Finzi finale is a treat from St Albans Choral Society

PUBLISHED: 09:42 29 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:36 06 May 2010

OVER the years composer Cecilia McDowell has proved to be a favourite with the St Albans Choral Society as it has regularly performed her latest works. So it is not surprising that she was commissioned to write a special piece in memory of one of its own

OVER the years composer Cecilia McDowell has proved to be a favourite with the St Albans Choral Society as it has regularly performed her latest works.

So it is not surprising that she was commissioned to write a special piece in memory of one of its own members, Mary Josephine Blackburn, which received its first performance at St Saviour's Church, St Albans on Saturday.

In the past I have always found Cecilia McDowell's music completely approachable but after Saturday's performance of the new work, Ad Lucem: A Canticle of Light, I was left with the feeling that I needed a second hearing to pass any real judgement.

There was no doubt that the orchestration was positive and it appeared to be clear that the soprano solos, provided by Rebecca Rudge, were bright images of light. Equally the choral parts were relatively complex and while there was an intensity and depth to the piece the abrupt conclusion rather took the audience by surprise.

Concluding the first half was Haydn's Little Organ Mass, a popular, happy work which the choir under its conductor George Vass handled with great confidence. The fine organ parts were excellently performed by the choir's accompanist Richard Harvey.

For me Dona Nobis Pacem by the Lithuanian composer Peteris Vasks was a complete revelation. This finely-constructed work dating from 1996 had tremendous depth and the choir handled its moves between harmony and dissonance with skill.

But for me the great treat of the evening was the final piece of the programme, Gerald Finzi's outstanding work In Terra Pax, which uses the Christmas story of the appearance of the angels to Shepherds from the Gospel of St Luke, in the setting of Robert Bridges' poem Noel: Christmas Eve 1913.

Soloists, baritone Andrew Rupp and soprano Rebecca Rudge, both gave fine performances in the piece and the choir achieved a tremendous bell-like quality demanded by the composer.

For the concert the choir was accompanied by Orchestra Nova who opened the evening with a fine performance of Mozart's Divertimento in F, K138.

The orchestra made up of young professional musicians immediately demonstrated its high standard which it continued to show throughout the evening, particularly in the second half where leading young harpist Suzanne Willison-Kawalec joined them for a performance of Claude Debussy's Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane.

JOHN MANNING

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