Lassus: St Matthew Passion

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COMPOSERS: Lassus
LABELS: Somm
WORKS: St Matthew Passion; Ave verum corpus; Vide homo; Musica Dei donum
PERFORMER: Nicholas Mulroy (Evangelist), Greg Skidmore (Jesus); Ex Cathedra Consort/ Jeffrey Skidmore
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 0106

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It is many years since Jeffrey Skidmore founded the Ex Cathedra choir as a young graduate from Oxford, and now as a ‘60th birthday tribute’ (to himself) he has chosen to record with them this rarely heard St Matthew Passion from 1575.

This is a brave choice. First, much of the work consists of single-voiced chant (including everything sung by Jesus), with only the brief utterances of the crowds and a few individuals attracting polyphony. Second, those polyphonic sections are often perfunctory, and there is little obvious opportunity for characterisation. The only hope is for the Evangelist to narrate the story with as much drama as possible, and in this Nicholas Mulroy does a magnificent job, showing fluent command of the Latin text and the harrowing, unfolding story. Greg Skidmore as Jesus is less happy, turning the natural gravity of the role into something slightly unnuanced and stolid.

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Acoustically, the voices are balanced but we get little sense of the space in which these characters call to each other across the church during a liturgical ceremony – an aspect that was perhaps better handled in Paul Hillier’s 1994 recording for Harmonia Mundi. The three motets at the end show more clearly the experience and ability of Ex Cathedra, and thus provide a more obvious tribute to the many achievements of its director over the years. Anthony Pryer