Concert review: powerful performance by Hertfordshire Chorus still resonates today

Hertfordshire Chorus' musical director David Temple

Hertfordshire Chorus' musical director David Temple - Credit: Archant

Although Michael Tippett’s settings of four spirituals are well-known, the work for which they were written, A Child of Our Time, is much more rarely performed.

Yet, as the Hertfordshire Chorus proved at its concert on Saturday, the powerful work has a resonance today as it did when it was written in the early days of World War II.

Dealing with fanaticism and the horrors of oppression and hate that can follow, the work is thoroughly thought-provoking.

And the performance in St Albans Cathedral, with the Chorus under its musical director David Temple and soloists soprano Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson, mezzo Jessica Costelloe, tenor Paul Hopwood and bass Graeme Danby together with the Forest Philharmonic Orchestra, was completely absorbing.

Tippett’s deep and sombre score was wonderfully handled by orchestra and choir with both Paul Hopwood and Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson particularly outstanding in their first solos.

I have to say that I did not find mezzo Jessica Costelloe’s singing style to my taste as, for me, she used too much vibrato while Graeme Danby’s voice did not carry well.

The overall performance from the choir and the orchestra was as good as anyone could wish with fine intonation and great care with the often difficult music.

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In complete stylistic contrast, the second half of the concert was devoted to Mozart’s final work, his Requiem.

And for this the chorus was joined by the specially-formed Sing Mozart Choir bringing the total choir strength to over 180 and making it one of the largest groups to perform in the cathedral.

However, the increased size did not bring an improvement in quality; it fact it was rather to the contrary. Overall, the performance felt rushed and was often too loud - compared with the earlier performance by the Chorus in A Child of our Time, it lacked depth and emotion.

But it also saw more fine performances from the four soloists and the orchestra with Graeme Danby sounding much better in a work which appeared to be more in his comfort zone.

Throughout the evening Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson was the soloist who really stood out with her tremendous clarity and vocal quality. She is definitely one artist I really hope to hear again.