2023-24 Concert Reviews

A view of Jeffrey Skidmore and the candelit Ex Cathedra from the gallery at St Chad's Church

For their final event of the 2023-2024 season, Shropshire Music Trust presented a 40th Anniversary Gala Concert. St Chad’s Church was the beautiful venue for this event on Friday 14th June and the music was provided by Birmingham-based choir Ex Cathedra plus two special guests – of whom more later.

Ex Cathedra are always welcome in Shrewsbury; under their inspirational conductor Jeffrey Skidmore, their founder and director the chorus produces music of the very highest quality. There’s no place for ego centric performance; rather every section from the warm, vibrant basses to the stratospheric security of the sopranos contributes to the integrity of the music and in doing so invite the audience into sharing the love and respect for music.

And what a range of music! From 6th-century plainchant, an example of ethereal beauty to such 20th-century jollity like ‘Summer Holiday’ or ‘La Mer’, every note was delivered with passion and accuracy. The church resounded to the glorious sound.

The first half struck an ornithological note (no pun intended) with works including ‘The Windhover’, in which the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins was set by Liz Dilnot Johnson. Liz was a very welcome member of the audience for this intensely moving work.

The swallow, the swan and the cuckoo all received honourable musical mentions and the two well-chosen readings were perfect for the programme, especially ‘Caged Bird’ by Maya Angelou; the bird’s yearning for freedom struck a political note.

Una stands playing the violin whilst Edward is seated playing the pianoTo conclude the first half and open the second Una Pavlovic-Alldridge and Edward Harris-Brown, on violin and piano respectively, played the 3rd and 4th movements of the violin  sonata by César Franck. This was a fine, romantic performance by two 17-year-olds from Shrewsbury who are currently students at Chetham’s School of Music; they are clearly talents to watch out for. After the interval they played one of Edward’s compositions, a sonata entitled ‘Hommage a Prokofiev’. This is a mature work in which both composition and performance truly captured the essence of Prokofiev: the spiky rhythms, dynamic contrasts, the subtle irony and rapid changes of mood were features of this exciting work.

Like the first half the second gave us the opportunity to appreciate the arranging skills of Jeffrey Skidmore; I appreciated ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler?’ because l was a huge fan of ‘Dad’s Army’. This was Jeffrey’s tribute to Ian Lavender, aka Pike, who was head boy of Jeffrey’s school. The second half opened and closed with compositions by Alec Roth, a long-time contributor to the work of Ex Cathedra. The famous passage from Ecclesiastes was the opener and deeply moving. It set the mood for some reflections on time and mortality; the penultimate work was a 7th-century prayer for the end of the day before we heard Alec Roth’s beautiful setting of ‘The Night Prayer’. It was a serene ending to a wonderful concert.

Andrew Petch

© 2024.  Shropshire Music Trust, c/o
17 Whitehall Street, Shrewsbury, SY2 5AD.
 Reg. Charity number 515026.   Cookies and Privacy Policy