It’s Bach to the future at St Albans Abbey

ALTHOUGH the programme for the St Albans Bach Choir’s concert at the Abbey on Saturday was full of relatively short pieces it had set itself no easy task.

For the music, by some of the finest composers of the late 19th and 20th Centuries, was as complex as it was outstanding.

But the choir, under director of music Andrew Lucas, proved itself more than equal to the challenges to once more demonstrate what makes them a fine group of musicians.

Although the opening work, Elgar’s Give unto the Lord was not to my personal taste – I found it just a little too heavy – there was no doubt the choir excelled with a demonstration of excellent dynamics and overall vocal control.

But Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb was a revelation, not just for the fine work from the choir but for the soloists, in particular soprano Rosie Hulbert, a former head chorister of the St Albans Abbey Girls Choir and student at St George’s School in Harpenden.

In her solo spots she showed huge confidence and demonstrated an extremely fine, mature voice.

The other soloists, tenor R�nan Busfield, counter tenor Alexander L’Estrange and bass Stephen Boffey, who is also the choir’s chairman, all gave good performances in the work.

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R�nan Busfield also gave a fine performance as the soloist in Leo� Jan�cek’s complex but beautiful work, Otcen�, which once more demonstrated the great ability of the choir.

The second half of the concert contained what for many, were the real highlights of the evening, starting with two of Bruchner’s outstanding motets, Locus iste and Christus factus est, glorious pieces of music in which the choir produced equally glorious sounds which filled the Abbey to perfection.

After a harp solo, Little Suite for Harp by Colin Matthews, exquisitely played by Hugh Webb, the choir continued with Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.

This was, I think, only the second time I had heard a live performance of this work and I have to admit that the first one did not appeal to me. But this was different. The choir together with the soloists and harpist Hugh Webb with organist Tom Winpenny and percussion from Sinfonia Verdi captured every nuance of Bernstein’s music.

In particular the second section, with its faint but distinctive references to West Side Story, and its outstanding alto solo sung by Alexander L’Estrange was particularly moving.

Rounding off a fine evening of music was the choir’s performance of Hubert Parry’s tremendous setting of Milton’s Blest Pair of Sirens, a firm favourite with lovers of choral music and a fine ending to an outstanding season of music in St Albans.