Ex Cathedra Summer Music, Birmingham, 5*****: Paul Gray


Ex Cathedra Choir: Summer Music by Candlelight

20th June 2018

St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham


Review: Paul Gray

An Evening of Glorious Choral Music

Ex Cathedra presented a glorious evening of diverse choral music suitable for a summer’s evening in the magnificent setting of Birmingham’s St Phillip’s Cathedral by candlelight. There was a delightful balance of material, ranging from 6th and 7th Century plainchant, and works from the renaissance through to specially commissioned works by contemporary composers, and arrangements of popular music. There was also a world premiere of Dawn Chorus – Child of Heaven by Roxanna Panufnik (b. 1968). Ex Cathedra are in the process of releasing a new disc of music by Roxanna Panufnik.

This was the third in a series of “dawn choruses” recently commissioned by Ex Cathedra from various composers. Continuing the Ex Cathedra tradition of making the most of the performance space to dramatic effect, this piece was sung at the back of the cathedral preceding a candlelit procession to the sanctuary to the strains of the popular 13th Century round “Sumer is icumen in”.

One of the highlights of the concert was Stars by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds. This was written in 2015 and is a breath-taking setting of a poem by Sara Teasdale. It makes use of tuned wine glasses and Tibetan sounding bowls. Utterly beautiful.

Following a reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 14, we came to a setting of four poems by local composer, Alec Roth (b. 1948) entitled Stargazer. Alec Roth has been Ex Cathedra’s composer in residence for over 10 years, and if you haven’t heard anything by this remarkable composer, seek him out; his music is beautiful, unique and relevant.

The other set of pieces were the Trios Chansons de Charles D’Orleans. In these lovely pieces Debussy brings great finesse and sensitivity of treatment to the lyrical 15th Century poetry.

Great fun was had with a set of lighter numbers: an adapted Mozart medley, Gershwin’s Summertime, Summer Holiday, Singin’ in the Rain and the ever-popular Chanson Classique, La Mer by Charles Trenet. The concert ended with a recessional plainsong hymn in procession, and then the choir gathered at the back of the church for Alec Roth’s exquisite Night Prayer.

The choir and its soloists have never looked and sounded so good. June 2018 is proving to be “Flaming June” in terms of the balmy weather. Similarly, this was an evening of music to inflame heart and soul. A truly memorable evening with a choir and conductor of the very highest calibre.

Conductor: Jeffrey Skidmore

Ex Cathedra with vocal soloists taken from the choir


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