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An exuberantly optimistic and uplifting concert, Ex Cathedra's I was glad is thoughtfully programmed with characteristically eclectic choices from Jeffrey Skidmore. Sadly, due to illness, the choir's founder was unable to conduct, but Paul Spicer stepped in with energy and enthusiasm enough to match Skidmore's own.
Described as Ex Cathedra's “unofficial artist in residence”, Alec Roth is a favourite contemporary composer with the choir, and his haunting new setting of Petzold's “Morgenstern” (previously performed in the Christmas Music by Candlelight concert) made an exquisite opening, with glittering solos from soprano Katie Tretheway. John Joubert's “This is the gate of the Lord” and the concert's joyous titular piece by Parry marked a shift from the reflective to the triumphant, offering an exciting opportunity to hear Town Hall's fantastic organ in its full, floor-rumbling glory.
Leoš Janáček's setting of The Lord's Prayer was an interesting inclusion, taking two lines at a time to run through a series of different moods with harp and organ accompaniment. Not a straightforward piece, but a rewarding one, lifted to another level by Jeremy Budd's magnificently resonant and assured tenor solos. Its unusual progression made a good match for Britten's “Rejoice in the Lamb”, in which Christopher Smart's striking poetry finds proofs of divine intention in everything from Old Testament stories to a pet cat called Jeoffry. For all its anguished intimations of hardship (Smart spent time in horrific mental asylums), it's essentially hopeful, and there's a kind of disarming innocence and simplicity to both music and words, with four solo sections leading up to a joyous, full chorus exploration of the rhyming sounds of musical instruments and a remarkably profound final Hallelujah.
The concert's darkest moment came with Kenneth Leighton's “Crucifixus Pro Nobis”, another powerful performance from Budd giving depth to its reflections on Christ's sufferings, but from here, the choir leapt straight into a brisk, lively delivery of Sally Beamish's “Gaudent in coelis”. In spring, the choir will perform Beamish's settings of Carol Ann Duffy's “A Shakespeare Masque” to celebrate the playwright's 400th anniversary, and there's a playfulness about this short piece that bodes well for the collaboration.
W. H. Auden's words were delivered with crystal clarity in William Walton's “The Twelve”, including an impassioned duet from Katie Tretheway and Martha McLorinan. The “merry noise” that ends the piece serves as a satisfying summary of the concert as a whole, but the incontestable highlight of I Was Glad was its penultimate piece, an awe-inspiring rendition of James MacMillan's “Christus Vincit” with Tretheway's voice soaring through breathtaking solos.
Surely something like this should be available on prescription?
Posted on Fri 26 May