As their regular followers know well there's much more to Ex Cathedra and Jeffrey Skidmore than European Baroque and early Latin American music. They are also formidable supporters of British composers.
Saturday's pairing of Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor with James MacMillan's Seven Last words from the Cross was quite inspired. Each work pays 20th century homage to the past, VW with his love of ancient modes and Tudor polyphony, while MacMillan's evocative use of various musical styles expresses Christ's crucifixion almost like a series of Greek-tragedy tableaux.
Ex Cathedra gave a glowingly beautiful account of the Mass, with some wonderfully resonant bottom Es and Fs in the basses, which in a choral way mirrored Skidmore's equally enlightened Tallis Fantasia for strings.
With just twenty-four players (the excellent Northern Sinfonia) textures in this supportive but never enveloping acoustic sounded remarkably clear, and the different tonal effects - organ-like chords, solo quartet and full ensemble contrasts - were tellingly realised.
The MacMillan, however, was totally overwhelming. It's a work full of dramatic power and sadness, from the chorus's shouts of "Woman, behold thy son!" juxtaposed with flurrying strings, to the discomforting dissonances of "My God, My God, why have you forsake me" and the awful hammer blows of nails entering flesh.
Yet, as in the third section's "Come let us adore him", and the final section's acceptance of death, MacMillan shows a post-modern approach to soul-soothing harmonies. At the end of this gut wrenching, and brilliantly performed, musical masterpiece the capacity audience seemed almost reluctant to break the spell with applause.