March 16th (4 stars)
Whether it was pragmatic resourcefulness or a magical making of virtue out of necessity, Saturday’s concert from Ex Cathedra was among the most brilliant in this expert chamber choir’s near 40-year history.
Director Jeffrey Skidmore has the enviable gift of concocting a witches’ brew of fascination in his programming, and it would be interesting to know whether the chicken or the egg came first here.
He has long had a fascination for Monteverdi’s 1610 publication in Venice of sacred music, with the derivation of much of its content from secular sources. Put alongside this the reluctance of the Oratory Fathers to permit secular performance within their beautiful church (as a fully paid-up Catholic I allow myself to question their stance – I doubt Jesus would have been so prescriptive), and Skidmore found a wonderful solution.
For the first time in my knowledge, the magnificent Upper Room (what a resonant name) in the Oratory cloisters was used for performances of Monteverdi madrigals, one-to-a-part, and showing what a fabulous acoustic the room possesses. We must hear more music in here.
And down in the Oratory proper we heard full choral Latinisations of these works, made by Monteverdi’s contemporary, the priest Aquilino Coppini. Often the subject-matter from the profane moved easily into the sacred.
These “madrigals made spiritual” punctuated the movements of Monteverdi’s Mass In Illo Tempore from that 1610 treasure-trove, ending with the pithy Magnificat from that year.
Throughout the evening organist Philip Scriven devised imaginative and tonally-useful organ improvisations, and Eligio Quinteiro supported sensitively with his resonant theorbo.
The whole evening was an enriching educational experience, and I will treasure the programme-book. Arts funders take note.
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