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 allaboutstalbans.com

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