Ex Cathedra is undoubtedly one of the jewels in our region’s glittering cultural crown.
Under its director Jeffrey Skidmore this chamber chorus has built itself a worldwide reputation over 40 years, it has amassed a valuable portfolio of educational and youth work, and has ushered many crack singers onto the top-ranking professional stage.
One such star is the soprano Carolyn Sampson (an English graduate of the University of Birmingham), who returned to front Ex Cathedra on Sunday in another of Skidmore’s fascinatingly-researched themed programmes. This time the subject was Marie Fel, the French soprano born exactly 300 years ago, and who became the muse of French baroque composers, mother to three children from three different fathers, lover of Casanova and mistress of Louis XV.
The wonderfully versatile Timothy West took the part of the doomed King, narrating Simon Robson’s over-wordy commentary in witty English and commendable French - though he was occasionally accident-prone, and the acoustic occasionally clouded his delivery.
Sampson simply stunned, appearing in a bewitching succession of diva-outfits, and delivering such ravishing music with a consummate display of coloratura as sparkling as a string of Svarovski crystals, and an heart’s-easingly floating of the lyrical lines which always stand out in music of such otherwise spectacle.
Not much for Ex Cathedra itself to do here, but all the choral contributions were beautifully balanced under Skidmore, and the linguistic pronunciation (even across regions of France) was as meticulously accurate as ever.
Excellent work from the Ex Cathedra Baroque Orchestra, not least the graceful double-bass of Kate Aldridge and the pastel gorgeousness of Rachel Brown’s flute.