Ex Cathedra at Symphony Hall by Christopher Morley

On what seemed nothing like a Good Friday (pop music raucousing in the thronged shopping-malls), Ex Cathedra's annual presentation of a Bach Passion at Symphony Hall reminded us appropriately of what the day is all about.
This year it was the turn of the monumental St Matthew, yet there was nothing marmoreal in this account under Jeffrey Skidmore, probably the swiftest in actual playing-time (2 hours 45 minutes) I've ever heard, but never with a sense of rush.
Lightness of touch from the excellent Ex Cathedra Baroque Orchestra, smoothness of transition between the movements, and a flowing sense of high drama all made the hours fly by. And the Ex Cathedra chorus itself, supplemented throughout by the youngsters of its Academy of Vocal Music, sang with a clarity and projection which made the excellent surtitles thoughtfully provided almost redundant.
As ever with Ex Cathedra performances, soloists emerged from within the chorus, and here Martha McLorinan was outstanding in the many significant alto solos Bach demands. Other parts were all well taken, even those which you'd miss if your ears blinked.
The two major soloists were Toby Spence as the Evangelist, his interpretation that of a detached newsreader instead of an outraged commentator, as I have sometimes heard, and James Rutherford as a dignified, quietly authoritative Jesus.
Both these also stepped out of character to deliver anonymous solos, and when Rutherford launched into the pastel sounds of the post-Calvary evening recitative and then into the wonderful emotional release, after so much tension, of the ensuing aria, we really did feel that Easter was here.
Christopher Morley

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