Ex Cathedra review


Had lockdown not descended so cruelly upon us all, Ex Cathedra would currently be celebrating its Golden Anniversary, marking 50 years of glorious music-making under the direction of the chamber choir's founder, Jeffrey Skidmore.
But necessity is the mother of invention, and just as the CBSO created an absorbing streamed concert two weekends ago to mark the centenary of its inaugural concert, so Ex Cathedra have done something equally as remarkable with this online presentation currently available on YouTube (donations from viewers would be gratefully accepted).
At just over half an hour, this concert brings film of previous performances, not least Ex Cathedra's atmospheric "Christmas by Candlelight" presentations at St Paul's Church in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, but also online accounts of works premiered by Ex Cathedra during the choir's proud history.
We begin with Part III of Alec Roth's Earthrise, first performed during Ex Cathedra's 40th anniversary concert, and here given by an amazingly accomplished zoomed gallery of singers, backdrops revealing Jeffrey Skidmore conducting with such clarity, his hands and eyes as expressive as ever.
There is an heroic signer throughout this presentation (how do you sign music?), and thanks to the brilliant expertise of the production team, the gallery of images of the individual choristers morphs into an architectural recreation of a cathedral interior. In a subsequent offering (a jokey Mozart melange a la Swingle Singers of inglorious memory, but no member of the Swingles ever played a Mozart Horn Concerto on a watering-can) these mugshots are each assigned a dimple on the exterior of Selfridge's in the Bull Ring.
Hilary Campbell conducts a sweeping My Guardian Angel (Judith Weir) from the Ex Cathedra Academy, and there are also baroque offerings with engaging visuals.
We end with Liz Dilnot Johnson's input into Parry's Jerusalem (coincidentally, I reviewed this just prior to Errolyn Wallen's much-vaunted reworking of this wonderful hymn for the apologetic Last Night of the Proms), with at its heart a wonderful solo for sitar and vocalist as Parry murmurs in the background and gradually re-emerges. The kaleidoscopic visuals reflect Johnson's vision of our country as it is today, everything communicating movingly.
The presentation ends with people holding up placards quoting sound-bites from Blake's text. I couldn't read them on my screen, nor could I catch the swift credits of everyone involved in creating this amazing little gem.
Christopher Morley

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