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Society gives voice to historic summer celebrations

St Albans Choral Society is adding its voice to this summer’s patriotic celebrations with a concert of great English music on Saturday 30th June at 7.30pm in St Peter’s Church.

With Britons toasting the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Society’s music director George Vass chose a programme of choral pieces by the popular contemporary composers John Rutter and Bob Chilcott, along with 19th and 20th century works by Charles Hubert Parry and Herbert Howells.

“This feast of English church music is our tribute to Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne and Britain’s hosting of the Olympics this summer,” said Mr Vass. “We hope for a big audience at St Peter’s to enjoy this celebration with us.”

The works capture a range of moods, from the meditative longing of Howells’ Like as the hart to the Victorian pomp of Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens. The latter is set to John Milton’s ode to Voice and Verse, who perform their heavenly harmonies “with saintly shout and solemn jubilee”.

The concert, with Orchestra Nova Ensemble, organist Richard Harvey and soloists Alexandra Kidgell and Christopher Bowen, will open with Rutter’s setting of the Te Deum, written in 1988. The final work will be Chilcott’s Requiem, premiered in 2010, whose seven movements encompass a solemn Introit and Kyrie, a syncopated Sanctus, a beautiful setting of the prayer Thou Knowest Lord, and a final, uplifting Lux Aeterna.

Tickets, priced £17 and £15 (with concessions) and £1 for children, are available from SACS ticket line on 07884 231958, online at, or at the door.

Messiah Review

Here is a link to the wonderful review we received in the Herts Advertiser for our Messiah performance in St Albans Abbey on the 21st April 2012


Society's Messiah "a popular hit"

A near capacity audience enjoyed an impressive and "meticulously rehearsed" performance of Handel's Messiah by St Albans Choral Society in the Abbey on 21st April, writes reviewer Mary Cook in the Herts Advertiser.

The compelling performance "demonstrated how far this choir has developed since George Vass took over as music director, to become one of the leading groups in the area", she said. "That such a large choir was able to maintain a bright, rhythmic drive was impressive."

The full review can be viewed by right-clicking on the link below and either opening or saving it.


"Confident and moving" performance - Herts Advertiser

St Albans Choral Society gave a "confident and moving rendition" of Cecilia McDowall's cantata Ave Maris Stella at its autumn concert on 15 October, according to reviewer Mary Cook in the Herts Advertiser newspaper.

The choir is celebrating the 60th birthday year of the leading British composer, with whom it has a special association.

The Herts Ad review praised the skill of the Society's music director, George Vass, in putting together a programme of McDowall, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn which played to the choir's strengths. Soprano soloist Marianne Cotterill sang with "touching simplicity" in the McDowall and "impressed with unforced high notes in the cadenza" of Haydn's Ave Regina in A.

The full review, under the heading "Society keeps its composure", can be read by opening the attached PDF.

At its forthcoming Christmas concert, on Sunday 11 December in Marlborough Road Methodist Church, the choir will give a performance of McDowall’s renowned cantata Christus Natus Est, which it first performed in 2002.

Vass commented that McDowall’s music has a simple beauty. “As a singer herself, she really knows how to write for voices and does so quite wonderfully,” he said. “In all the time I have conducted her music, I don’t think I’ve found a single singer who hasn’t found her music rewarding.”

Girls' choir joins Society for Christmas concert

St Albans Choral Society will be joined by the Junior Choir of St Albans High School for Girls at its annual family concert of music, readings and carols to start the Christmas season at 7pm on Sunday 11th December in Marlborough Road Methodist Church.

The girls of the Junior Choir, aged nine to 11, (pictured) will help to put the audience in festive mood with four songs including All Over the World by Mary Donnelly and by Alan Simmons.

The concert, under music director George Vass, will feature music old and new. Alongside favourite traditional carols such as Ding Dong Merrily on High, the Society’s singers will perform the beautiful cantata Christus Natus Est by Cecilia McDowall, its composer-in-association.

Accompanied by organist Richard Harvey, the choral society will also perform new carols by contemporary composers Matthew Owens, Bob Chilcott, Thomas Hewitt-Jones and John Rutter. Members of the society will entertain the audience with a series of readings, and the public will be invited to join in some of the best-known carols. Interval refreshments will be served in aid of charity.

Tickets £12, £1 for children, are available from SACS Ticket Line 07884 231958, online at, or at the door.

'Thrilling' concert reviewed by Herts Advertiser

Our October 2010 concert of Britten, McDowall and Vivaldi was positively reviewed by the Herts Advertiser under the headline 'Sacred setting for society's sparkling symphonies'.

Reviewer Mary Cook wrote that 'the choir is always exhilarating when in full flow'. She described 'a spirited rendering' of Vivaldi's famous Gloria and said the choir coped confidently with the changes in rhythm in Cecilia McDowall's Magnificat, producing a thrilling climax before the quieter central section.

Here is the full review, from the Herts Advertiser, 4 Nov 2010: 

ARRIVING in good time last Saturday evening for the first of four concerts in the St Albans Choral Society’s new season, I had the chance to take in the lovely interior of St Saviour’s Church which was the perfect setting in which to enjoy an evening consisting mostly of sacred choral music.

 The 18 members of Orchestra Nova under the baton of George Vass opened the programme with a sparkling performance of Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony. The fine musicians of Orchestra Nova under the leadership on this occasion of Alexandra Wood romped through the Boisterous Bourée and Playful Pizzicato with ease, after which the serene ending of the Sentimental Sarabande was particularly affecting. The Frolicsome Finale brought the work to an exciting and jolly close. 

St Albans Choral Society is fortunate to have as its composer in association Cecilia McDowall, two of whose works were either first performed or commissioned by the Society. 

The Magnificat was commissioned by Finchley Choral Society in 2003 for its centenary celebrations and is a hymn of thanksgiving using words found in St Luke’s Gospel attributed to the Virgin Mary – My soul doth magnify the Lord. McDowall’s setting opens with an orchestral prelude which sets the tonal palette of the piece and gathers momentum as it leads into the first choral section.

The choir coped confidently with the changes in rhythm and produced a thrilling climax before the quieter central section. Soprano Nicola Stonehouse brought a clarity of tone and grace to her solo, Ecce enim, with its quirky rocking rhythms, although a little more eye contact with her audience would have added a greater emotional dimension. 

In the Quia fecit mihi magna section, the choir eloquently sustained the long legato lines over an accompaniment containing a little repeated two-note motif which is then taken up by the inner voice parts before returning to the quieter mood of the opening. Mezzo Michelle Harris brought a warmth and humanity to the Et misericordia and really connected with her audience. Her strong but never strident tones carried well in the generous acoustics. The two solo voices blended effectively in the duet Fecit potentiam with its overlapping entries clearly articulated. 

This duet leads straight into the final section Deposuit potentes which refers back to the musical material in the opening movement. The entries could have been more sharply defined but the choir is always exhilarating when in full flow and they brought the work to a triumphant close. Conductor George Vass rightly acknowledged the individual instrumentalists who had an integral part in this work. 

The second half of the programme was devoted to a performance of Vivaldi’sGloria, a joyful work and one of three settings by this composer of which only two survive. The choir gave a spirited rendering of this work, producing a warm and balanced sound. But the music of Vivaldi above all needs extra energy and vibrancy which was forthcoming from the orchestra but not always from the choir. 

The two soprano soloists excelled in the Laudamus te with entries that chase each other and then come together in joyous harmony. The Dominus deus for soprano and oboe obbligato was beautifully phrased but most moving was the Domine deus, agnus dei in which Michelle Harris conveyed the intensity of this plea for forgiveness, sentiments gently echoed by the choir. 

The final Cum sancto spiritu is a fugue which relies on strong entries from all parts. The choir and musicians rose to the occasion and brought the evening to a thrilling close.

 This was an encouraging start to a season which includes a work by the successful young British composer Tarik O’Regan, and culminates next July in a joint venture with the Bushey Symphony Orchestra and Canterbury Choir in Verdi’s intensely dramatic Requiem.


Mary Cook Review .pdf

Choir on Top Form - Herts Advertiser

St Albans Choral Society was 'on top form' for its concert on Saturday 2 April in St Paul's Church, according to the Herts Advertiser newspaper.

Reviewer Mary Cook said the performances of music by Josef Haydn, Gustav Holst and contemporary composer Tarik O'Regan produced an exciting musical feast. The choir gave a confident performance of O'Regan's Triptych, with its tricky harmonies and changes of rhythm, and produced warm tones and spirited singing in Haydn's beautiful Maria Theresa Mass.

'Together with their regular ensemble – the superb Orchestra Nova (including on this occasion two members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra) – and four experienced soloists, the society’s music director George Vass produced a mouth-watering programme of music in contrasting styles,' wrote Cook.

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