Summer music by candlelight - Ex Cathedra at St Mary's, Shrewsbury - David Hart

Ex Cathedra’s candlelit Christmas concerts have been popular for decades (I reviewed my first in 1981) so it’s no surprise the new Summer Music by Candlelight ones have become such a hit.
The first of this season’s performances definitely hit the ground running, attracting a capacity audience to Shrewsbury’s largest church – now sadly redundant but still resplendent with a warm, enabling acoustic.
In a hugely enjoyable collection of more than two dozen choral items Jeffrey Skidmore offered something for everyone, from the serious to the tastefully silly, plainsong to popular. From this latter category Gene Kelly’s iconic rendition of Singin’ in the rain and Charles Trenet’s nostalgic La Mer (excellent soloist, though shamefully uncredited, as were the others) were particularly inventive.
But it’s at the serious end of the musical spectrum where Ex Cathedra’s choral virtuosity and fabulous tonal range fully reside. We heard this at the start, in the world premiere of Roxanna Panufnik’s Dawn Chorus – Child of Heaven, a glorious Indian-inspired depiction of awakening day glowing into life with waves of birdsong. And her St. Aidan’s Prayer offered a lovely contrast, its quiet textures mirroring the simplicity of the text, over which a soprano solo provides a poignant counterpoint.
Equally tantalising was Ēriks Ešenvalds’ Stars, an unusually moving and subtly passionate piece with its gentle rhythmic pulses and accompaniment of tuned wine glasses.
Ex Cathedra’s composer-in-residence Alec Roth was also represented, his Stargazer songs rich in subtle word-painting and, in the train number, ear-teasing onomatopoeic effects.
And it was Roth’s music which ended the programme, his Night Prayer sung at the High Altar like a distant coda which gently drifted into silence. Totally sublime – and unsullied by premature applause. 

David Hart

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