St Albans Chamber Choir - The French Connection

Frank Martin Mass for Double Choir 

Jean Langlais Messe solennelle 

Works by Messiaen, Poulenc and Rütti with Tom Winpenny on the organ and conducted by John Gibbons.

Tickets £15 (£5 child/student). To book: Tel 07570 454744; email; online directly at, or via website

St Albans Chamber Choir is a registered charity no. 280876.

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 rst 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 nest 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 sacri cial turtledoves. He says of this piece that “the choral sound represents the light the aged Simeon predicted”. 

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