Christtmas Oratorio review

GERMAN PURITY BEYOND BIRMINGHAM'S GERMAN CHRISTMAS MARKET

BACH'S CHRISTMAS ORATORIO
Ex Cathedra at Birmingham Town Hall *****

The juxtaposition was exquisite, fighting my way through the venality and conspicuous consumption of the Frankfurt Christmas market clogging Victoria Square into the gracious Town Hall for a rare complete performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, three hours of radiant purity conveyed by Jeffrey Skidmore and his adept Ex Cathedra.
Bach never intended these six disparate cantatas, each one designated to its own day in the 12 days of Christmas, to be performed as an entity but Skidmore's grasp over the entire structure, plus the smooth malleability of his choristers singing with an almost one-to-a-part lightness of touch made the whole enterprise seamlessly all of a piece.
Soloists emerged smoothly from the ranks of this remarkable choir with Paul Bentley-Angell an outstanding Evangelist, James Robinson a vividly concitato tenor soloist, and Martha McLorinan warmly expressive in her alto solos.
As Robinson's contribution conveyed, much of this music is in fact operatic, but there are also moments of more reflective drama, sometimes bringing us close to the world of the Passions. All of this was found in Skidmore's reading, aided by the wonderful contribution of the Ex Cathedra Baroque Orchestra, led by Lucy Russell.
There were some deliciously boxy woodwind solos, noble horns, and stirring trumpets and timpani. And the concluding chorale, swirlingly accompanied by most of these forces, had, behind the triumph of the Epiphany, a fast-forward 33 years to the Saviour's death, to when the same melody would be commenting on the grief bursting out of Bach's St Matthew Passion.
Christopher Morley

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