For most us, it would seem, Christmas all too often conjures up the bleaker side of Rossetti’s midwinter – a storm-tossed sea of never-ending ‘final’ shopping, present-hunting, fraught last-minute travel worries and family tension. Yet, thank goodness, there does exist another side to the season, as perfectly exemplified in St Chad’s church last Friday, when a packed audience was treated to a quite stunning and uplifting choral recital, given by one of the country’s most acclaimed ensembles, Ex Cathedra. Jeffrey Skidmore’s subtle helmsmanship steered us out of the shoals into less choppy waters, where quiet calm, dignity and sheer beauty cast a magic spell.
The wide-ranging choice of carols (all sung unaccompanied in the candle-lit church) spanned the early medieval period (primitive at times, folk-like and rhythmically powerful) right through to several contemporary carols commissioned by the choir, interspersed with several that were popular and much-loved. Jeffrey Skidmore, rightly renowned for his exemplary programme notes, imaginative programming and presentation, used the dramatic properties of the building to wonderful effect, and St Chad’s renowned acoustic played its own special and invaluable part, adding warmth and spaciousness to the harmonies, be they simple or clustered. The several well-chosen readings were read with refreshing expertise.
And the singing! Perfect intonation, exquisite dynamic control and balance, and faultless choreography: humour, tenderness, simplicity and complexity – all underpinned by the deepest possible artistry and musicality to create for all present a welcome, unforgettable oasis of spiritual respite and delight. Long may the Shropshire Music Trust afford us such treasures!