Season 2016-17

John Gibbons conductor

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Our 2016–17 concert season offers a wide range of exciting and beautiful music. We begin in October with some of the greatest music written for choir and wind orchestra, while in January we offer a programme of choral masterpieces written by some of the greatest modern French and Swiss composers. In March we move to the Renaissance for a feast of Italian and Spanish music, notably including Allegri’s Miserere, as well as works by the globe-trotting Orlando di Lasso. Following Easter we have our biennial Exchange with our German friends, the Wormser Kantorei, this time involving two concerts in Worms. Back home, as a light-hearted finale to the season, our July concert combines early and modern compositions devoted to the natural world, including two settings of St Francis’s words and very modern works devoted to birds, Jonathan Dove’s Who Killed Cock Robin? and Karl Jenkins’s Parliament of Owls.
Tickets £15 (£5 child/student)

Tel 07570 454744 or email

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Saturday 1 July 2017 at 7.30pm

St Saviour’s Church

St Albans AL1 4DF

Jonathan Dove Who killed Cock Robin?

William Walton Cantico del sole

Eric Whitacre The seal lullaby

Karl Jenkins A parliament of owls

Carl Orff Laudes creaturarum

Orlando Gibbons The silver swan

and works by Janequin, Poulenc, Banchieri and Monteverdi

plus Orff (Carmina Burana extracts)

with Nick Robinson piano

conducted by John Gibbons

An owl, a swan, a beetle and a seal are among the many creatures present, sometimes in great numbers, in this concert of music celebrating the natural world

Stories abound of St Francis of Assisi talking to birds and animals. We sing two settings of his hymn in praise of God’s creation – Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures) (1954) by Carl Orff and the Cantico del Sole (Canticle of the Sun) (1974) by William Walton – and also the Quatre Petites Prières de Saint François d’Assise (1948) by Francis Poulenc.
Thirteenth-century poetry found in a Benedictine monastery is set by Carl Orff in his famous cantata Carmina Burana (1936). It includes songs celebrating the joyous face of Spring and the forest flowers.
But all is not well. Who killed Cock Robin? The birds and animals discuss the funeral arrangements for the murdered robin in this 1995 setting of the nursery rhyme by Jonathan Dove.
The English language contains many beautiful and evocative collective nouns for birds and beasts, including ‘a gaggle of geese’, ‘a piteousness of doves’, and ‘an ostentation of peacocks’, imaginatively set to music in A Parliament of Owls (2010) by Karl Jenkins.
We meet another owl in Contrapunto bestiale alla mente (1608) by Adriano Banchieri, along with a cuckoo, a cat and a dog, while nightingales feature in two songs: Dolcissimo usignolo (Sweetest nightingale) (1638), an early Baroque madrigal by Claudio Monteverdi and Le chant des oiseaux (1529) by Clément Janequin, in which the birds celebrate the reawakening of the earth from its winter slumber.
A poem from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling provided the inspiration for The Seal Lullaby (2004) by Eric Whitacre, while The Silver Swan (1612) – the most famous madrigal written by Orlando Gibbons – presents the legend that a swan only sings just before its death.
Please join us afterwards for drinks and party nibbles in the church hall
Tickets £15 (£5 child/student)

April 2017 – Concerts in Worms, Germany

Miserere – Renaissance Masters, Wednesday 19 April 2017, Liebfrauenkirche, Worms, Germany.

A programme of Renaissance classics from our March concert including Gregorio Allegri Miserere, Antonio Lotti Crucifixus, Giovanni da Palestrina Stabat mater dolorosa, Tomas Luis de Victoria Missa Salve Regina and works by Orlande de Lassus.

Haydn and Jenkins, Saturday 22 April 2017, Dreifaltigkeitskirche, Worms, Germany

The biannual concert with the Wormser Kantorei will feature the Theresienmesse by Joseph Haydn, and Requiem by Karl Jenkins.

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===Saturday 4 March 2017 at7.30pm===

St Saviour’s Church

St Albans AL1 4DF

Gregorio Allegri Miserere

Antonio Lotti Crucifixus

Antonio Caldara Crucifixus

Giovanni da Palestrina Stabat mater dolorosa

Tomas Luis de Victoria Missa Salve Regina

and works by Orlande de Lassus

with Lynda Sayce lute

conducted by John Gibbons

Choral masterworks for Holy Week and Easter by the principal composers of Renaissance Europe are brought together in this concert.
The legendary Miserere by Gregorio Allegri (c. 1582-1652) with its mixture of plainsong and glorious ornamentation is arguably the most famous piece of music composed for the Sistine Chapel Choir in the Vatican. Transcribing it or performing it elsewhere was prohibited by the Pope on pain of excommunication but the fourteen-year-old Mozart on a visit to Rome in 1770 is said to have written it down from memory and allowed it to be published. Felix Mendelssohn later transcribed it a fourth higher – producing the famous top Cs sung by a soprano soloist – and his version has become one we sing today.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594) was one of the most prolific and highly acclaimed musicians of the sixteenth century whose work is seen as setting the standard for Renaissance polyphony. The intricate Stabat Mater dolorosa for double choir, also written for the Sistine Chapel, has many changes of rhythm and mood to describe Mary’s suffering at the foot of the Cross.
The Flemish composer Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594) spent his early years travelling widely in Italy and his last thirty years working in Munich for the Dukes of Bavaria. His hymn for Easter Morning Aurora lucis rutilat (The dawn glows with rosy light) describes the rejoicing of heaven and earth and the wailing and moaning of hell as the victor Christ surges forth from the grave. Lassus extended this sound world into the Magnificat octavi toni super Aurora lucis rutilat to produce a spectacular display of choral fireworks.
Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611) was born and died in Spain but between 1567 and 1587 lived and worked in Rome. He devoted his life to the church and wrote only sacred music influenced by the Italian style but uniquely Spanish. His beautiful Missa Salve Regina for unaccompanied double choir was written in Madrid in 1592.
The Baroque composers Antonio Lotti (1667-1740) and Antonio Caldara (c.1670-1736) were choristers together at St Mark’s Basilica in Venice and later composed many operas for the royal courts of Italy, Spain and Germany. Their dramatic settings of the Crucifixus from the Credo of the Mass use rising suspensions to create a mood of tension and anguish.

The French Connection
The French Connection
Saturday 21 January 2017 at7.30pm

St Peter’s Church

St Albans AL1 3HG

Frank Martin Mass for Double Choir

Jean Langlais Messe solennelle

and works by Messiaen, Poulenc and Rütti

with Tom Winpenny organ

conducted by John Gibbons

The centrepiece of this exploration of choral gems by 20th and 21st Century French and Swiss composers is the Mass for Double Choir by the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890 -1974). Martin was an intensely self-critical composer and withheld this piece from public performance for nearly forty years, saying it was “a matter between God and myself”. Since its first performance in 1963, it has become recognised as one of the great masterpieces of unaccompanied choral music, displaying an intense combination of austere spirituality and joyous exuberance.
Jean Langlais (1907-1991) and Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) were fellow students at the Paris Conservatoire in the late 1920s. Langlais’ Messe solennelle (1949) for choir and organ is said to be his finest piece of church music, combining elements of plainsong with dissonant counterpoint and rich chromatic harmony. Messiaen’s setting of the Communion motet O sacrum convivium (1937) is a rapt, slow-moving meditation for unaccompanied choir which displays his highly individual approach to harmonic colour, melody and rhyme.
Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) felt that he had “put the best and most genuine part of myself” into his sacred choral music. O magnum mysterium, composed in 1952, is one of his settings of four traditional Christmas texts and is characterised by its great beauty, excitement and eccentricity.
Vocalised bird calls have been ingeniously incorporated into a sumptuous setting of the Nunc dimittis by modern-day Swiss composer Carl Rütti (b. 1949), inspired by the reference in St Luke’s Gospel to two sacrificial turtledoves. He says of this piece that “the choral sound represents the light the aged Simeon predicted”.

angel trumpet
angel trumpet
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===Saturday 22 October 2016 at 7.30pm===

St Saviour’s Church

St Albans AL1 4DF

Anton Bruckner Mass in E minor

Igor Stravinsky Mass for choir, woodwind & brass

Edmund Rubbra Veni Creator Spiritus

with the City Wind Ensemble

conducted by John Gibbons

Angel Voices explores the extraordinary sonorities of a choir combined with woodwind and brass instruments.
The concert will feature the work of three contrasting composers: humble, unworldly Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) from Austria, sophisticated Russian-French-American Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and acclaimed British musician Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986). All three were profoundly devout and strove to make church music clear and straightforward to sing, and separate from any theatrical religious celebration.
Bruckner’s Mass No 2 in E Minor for eight- part choir and wind ensemble is warm and expressive, containing echoes of Palestrina’s Missa brevis (1570) and Wagner’s Tristanund Isolde (1857-9). Written in 1866 as a commission for the Bishop of Linz for the consecration of the new Votive Chapel at Linz Cathedral, its first performance took place in the open air, which led Bruckner to choose woodwind and brass rather than string-based accompaniment.
Stravinsky described his Mass for Mixed Chorus and Wind Instruments, one of his most beautiful compositions, as “very cold music, absolutely cold, that will appeal directly to the spirit”. It was composed between 1944 and 1948 while Stravinsky was living in California, in reaction to his discovery in a second-hand bookstore of some Mozart masses. He wrote: “As I played through these rococo-operatic sweets-of-sin, I knew I had to write a Mass of my own, but a real one.” In this piece, he combines the ancient musical languages of both the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church to great effect.
Rubbra too had a deep knowledge and understanding of Renaissance and Eastern music which gave his work an individual spiritual dimension. His Veni, creator Spiritus, a motet for four-part choir and brass, was first performed at a Promenade concert in 1966 conducted by Malcolm Arnold. It is both solemn and colourful, with resonances of Stravinsky’s work.
The choir will be accompanied by an ensemble comprising two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets and three trombones, and conducted by the chamber choir’s Musical Director, John Gibbons.