With this exciting new release of Lassus’ St. Matthew Passion, a masterpiece of the late renaissance, SOMM celebrates conductor Jeffrey Skidmore’s 60th birthday joining friends, colleagues and his many admirers in wishing him and his Ex Cathedra a long life and continuing success.
Jeffrey Skidmore – Conductor
Nicholas Mulroy – Tenor
Greg Skidmore – Baritone
We owe a great deal to Ex Cathedra for their sterling work in bringing to life neglected masterpieces such as Lassus’s St. Matthew Passion and the beautiful 6-voice Motet, Ave Verum Corpus, which forms a perfect foil to the Passion. These are complemented by two other examples demonstrating Lassus’ amazing diversity as a composer: Vide homo, quae pro te patior (Behold, man, how I suffer for you) and Musica Dei donum (Music, gift of God most high). Both these were recorded by Ex Cathedra for ASV in 1996 and are included in this disc with permission from Ex Cathedra. They are among Lassus’ last published works. Vide homo is the concluding motet in The Lagrime di San Pietro, a cycle of 20 Sacred madrigals. The setting is thought to be by Lassus himself, whilst the other 19 madrigals have Italian texts by the poet Luigi Tansillo .Musica Dei donum was originally planned as the final work in the final volume of Lassus’ six-voice collection Cantiones sacrae.
Born in Belgium, composer Orlando di Lassus is today considered to be the chief representative of the mature polyphonic style of the Netherlands school and was the most famous and influential musician in Europe at the end of the 16th century. He was one of the most prolific and versatile of all composers of that period and in his time the best-known and most widely admired musician in Europe. He wrote over 2000 works in all Latin, French, Italian and German vocal genres known in his time.
Lassus was a truly cosmopolitan composer, having worked in Sicily, Naples, Milan, Rome, Paris and he almost certainly visited England. After his early success in Rome — he became maestro di cappella at St. Giovanni in Laterano at the age of 21 – he accepted an invitation to join the court of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria in Munich and was engaged as a tenor in a chapel headed by Ludwig Daser. He took over the leadership of the chapel in 1563, and remained in the service of Albrecht V and his heir, Wilhelm V for the rest of his life.
Lassus’ setting of St. Matthew Passion, published in 1575, is responsorial and typical of Italian composers of the 16th century. Put simply, the words of Jesus and the Evangelist are chanted in Plainsong throughout, representing the narrative and they are alternated by a 5-voice polyphonic group representing all the other characters in the Passion. Lassus maintains a clear stylistic distinction between the two and this combination of long passages of plainsong with intense and detailed polyphony result in a work of focused and heightened emotion.
The St. Matthew Passion enjoyed great and lasting popularity and an MS dated 1743 shows that it was still performed 150 years after its composition.
This recording includes one of Lassus’ many beautiful motets, the six-voice Ave verum corpus (Hail true body). Again Lassus here displays his understanding of the dramatic power of contrasting textures. The intensity in simplicity so prominent in Lassus’ setting of the St. Matthew Passion is summed up masterfully as the Ave Verum motet closes: two almost homophonic repetitions of ‘miserere mei’ (have mercy on me) are followed by a bare, simple, arresting ‘Amen.’ Such ingenuity, freedom, skill, and devotion wrapped in one musical moment lasting only a matter of minutes makes it easy to understand why Lassus was the pre-eminent composer of his time and why his music is so loved to this day.
Founded in 1969, Ex Cathedra has grown into a unique musical resource, comprising specialist chamber choir, vocal Consort, period-instrument orchestra and thriving education programme. The consort comprises eight to ten professional singers who feature regularly as soloists with Ex Cathedra. The Consort has performed across the UK and Europe, including recent appearances in Santiago de Compostela and Aranjuez Festivals in Spain. Their recordings for Hyperion are highly acclaimed.
Jeffrey Skidmore is one of the country’s foremost choral conductors and is highly regarded by instrumentalists, singers and audiences for the high quality of his performances. He is well known for exciting programming which is often challenging but always accessible. Jeffrey read music at Magdalen College, Oxford, before returning to this native Birmingham to develop Ex Cathedra into the internationally acclaimed choral group it has become today.
Born in Liverpool, Tenor Nicholas Mulroy read Modern Languages at Clare College, Cambridge, and then studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
His many recent appearances include Septimius in Handel’s Theodora with Trevor Pinnock, Evangelist in Bach Weihnachts-Oratorium in London with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Premiere Parque in Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie with Emmanuelle Haïm at the Theatre du Capitole in Toulouse, le Récitant in Berlioz L’Enfance du Christ with Sir Colin Davis, as well as several appearances at the BBC Proms (Monteverdi Vespers 1610, Campra Requiem and Bach Johannes-Passion), with the Staatskapelle Dresden (Bach B Minor Mass and Haydn Harmonie-Messe), Matthäus-Passion (Evangelist and arias) with Laurence Cummings at the London Handel Festival.
On stage, Nicholas made his Glyndebourne debut under Jurowski in Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery, has sung Mozart’s Ferrando, Don Ottavio, Belmonte and Belfiore in La Finta Giardiniera, and Tenor actor in Judith Weir’s Night at the Chinese Opera.
Born and brought-up in Canada, Greg Skidmore arrived in England during the summer of 2003 as a transfer student at Royal Holloway College, University of London, from which he graduated in June 2005 with a First Class Honours Bachelor of Music degree. Greg was a post-graduate Choral Scholar at Wells Cathedral in 2005-2006 and a Lay Clerk at Gloucester Cathedral in 2006-2007. He is now a Lay Clerk at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford.
Recent solo engagements have included J.S. Bach’s St Matthew and St John Passions with Ex Cathedra; Stravinsky’s Canticum Sacrum; the Brahms, Fauré, and Duruflé Requiems, Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs. His professional choral and consort work has included engagements with I Fagiolini, Tenebrae, The Gabrieli Consort, Ex Cathedra Consort, Cappella Nova, A Cappella Portuguesa, Chapelle du Roi, Cappella Amsterdam, Currende (Antwerp), the Tafelmusik Baroque Chamber Choir (Toronto), and the Philharmonia Voices among others. Greg has also worked with the choirs of Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s and Winchester cathedrals, and St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
“This SOMM recording, set down in All Saints Church, London, brings us this amazing reading, allowingus to savour its gripping emotional intensity. Jeffrey Skidmore shapes the tension unerringly.” Christopher Morley — The Birmingham Post
“In all, a glorious disc of soft-toned, sober-hued music performed with consummate skill and a stirring sense of devotional intensity.” Michael Quinn – The Classical Review online
On This Recording
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Vespere autem facto
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Cenantibus autem eis
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Respondens autem Petrus ait illis
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Tunc venit Jesus
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Adhuc ipso loquente ecce Judas
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Et confestim accedens
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Principes autem sacerdotum
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Petrus vero sedebat
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Mane autem facto
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Consilio autem inito
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Jesus autem stetit ante praesidem
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Et postquam inluserunt ei
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Praetereuntes autem blasphemabant eum
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: A sexta autem hora
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Quidam autem illic stantes
- Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Mattheum: Et ecce velum templi
- Ave verum corpus
- Vide homo
- Musica Dei donum optimi