Good Friday 29th March 2024

Symphony Hall Birmingham, St John Passion, Bach, performed by Ex Cathedra

As a teenager in the late 1960s / early 1970s I would attend Birmingham Town Hall every Good Friday, where the City Choir and the Choral Union, together with the CBSO, with Roy Massey at the mighty Willis organ, would alternate the St John and the St Matthew Passions.  These were performances on a massive scale, leavened by also attending the more stylish interpretations offered in St Philip’s Cathedral by the lithe Birmingham Bach Choir under Richard Butt, with Orchestra da Camera and Roy Massey at the organ.  Jeffrey Skidmore, a Birmingham lad one year older than me, also attended such performances and in 1969 founded Ex Cathedra to offer even more stylish interpretations than the Bach Choir.  An astonishing  fifty-five years later, the choir has long been a much-loved West Midlands institution, renowned for its imaginative programmes, outreach work, and the researches still being carried out by Jeffrey. Their St John on Good Friday celebrated the 300th anniversary of the work’s first performance, augmenting it with motets, readings and clever organ improvisations (by Rupert Jeffcoat).  All I have to say is that if J.S. Bach had heard this concert, he would have been utterly delighted, as was a large audience, by its beauty, drama and loving attention to detail.  A moving and truly memorable experience.