Ex Cathedra’s Christmas choral event, “Christmas by Candlelight”, is always an eagerly awaited programme in the calendar of Shropshire Music Trust. As usual, the 2018 concert was held in St. Chad’s Church, a setting which offers Jeffrey Skidmore and his singers a fine acoustic.
We were offered the familiar blend of something old, something new, well-chosen readings all delivered with style and enthusiasm. One work which provided a blend of old and new was the carol by A.C. Adam, “Minuit, Chretiens” – perhaps better known as “O, holy night” which was sung to a jazz-influenced arrangement. The singing here, as throughout the evening, was superb. The stratospheric voices of the sopranos were never less than exquisitely beautiful while at the other end of the vocal spectrum the basses thrilled with a sonorous, organ-like sound.
The soloists were on fine form; Imogen Russell, a soprano who is an Ex Cathedra scholar making her public debut with the ensemble, sang “Coventry Carol” beautifully. The same was true of her fellow soprano Angela Hicks, an experienced soprano who soloed in “Stars”, a composition by Erik Esenvalds dating from 1977.
The programme celebrated both the centenary of female suffrage and the same anniversary of the armistice which ended in 1918, including a marching song sung in the trenches. On several numbers Mr. Skidmore added a minimalist percussion pulse which emphasised the superbly rhythmic singing.
This was an evening to cherish; much of the music was spine-tingling but the final choral work, “How shall I fitly meet thee” by JS Bach was a profoundly spiritual moment. It was sublime, though we loved the dancing vitality of “We wish you a happy Christmas” with which Ex Cathedra signed off.