In St Albans in April 2011, our 22nd joint concert

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Choirs’ joint concert is perfect pairing

WK and SACC at St Albans Cathedral 30 April 2011
IN more than 40 years of partnership between the St Albans Chamber Choir and the Wormser Kantorei there can have been few joint concerts quite as impressive as their performance in St Albans Abbey on Saturday.
For the first time the two choirs teamed up with the St Albans Symphony Orchestra and the central work of the evening was Ralph Vaughan Williams' epic A Sea Symphony. For any choir and orchestra to reach the standard of performance which was achieved on Saturday would have been tribute enough to the musicians but the fact that the two parts of the choir were rehearsing hundreds of miles apart in St
Albans and its German twin town, Worms, is an even greater tribute to their two conductors, John Gibbons of the Chamber Choir and Stefan Merkelbach of the Kantorei.
Coupled with an excellent performance by the St Albans Symphony Orchestra and outstanding soloists soprano Anna Gorbachyova and baritone Toby Stafford-Allen the evening was one to remember. Vaughan Williams' work, a cross between a symphony and a cantata, has at its heart poems of the American Walter Whitman and throughout, the often deep and brooding music depicts the ever-restless sea and the wind. John Gibbons, who conducted the epic work, constantly ensured that the orchestra never overpowered the singers and achieved a finely balanced overall performance. It is around 30 years since the symphony was performed in St Albans but if anyone wants to hear it again, I understand the members of the Wormser Kantorei were so impressed with it that they have already decided it will be the central work of the joint concert the two choirs will be staging in Worms in 2013
The first half of the concert opened with Alan Rawsthorne's prelude and nocturne written for the 1950's film The Cruel Sea, an all too brief insight into the works of a composer who is yet to achieve the prominence he deserves. Equally Johannes Brahms' quite beautiful Schicksalslied,the piece in the concert chosen by the Wormser Kantorei and conducted by Stefan Merkelbach, is another piece of music worthy of much wider recognition. Rarely heard in this country the work, typically Brahmsian in its style, was, once more, quite exquisitely performed by the orchestra and joint choirs.
John Manning - Herts Advertiser (5 May 2011)

Destiny - People - The Sea

Exciting Partnership Concert in St Albans Cathedral
The partnership between the Wormser Kantorei and the St Albans Chamber Choir, which began more than forty years ago, has developed into a tradition in which friendships and personal relationships have flourished. During their most recent visit to St Albans, the Wormser Kantorei were officially welcomed in the Civic Centre by Robert Donald, a Liberal Democrat Councillor. Hubert Listmann, Chairman of Wormser Kantorei and organiser of the trip expressed thanks for the reception. Ralph Penny, Chairman of St Albans Chamber Choir, echoed similar sentiments during a lively social gathering where everybody enjoyed a delicious buffet. The hosts had organised guided tours of the City and the Cathedral and a day trip to Cambridge and Ely Cathedral. Here the Wormser Kantorei experienced how the English celebrated the Royal Wedding in a Gothic cathedral: with food and drink, souvenir stalls and a huge screen in the Quire showing the beaming Royal Couple, gracefully waving to the crowds, each kiss causing enthusiastic cheer and applause. The key objectives of the week, however, remained the rehearsals and the joint concert in St Albans Abbey.
The concert was an impressive, in parts exciting, event which began with movements from Alan Rawsthorne’s (1905 – 1971) film music The Cruel Sea played by the St Albans Symphony Orchestra and directed by John Gibbons. In Johannes Brahms’ (1833 – 1897) Song of Destiny Stefan Merkelbach conducted the St Albans Chamber Choir, the Wormser Kantorei and the St Albans Symphony Orchestra. The music is based on a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin (1770 to 1843): the blessed Guiding Spirits, existing in Eternal Light, are set against the fate of the suffering people who have no resting place, are thrashing about, are like water thrown from cliff to cliff, falling into the Unknown. As a work from the late Romantic Period it is intensely powerful, its interpretation was deeply moving.
After the interval John Gibbonsconducted A Sea Symphony, a work of four movements by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958). Anna Gorbachyova, a wonderful young soprano and the baritone Toby Stafford-Allen joined the two choirs and the orchestra. The composition unites elements from symphony and oratorio; its text is based on verses by the American poet Walt Whitman. A dramatic brass fanfare opens the first movement dedicated to the “Song for all Seas, all Ships”. The second movement, a Nocturne, conveys “On the Beach at Night, alone” with a great baritone solo. The virtuoso “Scherzo. - The Waves” brings together both choirs and orchestra, depicting the powerful movements of wind and waves and the ships on their routes across the ocean. The final part “The Explorers” reflects on the metaphysical concept of the first two movements. It develops into a breathtaking sound picture with soloists, choirs and orchestra “painting” the “Away”, the hoisting of the anchor, the journey of ships and mariners’ souls into the Unknown, into undefined Time and Space, into Exploration.
The audience in the rich acoustics of the Cathedral rewarded the St Albans Chamber Choir, Wormser Kantorei and St Albans Symphony Orchestra under their conductor John Gibbons with enthusiastic applause. This was a truly captivating and memorable concert made possible through the concord between the two choirs – St Albans Chamber Choir and Wormser Kantorei - whose friendship is a living example of binding nations through the concept of town twinning.
Wormser Zeitung May 2011 (Trans. Dorothee Nauth)


In Worms in April 2009, celebrating 40 years of friendship and joint music-making

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A musical bridge

Important event for the town twinning as 44 guests from St Albans arrive in Worms for a week and to give two concerts
The St Albans Chamber Choir arrived in Worms, a group of 44 guests, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the choir partnership with the Wormser Kantorei. After their own concert in the Liebfrauen Church, the Chamber Choir will perform together with the Wormser Kantorei in the Trinity Church. In the town hall Mayor Georg Büttler welcomed the 44 British choir members as well as their German hosts. Büttler stressed in his speech the choir partnership between the Chamber Choir and the Wormser Kantorei as one of the pillars in the town twinning Worms and St Albans. The choirs’ partnership has been in existence for 40 years and therefore celebrates a big anniversary this year. The connection between the two choirs has not only generated numerous deep friendships, but also a German / British marriage. Dorothee Nauth from Worms and Michael Bacon from St Albans met in 1991 when the Wormser Kantorei visited St Albans; they are now a married couple and live in Watford near St Albans. Of course they are still active and enthusiastic members of the Chamber Choir and were amongst the guests in the town hall. Mayor Büttler emphasised in his speech Hubert Listmann’s contribution to the town twinning as well as the choirs’ partnership. Later on Büttler talked proudly about the Rhineland – Palatinate Cultural Summer which opens in May in Worms under the title Cool Britannia.
Gernot Kirch
Wormser Zeitung, 18 April 2009 [Translation by Dorothee Nauth]
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Melodies float through space

St Albans Chamber Choir at the Liebfrauenkirche 15 April 2009
The partnership between the Wormser Kantorei and the St Albans Chamber Choir, characterised by a lively exchange, has lasted for forty years. On the occasion of the anniversary the English choir has travelled once more to Worms, to engage in combined music-making and to keep up old friendships. Before both choirs give a combined concert this Saturday, the St Albans Chamber Choir gave an impressive performance in the Liebfrauenkirche. As Monsignore Manfred Simon said in his welcoming address, a concert given in the Liebrauenkirche during their stay has become a tradition close to the hearts of the congregation. This time the ensemble presented a cross-section through its many-faceted repertoire, which ranged from the Renaissance until the present day.
The first piece, Henryk Gorécki’s setting of Totus Tuus, left an extraordinary impression on the listener. The singers began with a powerful forte, then suddenly became so quiet that one almost imagined the sound rather than actually hearing it. The sound rose to a radiant intensity with the repeated cries of Maria, Maria, before ebbing breathlessly away. Jan Sandström’s arrangement of the carol Es ist ein Ros entsprungen proved to be equally fascinating. A semi-chorus of four intoned the chorale at a very measured pace from the far end of the chancel, while the rest of the choir added ethereal chords, which created a peaceful atmosphere despite modern harmonies with occasional grating dissonances.
Giovanni Palestrina’s Exsultate Deo went at a rather hectic pace, but conductor John Gibbons held his singers together long enough for a sense of the Italian master’s wealth of melodic ideas to come through. This came across even more so with the Ave Virgo Sanctissima from the pen of Francisco Guerrero. The motet drew its life above all from the contrapuntal dialogue between the women’s voices, which here had an especially full sound. Although the beginning of Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque was slightly marred by occasional insecurities of intonation, this work went on to develop into a very worthwhile “listening experience”. The delicate harmonies – so delicate as to appear fragile - seemed to float through the nave. The audience showed its appreciation for the choir and conductor’s notable achievement with standing applause. There was praise for the very varied programme, highlighting the works of less well-known composers.
Gunter Weigand
Wormser Zeitung 17 April 2009 [Translation by Abi Kirk]
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Partnership concert in a packed church

SACC and WK at the Dreifaltigskeitskirche 18 April 2009
St Albans Chamber Choir and Wormser Kantorei celebrated their 40th twinning anniversary in a joint concert in Trinity Church led by their conductors John Gibbons and Stefan Merkelbach and supported by the Kurpfalz Philharmonic Orchestra Heidelberg. Of course it was “more” than just a subscription concert. On Saturday evening St Albans Chamber Choir performed in the Trinity Church. The guests from Great Britain had gladly accepted the Worms invitation to celebrate – at the same time - the 40th anniversary of the Choir's partnership with the Wormser Kantorei. This partnership was founded in 1969 by Richard Stangroom and Prof. Tobias Ihle. To this extent of course the hosts also joined in as did the Kurpfalz Philharmonic Orchestra Heidelberg to provide the instrumental accompaniment.
The two conductors took an equal and friendly share in waving the baton on the night. With George Dyson’s In Honour of the City the English guests paid their respects to their capital. Toward the Unknown Region by Ralph Vaughan Williams and a series of songs from Sea Pictures led to the end of the first part of the evening. Marie-Belle Sandis, who for five years has been a member of the Mannheim National Theatre, was the soloist in Elgar’s song cycle Sea Pictures. Her rich and warm alto voice beautifully “painted” the chosen images of In Haven, Sabbath Morning at Sea and The Swimmer.
After the interval outstanding voices and elated instruments presented – intentionally - a very different concert. Stefan Merkelbach presented texts from the Daumer collection – put to music in the Love Song Waltzes by Brahms followed by Schubert’s Incidental Music Rosamunde – Duchess of Cyprus, based on the marvellously trivial texts by Helmina von Chézy. Spurned when they were first written, today they are basking again in filled concert halls – or churches as it were – to benevolent audiences.
Rudolf Uhrig
Nibelungen Kurier, 22 April 2009 (Translation by Dorothee Nauth)