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
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine