Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony – among the greatest and most uplifting of all classical compositions – comes to St Albans Cathedral on Saturday March 7th (7.30pm) in a double bill with another of his best-loved works, the Piano Concerto No 4.
The performance by St Albans Symphony Orchestra is set to provide the rousing conclusion to a cycle of the great German composer’s last five symphonies that their conductor, Bjorn Bantock, started in 2011.
The orchestra has decided that the long-planned concert, staged in partnership with the Hertfordshire Chorus, should be dedicated to the memory of its former chairman, Kieran McGuirk, who died from a rare eye cancer last September, aged 65.Bjorn Bantock said: “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with its exultant choral setting of Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’, is beyond argument some of the most marvellous music ever written. It has inspired generations for nearly 200 years and in our own time was memorably played to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“It was written in scarcely imaginable adversity at a time when Beethoven was almost entirely deaf. Yet the results are astonishing. There is no better work we could have chosen to remember Kieran, who made an outstanding contribution to the life and success of our orchestra.”
In addition to the large choir, prepared for their performance by music director David Temple, the Choral Symphony features four award-winning solo singers. Soprano Erica Eloff is a past winner of the London Handel Competition who has sung with orchestras in opera and in recital around the world. Susan Legg, singing mezzo soprano, has won the National Mozart Singing Competition and sung at London’s top recital venues, as well as in opera at Aldeburgh, Bayreuth, Glyndebourne and Wexford .
Tenor Mark Chaundy is a winner of the National Federation of Music Societies Award, has twice reached the final in the Young Welsh Singers competition and performed with Welsh National Opera as an associate artist. The quartet is completed by Njabulo Madlala, a baritone from South Africa, whose musical journey has taken him from an impoverished township outside Durban to acclaim in the UK where he is a Britten-Pears Young Artist and holder of a Young Kathleen Ferrier Bursary.
The concert will open with the G-major piano concerto, composed a decade and a half before the Choral Symphony, is full of lyrical charm. But it remains radical in its manipulation of musical structure, key changes and harmony.
The soloist, Mark Nixon, has won numerous awards since graduating from the Amsterdam Conservatory and the Guildhall School in London. He has performed with orchestras in Britain, the Netherlands and his native South Africa. As a recitalist he has appeared at London’s Purcell Room and the Wigmore Hall and has released recordings as both a solo pianist and accompanist.