A truly memorable season!
Well, that was certainly a season to remember.
Even before we started in earnest, last September around 50 of us joined with several other choirs for a BBC recording of the Big Sing in the Albert Hall.
Thoroughly enjoyable but exhausting, we were there from 12.30 until 9.30 in the evening, during which we rehearsed, then went into two recording sessions. One was for a programme broadcast a month or so later in October, and for the other, we had to transport ourselves into Christmas mood for a programme which was broadcast on Christmas Day. The evening closed with a re-take of "For unto us" from the Messiah.
Our November concert consisted of the Bach Magnificat and the Mozart Requiem. Bach is always a sheer joy to sing. The energy of the Magnificat is quite incredible and requires a lot of vocal agility in several movements, but one of my favourite movements was the Gloria Patri. Block chords alternate and contrast with triplets which build and entwine amongst the 5 parts into a truly glorious sound!
For me, and probably a good few other choir members, the Mozart Requiem brought back many vivid memories of our first foreign tour, when we performed it in the Rudolfinum in Prague in 2008. From the brooding intensity of the opening to the searing emotion of the Lacrymosa this is always a uniquely moving work to sing.
I was reminded of a conversation I had with one of the altos during that tour, whose close friend's son had very recently been killed, only a week or so into his deployment to Afghanistan. That made it an incredibly poignant work to be performing.
Fantastic though the Autumn concert was, we had a rare treat in store for us in the Spring term, in the Dvořák Stabat Mater. Few if any of us had heard it before, but what a revelation! Exploring the thoughts and emotions of Mary as she stood watching her Son die an excruciating death on the cross, and set to music of remarkable intensity, we were unable to imagine how such a gem of a work had lain dormant for so long - the choir last performed it in 1938!
Such a little known work attracted a smaller than normal audience, but Andrew led us through an intense performance that will live in our memories for a long time, as also in the memories of the audience.
Of course, we all love the Messiah and most of us had sung it a number of times before. But our Summer concert, as part of the International Organ Festival turned out to be anything but "just another Messiah". We were to perform it under the baton of Laurence Cummings, Musical Director of the London Handel Festival and a leading baroque exponent, and with the London Handel Festival Orchestra and superb soloists.
Laurence had sent us some 50 pages of markings to add to our scores, which included some remarkably brisk metronome marks that surprised many of us.
But when Laurence joined us for rehearsal a week before the concert, suddenly it all made sense under his wonderfully insightful direction. The sheer energy of the performance was electrifying and was met by rapturous applause from the audience.
In "All we like sheep" it was as though the sheep were scuttling in all directions like ants on a hot tin roof, yet the concluding Adagio to that movement was heart-rending in its pathos and intensity. A similar contrast came out in reverse in "Since by man came death", with every eye needing to watch the baton like a hawk in the contrasting allegro sections. When it came to the Hallelujah Chorus we threw everything we had at it and a bit more, and the finality of the "Amen" on the closing page of the work felt like it could have settled the disputes of the entire world!
That will indeed be a hard season to follow, but a good bunch of us look forward to starting the new season with another Big Sing in the Albert Hall before getting down to work on the Brahms Requiem - yet another favourite.
Philip Le Riche
(Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect an official St Albans Bach Choir view.)