Pure and ethereal, the voices of Ex Cathedra filled St. Chad’s Church as they made their dignified way into the body of this beautiful venue. So began Ex Cathedra’s “Christmas Music by Candlelight” a most welcome part of Shrewsbury’s impressive return to live music and a triumph for Shopshire Music Trust who were rewarded with a capacity audience.
The programme was expertly planned both for the breadth of music and the variety of readings; all selected to emphasise the need for love and hope. The choir were in magnificent form from the depths of the basses to the stratospheric heights of the sopranos who filled the very heights of the church. We heard old favourites like “Away in a manger”, “The Coventry Carol” and “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day”. More recent works included “A shepherd’s carol” in which Alec Roth set the words of George Herbert, whose poem “The call” was the final reading. “Blake reimagined” by Liz Dilnot Johnson included the words of Jerusalem.
The technical excellence of this choir, conducted by its founder Geoffrey Skidmore and Associate Conductor Quintin Beer, is breath-taking yet technique is always at the service of the music. In every work they penetrate to the very heart of the glorious sound they create. This is as true of the works already mentioned as of several lively pieces of Latin American music which set toes tapping.
The choice of readings was inspired, from Laurie Lee to the well-known passage from Corinthians extolling the need for love. The novelist Vikram Seth provided a translation of some 4th century BC sayings of Buddha. But the last word must go to the music for the chorale from the “Christmas Oratorio”: It was sublime, followed by a rollocking, lengthy version of “Auld Lang Syne”.
This was a wonderful evening of music; every superlative seems inadequate.