Summer Music by Candlelight
St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham
20th June 2017
Review: Paul & David Gray
A Summer Evening Very Well Spent
Ex Cathedra Concerts are so often about so much more than just the music. Their candlelit summer concerts are no exception to this. The choir uses the space to create drama, structure and atmosphere. Blocks of musical works are framed and punctuated by complementary and often thought provoking poetry readings.
This concert started with the choir outside and then at the back of the church for the first musical set. An effective device which created a feeling of expectation for the evening to unfurl ahead of us. The highlight of this group of musical numbers was the first of two works by Alec Roth, a special commission, Dawn Chorus – Die güldene Sonne. Roth is a composer with a gift for music that is at once approachable and unexpected. This was a work of haunting melody couched in unpredictable harmonic progressions. It stayed in the mind long after the final notes died away.
The second two collections contrasted the music of English Composers – Cornysh, Vaughan Williams and Stanford with a set of French pieces by Saint-Saens and then, unexpectedly, Charles Trenet’s La Mer. These were all delivered with exquisite lyricism and gave the choir a chance to showcase some stunning and beautifully controlled solo voices. St Philip’s acoustic can be challenging for choirs; emaciating the upper register and exsanguinating the middle and lower. Ex Cathedral met the acoustic challenge head on in these richly textured works, producing a round and full toned sound throughout. Trenet’s La Mer, always a delight, in a stylish arrangement by Mr Skidmore himself.
Three slightly more spikey Chansons by Ravel followed. These provided a pleasing contrast to the lyricism that had gone before. Le beaux oiseaux du Paradis was particularly striking. The choir perfectly captured the mood of this melancholic piece with a steely, almost washed out tone.
The next set was lighter and quirky, a mixture of popular songs – the inevitable Summertime and Summer Holiday; a witty Mozart mash up, arranged again by Jeffrey, and a strange declaimed fugue of place names by Ernst Toch. This set proved a a diverting penultimate act before the choir ended as they had begun, processing to the back of the church to deliver their final set of pieces and ending with a second haunting piece by Alec Roth. This rounded off an evening imaginatively programmed, full of contrast and preformed with outstanding sensitivity and warmth. Another outstanding performance by a choir of the highest calibre.
Conductor: Jeffrey Skidmore