Birmingham Town Hall *****
With pomp and ceremony so much in the air recently (I’m talking about the Royal succession, not the Conservative Party Conference) it was serendipitously appropriate that Jeffrey Skidmore should have chosen this programme of music connected with the respective courts of King George II and the “Sun King”, Louis XIV..
This was a smoothly, effortlessly (though obviously meticulously rehearsed and choreographed) flowing sequence of music by Handel and Lalande. The latter composer has long been one of Ex Cathedra’s calling-cards, and here we relished many examples of his “royal” music, beginning with the rolling, burgeoning kettle-drums launching the Te Deum, heralding well-defined, well-weighted choral delivery.
Many other Lalande choral delights followed, vocal soloists emerging as ever from within the choral ranks, instrumentalists from Skidmore’s judiciously-assembled Ex Cathedra Baroque Orchestra contributing expertly-delivered obbligati: Zoe Shevlin’s bassoon was a particular joy in La Grande Piece Royale, and James Johnstone brought so many discreet colours to the ever-present organ continuo.
The Handel complement was naturally more familiar, beginning with a crisp, at first discreetly busy Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (complemented by Alec Roth’s lamenting Departure of the Queen of the Sheba, sorrowing oboes bidding each other farewell with memories of Handel’s strains).
We also heard The King Shall Rejoice, associate conductor George Parris assured and confident as he coaxed cascading lines from the chorus, and finally Zadok the Priest.
Such was the clarity of this account (natural trumpets and kettle-drums so blazing with pageantry) under Skidmore that I realised for the first time in my long life just what meretricious, rabble-rousing music this is!Christopher Morley