Ex Cathedra | Lichfield Cathedral

A century ago, in Bantock and Elgar's day, Birmingham was one of the great choral centres of England. Mendelssohn and Dvorak conducted and composed for its great festivals. Gerontius had its rocky first outing.

Amazingly, that tradition continues. Such is the CBSO's fame that the second city's choral strength tends not to get noticed .Only last week Birmingham Festival Choral Society gave the premiÿre of Antonin Tucapsky's Millennium Te Deum. Christopher Robinson's City of Birmingham Choir braved the English premiÿre of Maxwell Davies's The Jacobite Rising last year. The Birmingham Choral Union pipped the Finzi centenary with a lucid Intimations of Immortality. The CBSO Chorus's offerings under Simon Halsey have the same razor-sharpness as the precision milling that was once the city's hallmark. Birmingham Bach Choir's Bach, and his predecessors programme under Paul Spicer, would make the Germans envious.

But Birmingham's jewel in the crown - as their acclaimed Proms appearance demonstrated - is Jeffrey Skidmore's Ex Cathedra, fresh from its premiÿre with the BCMG of John Joubert's Wings of Faith. While Spicer delves into Schutz and Buxtehude, Ex Cathedra has excavated the Dresden-trained Carl Heinrich Graun (c1703/4-1759), who served the flute-playing Frederick the Great as Prussian Crown Prince and Elector for more than 20 years, latterly at Frederick's Potsdam palace of Sans-Souci, and in Berlin, helping to set up the Berlin opera. Works flowed from his pen: Artaxerxes, Scipio Africanus, Polidorus, Cleopatra and Caesar, Montezuma (the last two recorded). Like Handel and Mozart, he immortalised the Roman Pinochet, Lucius Sulla, (and wrote a Rodelinda): he even pipped Gluck to Iphigeneia.

Yet it was Graun's choral music which most stood the test of time: above all, his remarkable Easter oratorio Der Tod Jesu - The Death of Jesus. Composed a quarter of a century after Bach's St John and St Matthew Passions, it bizarrely eclipsed them and was still riding high when Bismarck crowned the Kaiser.

Why? Bach's are more direct, more dramatic, more instrumentally ingenious, and far more devastating. Partly, perhaps, because of its north German provenance: for all Frederick's conservatism, the music at Berlin, as at Mannheim, was edging forward from the Baroque to the Classical eras. Graun's counterpoint is more poised, the line more vertical. And the chorales are a sort of 17th-century Top of the Pops. Bach's Lutheran texts are stark and Gospel-based, with all the inherent drama; Graun's text by C W Ranler, the "German Horace", integrates story with reflection. It ponders and self-castigates as it goes along; and draws conclusions before it delineates. Bach's "Es is vollbracht" grievingly descends; Graun's trumpets upwards. To the taste, no doubt, of an optimistic Enlightenment, hankering for its Goethe.

The best of it, however - there are tantalising glimpses of Mozart and Sturm und Drang Haydn over the horizon - is very good indeed. One large chorus feels like a sketchbook for La Clemenza did Tito. It was Ex Cathedra's not always secure bass soloist, Robert Rice, and at times the orchestral playing, notably bassoons and basset horn near the close, that caught the drama best. Skidmore's briskish pacings was to advantage. The appealing soprano soloist, Fusako Yanauchi, never quite managed the drama - she needed to let rip - but her soprano-alto duet (with the splendid Margaret Cameron) was riveting. Most impressive of all was the better-than-professional internal balance achieved by Skidmore's choir. The result was a team effort of top-notch quality.

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
books
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Go figure: Matt Parker, wearing the binary code scarf knitted by his mother
comedy Mathematician is using comedy nights to teach and preach sums
Arts and Entertainment
Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'
filmReview: Ryan Gosling is still there, but it's a very different film
Arts and Entertainment
Urban explorer: Rose Rouse has documented her walks around Harlesden, and the people that she’s encountered along the way
books Rouse's new book discusses her four-year tour of Harlesden
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Franco Zeffirelli's production of 'Aida' at Milan's famed La Scala opera house
operaLegendary opera director in battle with theatre over sale of one of his 'greatest' productions
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

    Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

    Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities