The Organ

Ex Cathedra

Ex Cathedra
Symphony Hall
April 13th (4 stars)

Symphony Hall’s annual Good Friday presentations of Bach’s St Matthew Passion have long been the centrepiece of many people’s Easter. Over the years we have heard performances from the London Bach Choir, the CBSO, the Birmingham Bach Choir, and now it was the turn of Ex Cathedra to attract a full, willing house last Friday afternoon.Jeffrey Skidmore knows this shattering music intimately, and he imparts his love of it so well to his performing forces. Here Ex Cathedra was joined by its Baroque Orchestra boasting an impressive array of names well-known on the period-perform­ance circuit, and it was scin­tillating to relish here the variety of oboes responding to Bach’s detailed demands, the rasping double-basses, and a viola da gamba which delivered the usually purgatorial solos for this instrument without any penitential grittiness (oh, the seat-wearing tribulations of accounts from other expon­ents long ago in Birmingham Town Hall).

Poor programme-compilation made it difficult to distinguish who was singing which solo in Bach’s resourcefully stereo­phonic score, but some wonderful tones rang out which could only emanate from the eloquent soprano Natalie Clifton-Griffith, and Jeremy Budd was a gripping Evangelist.

But head and shoulders above every­body here was the Christus (I wish we didn’t have to hear this in English — the hard German consonants are so much more biting) of Eamonn Dougan, incisive yet compassionate. For some reason he was detailed also to sing bass solos after the Crucifixion. I’ve never encountered this before, and surely this was a pre-emption of the Resurrection two days later?

To sum up: this was an account rich in musical values. Its emotional impact, with little sense of release at the end, was minimal.

Christopher Morley