Carillon, the St Albans Chamber Choir back to their best

PUBLISHED: 09:59 04 December 2009 | UPDATED: 14:44 06 May 2010

WHAT a difference a few weeks can make to the sound of a choir. At the beginning of last month Carillon, the St Albans Chamber Choir, was singing well below its usual standards. But on Saturday they were back to their usual form. For their pre-advent conc

WHAT a difference a few weeks can make to the sound of a choir.

At the beginning of last month Carillon, the St Albans Chamber Choir, was singing well below its usual standards. But on Saturday they were back to their usual form.

For their pre-advent concert at St Peter's Church in St Albans, the choir had one of the best lines of tenors it has had for some time and the sopranos presented a much cleaner sound than in the recent past.

The concert also saw the return to St Albans of former Abbey assistant master of music Andrew Parnell as guest conductor.

Andrew, who moved from St Albans with his wife, clarinettist Koren Wilmer, earlier this year, is one of the conductors who generally gets the best from Carillon and some of the works in Saturday's concert showed both he and the choir at their best.

Opening the evening was William Byrd's Rorate Coeli Desuper which immediately set the mark for the evening as its delightful voice combinations rang around the church.

The second piece, Elizabeth Poston's delightful carol, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, opens with a soprano solo and develops across the whole of the choir. It was a feature of the evening that many of the works contained solo parts all excellently sung by unnamed members of the choir.

Two high points of the evening were the choir's performance of Byrd's Civitas Sancti Tui in the first half and Vigilate in the second. The sheer quality of the sound in the two works was quite outstanding.

But also it was a great pleasure to hear Andrew Parnell's own arrangement of the Advent hymn Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth and later in the programme, Peter Hurford's carol Christ Hath A Garden.

Arvo Pärt's outstanding Seven Magnificat Antiphons also made a welcome and interesting addition to the programme as did Arthur Oldham's Remember, O Thou Man and David Bednall's Benedictus from the Wells Service. The evening ended with Orlando Gibbons wonderful example of polyphony, Hosanna to the Son of David.

As well as the choral music, instrumental highlights were provided by Tom Winpenny with Kenneth Leighton's Fantasy on Veni Emmanuel and J S Bach's Meine Seele Erhebt Den Herrn and Koren Wilmer, who was joined by Andrew Parnell at the piano, for a performance of Herbert Howells' Sonata for Clarinet and Piano.

The sonata is technically extremely challenging for both clarinettist and pianist and demands a high standard of performing ability. There is absolutely no doubt that the performance, with a movement in both halves of the concert, was of the highest quality but, unfortunately for me at least, it is not the sort of music I would want to receive as a CD at Christmas.

Tom Winpenny's performance of his two solo pieces was as good as any I have so far heard on the St Peter's organ.

With such a varied mix of music on the programme, this was an evening where most people would find something to enjoy and the mixture was improved by the overall quality of Carillon's performance.

JOHN MANNING


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