Ex Cathedra under their director Jeffrey Skidmore have done so much to reveal to us the glories of Michel-Richard de Lalande, court composer to Louis XIV, and Sunday afternoon’s concert in the elegant surroundings of Birmingham Town Hall not only brought home the wonderful expressiveness of this composer but also raised intriguing thoughts.
These were all writing at the same time: the sturdy, Lutheran Bach; the melodiously Italianate Handel , preceded by the meltingly expressive Purcell, whose style is so close to this French contemporary. What a wonderful melting-pot.
Ex Cathedra are of course baroque experts, and this programme was evidence of how much detail goes into their performances, with French-inflected Latin, deliciously-delayed resolutions and trills at cadences, and an ease of delivery which focusses attention rightly upon the music.
But Skidmore does not merely concentrate upon his choristers, he also draws from his orchestral players a persuasively intimate sound-world, no sandal-wearing hairshirts munching muesli (the received idea of “period performance”), but musicians delighting in the pastel-coloured palette at their disposal – particular plaudits to oboist Gail Hennessy, and especially bassoonist Mike Brain.
We heard the purely orchestral La Grande Piece Royale as an overture, and three major choral works: Te Deum Laudamus, the chillingly dark De Profundis Clamavi, and the jubilant Cantate Domino.
Choral balance and detail were finely-etched by Skidmore, diction was as exemplary as usual. and dynamics kept us on our listening toes. The policy of selecting soloists from within the ranks was generally successful, and it’s good at last to be able to detect attributions to these singers within the programme-texts – the haute-contre of Jeremy Budd was particularly exciting.