Review: St Peter’s Singers, Penthos - A New Requiem, St Michael and all Angels, Headingley, Saturday, October 27, 2018

LEEDS-BASED St Peter’s Singers can, perhaps uniquely, boast a Requiem written by two of their own members. Emerging young composer Matthew Oglesby and author Hanna Stone conceived the Penthos Requiem to commemorate the centenary of the First World War Armistice. The Greek word “Penthos” can mean “remorse” or “the gift of tears”.

The Penthos Requiem is scored for vocal soloists, four-part choir, orchestra and organ. Hanna Stone’s English text is based on the Christian Liturgical Mass for the Dead and draws on imagery from the Bible and from Syrian spiritual writings. Oglesby’s soundscape is enriched by such Eastern Orthodox traditions as tolling Russian bells and Serbian choral chant.

A striking quality of the auspicious premiere in the warm acoustic of this spacious Victorian church was the communicative power of the Penthos Requiem to connect with the listener. This was in no small part down to the sincerity and crystal clear projection of soloists Lucy Appleyard and Quentin Brown with the carefully blended St Peter’s Singers.

The National Festival Orchestra’s subtly shaded performance of Oglesby’s score illuminated such details as the glittery harp and flute passages in the Lux aeterna and the heavenly chimes in the Piu Jesu, cushioned by a sustained pianissimo chord.

Orchestral textures were punctuated by the rich sonorities of the fine organ of St Michael’s, played by David Houlder. Conductor Dr Simon Lindley meticulously balanced the complex elements of this deeply moving hour-long Requiem.

The applause was heartfelt and prolonged. We look forward to the CD recording and the opportunity to re-live an exceptional event.

Two works by German composers perfectly complemented the Penthos Requiem: Rodolf Mauersberger’s lovely setting for unaccompanied voices of stanzas from the Lamentation of Jeremiah - Wie liegt die Stadt so wust (How lonely lies the City) was composed in the aftermath of the relentless fire-bombing of Dresden in 1945.

Soprano Joanna Dexter and tenor David Brown joined Lucy Appleyard and Quentin Brown, St Peter’s Singers, organist David Houlder and the National Festival Orchestra for Beethoven’s serenely beautiful Mass in C. Dr Lindley conducted with an acute sense of the work’s dramatic contrasts.

l Geoffrey Mogridge