Ex Cathedra Alec Roth premiere


Ex Cathedra at the Elgar Hall *****
In Alec Roth Ex Cathedra have the most congenial of composers-in-residence, supplying the choir with music which is always well-crafted, rewarding in the listening, and with points of reference which we can all recognise.
His latest commission, A Time to be Born and a Time to Die, received a triumphant premiere under Jeffrey Skidmore in the comfortable Elgar Hall, a venue which allowed full scope for Ex Cathedra's trademark imaginative choreography -- not least Skidmore's picking up of the "hairy drum" and thudding a beat as everyone left the stage.
Written for a smoothly interwoven quartet of soloists -- here Katie Trethewey, Martha McLorinan, Samuel Boden and Greg Skidmore --, community choir (drawn from St Mary's Hospice and Birmingham Children's and Women's Hospitals), minimally cringeworthy audience participation, and main chorus, the cantata also calls for a period-instrument orchestral ensemble. The sound is lovely, but I wonder how many choral societies around the land will be able to summon up an oboe da caccia? Cor anglais is permitted as an alternative.
There is perhaps too much emphasis on the indignation of actually being born (coincidentally on the day I read of someone in India suing his parents for forcing him into the world), but there is also a sense of Finzi's Intimations of Immortality; and Tippett's ideal of communal involvement is never very far away, too.
Ex Cathedra delivered this attractive piece with full tone, beautifully scaled to a range of dynamics, and telling clarity of diction. There were several points of reference (thank goodness not the ghastly "Turn, turn, turn"), chiefly the ancient French carol-tune "Noel Nouvelet", and a stunning recourse to Bach's Passion Chorale, a pointer towards Ex Cathedra's planned traversal of all 200-odd extant Bach cantatas, of which two completed this programme.
Christopher Morley

Cor anglais is permitted as an alternative.

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