‘Thank goodness for the event which year on year reminds us of what the day is really all about, Ex Cathedra’s annual performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion — and there is certainly a need for it, as Symphony Hall was packed for this gruelling but ultimately cathartic epic.
‘And this year was particularly special. James Rutherford had had to withdraw from the role of Jesus, and his replacement Grant Doyle, who only began rehearsal for this pivotal part on Thursday, emerged triumphant. Loads of adrenaline surely helped, not least when he stepped down and sang as a mere bass the emotionally releasing aria “Mache dich, mein Herze, rein” (the helpful surtitle translations were expertly managed throughout).
‘Doyle had only met his Evangelist (Andrew Tortise) on the very morning of this concert, but their empathy was remarkable, and Tortise’s high tenor delivered a gripping performance all through this lengthy afternoon which seemed to fly by.
‘The fluent tempi selected by conductor Jeffrey Skidmore, so deeply immersed in the spirit of this wonderful score, set into relief the few slow-moving arias, not least the “Komm, susses Kreuz”, where the grinding viola da gamba obbligato in times long past seemed excruciatingly penitential, but which here, in the nimble hands of Juan Manuel Quintana, actually said it all.
‘Skidmore cultivated a full, forward tone from Ex Cathedra and its Academy, and, where appropriate, an almost operatic mode of delivery from his soloists, such as in Martha McLorinan’s engaging “Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand”. Among all the other outstanding solo contributions, mention must be made of soprano Katie Trethewey and tenor Bradley Smith, their emotional engagement with the text and music so vividly communicated.
‘In their first-ever collaboration in this work, the CBSO accompanied Ex Cathedra with a fine sense of style, vibrato-less strings, woodwind now cutting, now dulcet, continuo continually alert.’
Read the rest of the 5* Birmingham Post review here.