Review: Carillon choir’s Songs of Farewell concert in Harpenden

Carillon concert Songs of Farewell

Carillon concert Songs of Farewell - Credit: Carillon

John Manning reviews the Carillon Chamber Choir’s latest concert in Harpenden.

Although local audiences have long admired Alissa Firsova’s huge abilities as a fine pianist, they have had fewer opportunities to judge her ability as a composer.

Fortunately that was corrected on Saturday when Carillon, the St Albans-based choir, performed her setting of the Stabat Mater in St John’s Church, Harpenden.

Although complex in construction, this work, which lasts a little under nine minutes, is an ethereal and extremely beautiful new choral gem.

Originally commissioned in 2014 for Harry Christopher and The Sixteen, it is an intensely moving and extremely attractive work which uses a wide range of vocal techniques and dynamics to great effect.

Carillon under newly appointed permanent conductor David Ireson gave a thoroughly delightful and sensitive performance of this extremely tricky, and, from the singer’s point of view, challenging work which did full justice to Alissa’s skilful and delightful work.

For most of the past 30 years Carillon has worked without a permanent conductor but has, instead worked with many professionals and semi-professionals, but this season it appointed David Ireson to the permanent post – at least for this season.

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And I believe the move is already showing good results.

From the opening of Saturday’s concert, Felix Mendelssohn’s delightful Sechs Sprüche, it was clear that the choir had a new dynamic and brilliance of tone.

Throughout the first half with William Byrd’s Ye Sacred Muses, John Tavener’s Funeral Ikos and the Stabat Mater, the choir’s performance completely gripped the audience.

The second half was devoted to one of the great choral works of the early 20th century, Hubert Parry’s Songs of Farewell.

The six profoundly moving works were written during the First World War and each becomes more complex as the choir moves though the cycle.

Carillon’s performance of the masterpiece was passionate and strong, and completely spell-binding. The final section, a setting of Psalm 39, Lord, let me know mine end, was a complete delight, with every voice in the choir ringing true.

To add to the enjoyment of the evening renowned violinist Miles Golding gave a fine performance of four of the six movements from J S Bach’s Partita no 3 in E major for solo violin.