Ex Cathedra Christmas Music, 5*****, Birmingham

Christmas Music by Candlelight
Ex Cathedra
21 December
St Paul’s Church Hockley

Review: Paul & David Gray

A truly magical Christmas Offering

The format of readings and carols is a familiar and comforting Christmas tradition. Ex Cathedra have been giving us their version of this tradition for a number of years now, but always with their own special twist, using an eclectic selection of texts, spacial effects and candlelight to create a very unique atmosphere.

Tenor, Paul Bentley-Angell started proceeding with a delicate a cappella rendition of Hassler’s Mein G’muth ist mir verwirret. Singing from the back of the church, the choir then delivered exquisite readings of Tavener’s O, do not move and Bairstow’s Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silent before processing to the sanctuary during a plainsong version of Hodie Chistus Natus Est.

This was an evening of highlights. A well selected programme contrasting well known traditional and less traditional favourites, including the inevitable Joubert Torches, and wonderfully energetic performances of Britten’s This little Babe and Deo Gracias, with more unfamiliar works.

Worthy of special mention amongst all of the delights on offer were Esenvald’s Stars; a remarkably evocative piece which employed a sounding bowl and tuned glasses to stunning effect; and MacMillan’s And lo, an angel of the lord. This work, with it blocks or choral texture and dense harmonies, sung with the choir placed in the galleries around the church, was particularly breath-taking.

Among the more traditional works, one which stood out for me was John Sheppards The Lord’s prayer. I very much enjoyed the simplicity with which this was sung. The beauty of the counterpoint shone through.

More than a succession of words and music, this concert took us on a journey to the magical heart of Christmas, each item providing a new perspective on the wonder which composers throughout the centuries have sought to express. It is perhaps apt that such a journey should have as its penultimate item another piece by Esenvald, Long road, a hypnotically beautiful composition topped with an effortlessly soaring solo soprano decant.

The audience would not let the choir go without a selection of encores which provoked a well-deserved standing ovation. Once again Ex Cathedral have demonstrated that they are at the forefront of choral singing.

Ex Cathedra
Conductor: Jeffrey Skidmore
Organ: Alex Mason
Harp: Lucy Wakeford

2018-01-02 10:05:41

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