Ex Cathedra Dido and Aeneas; 5Star*****,Birmingham 05 02 17

Dido and Aeneas

Town Hall Birmingham, 5th February 2017

Ex Cathedra Choir and Baroque Ensemble


Review: Paul & David Gray, 10 02 17

Only the best is good enough
Purcell is a composer who, despite his well-deserved stature, is not as often performed as he might be.  Ex Cathedra’s concert was, therefore, a joy, comprising as it did of nothing but Purcell’s music; the first half some of his best known sacred works; the second half his most complete and fully realised work for the stage, Dido and Aeneas.

The opening line of the concert came from Purcell’s Hear my Prayer, O Lord and was delivered by the sopranos with an exquisitely fragile pianissimo.  This start from almost nothing gave the work room to blossom and expand through a gradual crescendo, using some of Purcell’s writhing chromaticism to ratchet up the intensity of both tone and volume to a ravishing climax. 

Throughout, the first half was characterised by a daringly wide dynamic range; breathless, hushed passages, contrasting with passages of great power and grandeur, underlining how this is music of great drama. In this beautifully performed first half it felt like we had stepped inside the mind of a most extraordinary genius. And Purcell was not the only great creative mind on display here; Jeffrey Skidmore as conductor was utterly compelling, with both choir & instrumentalists totally at one with his direction and superlative interpretations. The anthem Remember not, Lord, our offences, was particularly engrossing: all eyes were on the conductor and the delivery of the final line of text “Spare us, good Lord”, had tremendous pathos.

The solo ensemble in the verse passages was very fine, balanced, and well blended. This was particularly impressive considering that the indisposition of tenor Jeremy Budd had necessitated last minute substitutions.

In Dido and Aeneas, we had a group of younger soloists who, on the whole, eschewed a declamatory style of singing during the recitative passages in favour of a more lyrical approach.  This was refreshing and allowed the subtlety of Purcell’s word painting to speak for itself.  We must also remember that this opera was originally written to be performed by young people. Dido was characterised with great vulnerability by Katie Trethewey, a soprano with a full-bodied, lyrical top and a real connection to her chest voice at the bottom. Martha McLorinan delivered the role of the witch with power and authority.

The Ex Catherdra Baroque Ensemble played with precision and vigour and the continuo group managed to achieve an almost symbiotic link with the singers during Purcell’s astonishingly fluid and expressive recitative passages.

There was exquisite, pointed and telling ornamentation from players, soloists and chorus alike.  This was a scholarly reading but not one of dry academicism; well shaped from a musical and dramatic perspective, culminating in a beautifully paced and profoundly moving final sequence. 

Katie Trethewey Dido
Greg Skidmore Aeneas
Anglea Hicks Belinda
Mathra McLorinan Sorceress
Amy Wood First Witch
Elizabeth Adams Second Witch and Second Woman
Chris Fitzgerald-Lombard Sailor
Harriet Hougham Slade Spirit

Conductor Jeffery Skidmore
Ex Cathedra Choir and Baroque Ensemble


2017-02-13 09:53:12

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