Finale brought the work to an exciting and jolly close. 

St Albans Choral Society is fortunate to have as its composer in association Cecilia McDowall, two of whose works were either first performed or commissioned by the Society. 

The Magnificat was commissioned by Finchley Choral Society in 2003 for its centenary celebrations and is a hymn of thanksgiving using words found in St Luke’s Gospel attributed to the Virgin Mary – My soul doth magnify the Lord. McDowall’s setting opens with an orchestral prelude which sets the tonal palette of the piece and gathers momentum as it leads into the first choral section.

The choir coped confidently with the changes in rhythm and produced a thrilling climax before the quieter central section. Soprano Nicola Stonehouse brought a clarity of tone and grace to her solo, Ecce enim, with its quirky rocking rhythms, although a little more eye contact with her audience would have added a greater emotional dimension. 

In the Quia fecit mihi magna section, the choir eloquently sustained the long legato lines over an accompaniment containing a little repeated two-note motif which is then taken up by the inner voice parts before returning to the quieter mood of the opening. Mezzo Michelle Harris brought a warmth and humanity to the Et misericordia and really connected with her audience. Her strong but never strident tones carried well in the generous acoustics. The two solo voices blended effectively in the duet Fecit potentiam with its overlapping entries clearly articulated. 

This duet leads straight into the final section Deposuit potentes which refers back to the musical material in the opening movement. The entries could have been more sharply defined but the choir is always exhilarating when in full flow and they brought the work to a triumphant close. Conductor George Vass rightly acknowledged the individual instrumentalists who had an integral part in this work. 

The second half of the programme was devoted to a performance of Vivaldi’sGloria, a joyful work and one of three settings by this composer of which only two survive. The choir gave a spirited rendering of this work, producing a warm and balanced sound. But the music of Vivaldi above all needs extra energy and vibrancy which was forthcoming from the orchestra but not always from the choir. 

The two soprano soloists excelled in the Laudamus te with entries that chase each other and then come together in joyous harmony. The Dominus deus for soprano and oboe obbligato was beautifully phrased but most moving was the Domine deus, agnus dei in which Michelle Harris conveyed the intensity of this plea for forgiveness, sentiments gently echoed by the choir. 

The final Cum sancto spiritu is a fugue which relies on strong entries from all parts. The choir and musicians rose to the occasion and brought the evening to a thrilling close.

 This was an encouraging start to a season which includes a work by the successful young British composer Tarik O’Regan, and culminates next July in a joint venture with the Bushey Symphony Orchestra and Canterbury Choir in Verdi’s intensely dramatic Requiem.

MARY COOK

Mary Cook Review .pdf