If you’ve been to one of Ex Cathedra’s candlelit Christmas concerts, you’ll know just how beautifully they’re devised. An imaginative selection of a capella repertoire, superbly sung; a handful of readings. And above all, an intense care over presentation – absolutely vital to create the rapt atmosphere that makes those concerts so magical.
With this programme at the Lichfield Festival, Jeffrey Skidmore and his choir seemed to be trying to create a summer equivalent. All the elements were in place. Music ranging from John Joubert’s Three Portraits and Vaughan Williams’ dreamy Three Shakespeare Songs to droll arrangements of Singin’ In The Rain and Summer Holiday. Four readings – from sources as various as the Bible and Dorothy Parker – that never outstayed their welcome.
And of course, that wonderful attention to detail. The concert began at 9pm and was paced against the fading of the light through the Cathedral’s west window. Candles flickered in the gathering twilight as Delius’s To be sung of a summer night drifted high into the nave, but from the very start of the concert – as Benjamin Rogers’ Hymnus Eucharisticus sounded quietly in the distant Lady Chapel – there was something special in the air.
So what better moment for a premiere: David Matthews’ Lichfield commission Dawn Chorus ? It’s exactly that: a wordless, a capella evocation of birdsong at daybreak, with solo singers coo-ing, chirruping and pouring out great arcs of song from every corner of the Cathedral, while the rest of the choir laid down hazy impressionist chords. It was spine-tinglingly lovely; so much so that you barely noticed what a breathtaking feat of pure ensemble singing we were hearing. Which is as it should be.