‘You don’t really need an excuse to celebrate Bach, but linking him with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, which spawned the Reformation in October 1517, was an opportunity too good to miss. And so was this concert.
‘Jeffrey Skidmore chose Bach’s two best-known Luther settings, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott and Christ lag in Todesbanden, to partner the stunning Magnificat in D that came after the interval. All three works demonstrated yet again that as Baroque interpreters Ex Cathedra and their director are hard to beat.
‘In his programme notes Skidmore described Bach’s music as an ‘endless source of wonder and joy’, and it was this sense of spiritual elevation that, in choral terms, permeated the whole evening, with punchy consonants, pin-sharp definition and exhilaratingly accurate contrapuntal passages (no superfluous aspirates in this Magnificat’s opening, and a fugue at its conclusion that sparkled with life and clarity). But when the situation required, as in Versus I of Christ lag in Todesbanden, we also heard quiet veneration expressed with a dolorous tonal beauty.
‘Equally outstanding were the six soloists, notably bass Greg Skidmore’s declamatory zest, tenor Bradley Smith’s vocal athleticism in the Magnificat’s “Deposuit” – a telling contrast to the romantic intensity of his duet with Marth McLorinan – and soprano Katie Trethewey’s luminously passionate “Komm in mein Hertzhaus” in Ein feste burg.
‘Underpinning everything, a reduced CBSO, playing modern instruments with a continuo and an additional cornett, sounded uncannily like a fully paid-up period band. Quite remarkable and marvellous to hear’.
(Birmingham Post *****)