Ex Cathedra Choir / Jeffrey Skidmore

Johann Sebastian Bach: St Matthew Passion

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AllMusic Review by

Orchid Classics' recording of Bach's St. Matthew Passion with Ex Cathedra Choir and Baroque Orchestra led by Jeffrey Skidmore is taken from a live performance on Good Friday 2009 at Symphony Hall, Birmingham. One of chief attractions of the album is the fact that the performance uses a new English translation by Nicholas Fisher and John Russell, and there is much to be said for the immediacy that is gained by hearing a piece even as familiar as this in one's native language. The version is largely successful in fulfilling the translators' goals of sticking closely to the meaning of the original, fitting the lines to the musical phrases, and speaking directly and without affectation to modern audiences. The difficulties lie largely with the second criterion; the emphasis too frequently falls inappropriately, as on the final syllable of words like "Iscariot" and "covenant." Skidmore and his singers and instrumentalists offer an appealing, modestly scaled performance of the masterpiece. The fact that the soloists are not internationally acclaimed opera stars with huge voices seems entirely appropriate for presenting the piece in a way that would correspond to the circumstances of its original Leipzig performances. Skidmore acknowledges that for this performance in a modern orchestra auditorium, he uses somewhat larger forces than Bach would have, but he still manages to achieve a sense of intimacy. His performance is shapely but it has a brisk momentum, which combined with the use of the translation gives the work an exciting narrative urgency. The instrumental and choral ensembles are superb, performing with both a warm blend and with rhythmic springiness. The major soloists for the most part have voices that are pleasant, unmannered, and expressive; sopranos Grace Davidson and Natalie Clifton-Griffith, alto Mark Chambers, and tenor Jeremy Budd stand out. Some of the minor roles, taken by members of the chorus, are not particularly strong. The sound is very fine for a live performance, clean, detailed, and immediate, with excellent balance.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
St Matthew Passion, BWV 244
1 6:18
2 0:35
3 0:42
4 2:56
5 0:53
6 4:14
7 0:37
8 4:18
9 2:01
10 0:47
11 2:44
12 1:10
13 3:15
14 0:58
15 0:51
16 1:04
17 0:54
18 1:28
19 1:49
20 4:50
21 0:38
22 0:49
23 4:02
24 1:16
25 0:54
26 2:20
27 4:40
28 2:14
29 5:55
30 3:58
31 0:59
32 0:37
33 1:05
34 1:01
35 3:41
36 2:09
37 0:58

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
St Matthew Passion, BWV 244
1 2:23
2 5:38
3 1:01
4 1:45
5 2:36
6 1:57
7 0:59
8 2:28
9 0:46
10 0:17
11 1:01
12 4:45
13 1:50
14 1:02
15 6:44
16 1:02
17 2:09
18 0:51
19 0:34
20 6:21
21 3:21
22 1:27
23 2:52
24 2:11
25 1:23
26 2:37
27 1:54
28 5:30
29 2:23
30 1:47
31 5:53
blue highlight denotes track pick