St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury, is the perfect venue for the annual visit of Ex Cathedra. This Birmingham-based choir, led by their founder Jeffrey Skidmore, delighted the large audience with the programme “Christmas Music by Candlelight” on Friday, 2nd December 2022. The audience also gave a warm welcome to an invited group of refugees.
The event, promoted by Shropshire Music Trust, had all the characteristics which have delighted music lovers over several years; there is a degree of theatricality, especially in the entrances and exits of the singers, each holding a candle which sets the magical atmosphere in the darkened church. The processional entrance, with the singing coming from afar, was accompanied by a single drum; this was a truly theatrical moment and the singers adopted their places in an elegant, choreographed way. And then, of course, there is the singing!
It's no exaggeration to describe the choir’s performance as miraculous. There were ecstatic moments of solo singing, particularly from some of the sopranos; the sopranos together, in the upper register, though every section of the choir sang beautifully. Their attention to detail, to each other, and their penetration to the very heart of the music combined to make this a memorable evening.
The first half consisted of many familiar, well-loved items; Ralph Vaughan Williams appeared on the list twice, along with Bruckner, Byrd and a lovely arrangement of Adolphe Adam’s; “O holy night”. As always there were some fine readings ranging from Jeanette Winterson’s; “The Lion, the Unicorn and Me” to the Magnificat from St Lukes’s gospel and a poignant; “White wine in the sun” by Tim Minchin. The first half ended with the evening’s most theatrical moment; “O Clavis David” a work which traces its roots back to the Old Testament and freedom from slavery. This was also a brilliantly choreographed departure from the church, leaving a solo soprano to end the work; it was wonderful.
Jeffrey Skidmore pursues an admirable policy of encouraging living composers including Alec Roth and Liz Dilnot Johnson plus Eriks Esenvalds. Some of Mr Skidmore’s arrangements of traditional music as well as compositions by Poulenc and John Taverner were featured in the second half; as always the performances were beyond criticism though perhaps a little more variation in mood and tempi might have been welcome. It would be invidious – nay impossible – to select a high point of the evening though the final choral work, “How shall I fitly meet thee?” by JS Bach was sublime.
This was a wonderful evening; Ex Cathedra have a unique talent for dispelling the woes of the world; we will look forward to their concert in the summer.