Just as Bach’s Passion settings have become a staple of the Lenten period, so his Christmas Oratorio is always a welcome feature of Advent, and Ex Cathedra’s afternoon performance on Sunday drew a full house to the Town Hall to enjoy it.
The Cantatas which comprise the Oratorio were actually written to be heard on six separate days of the Festival Season, starting on Christmas Day and extending as far as Epiphany. A tenor Evangelist (the excellent Samuel Boden here) links the Cantatas together, telling the familiar Nativity story as recounted by Luke and Matthew. The other soloists (soprano Grace Davidson, alto David Allsopp, bass Greg Skidmore) contribute arias commenting on the story and providing spiritual input; all did very well.
Jeffrey Skidmore gave us four of the six Cantatas (Parts 1, 2, 3 and 6) and Ex Cathedra was on its best form. The Baroque Orchestra (led by Simon Standage) was outstanding, with some terrific individual contributions from the principal trumpet and the woodwind (oboes in a range of sizes).
Skidmore goes in for some very lively speeds, sometimes pushing limits perhaps rather too far. Bach is sparing with his tempo markings, but when he does write “Largo” (as in the soprano aria in Part 6) some caution is required. Overall, though, a thoroughly enjoyable performance.
Rating * * * *