Review: Penthos - A Requiem For Our Time, St Peter’s Singers, National Festival Orchestra, Leeds Minster, Good Friday, 7th April 2023

Penthos Requiem is derived from an ancient Greek word. Penthos can mean the gift of tears or joy-bearing grief for sins. This hour-long Requiem takes the form of a traditional Latin Mass and is scored for two vocal soloists, four-part choir, a sizeable orchestra, and organ.

Leeds based composer Matthew Oglesby wrote the music. The poet-theologian Hannah Stone crafted a new text which probes themes of reconciliation, penitence and forgiveness. Both are members of St Peter’s Singers. The 2018 centenary commemorations for the First World War Armistice provided the inspirational force for Penthos Requiem.

St Peter’s Singers and the National Festival Orchestra premiered Penthos under the baton of Dr Simon Lindley, at St Michael’s Church Headingley, on 27th October 2018. A second performance scheduled for Good Friday 2020, had to be cancelled due to the covid pandemic.

Thanks to generous funding from the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation and the Friends of Leeds Minster Music, that long-awaited second performance has now happened.

The same forces including the original vocal soloists, Lucy Appleyard and Quentin Brown, were all present but with a change of baton: Alex Woodrow, the current director of St Peter’s Singers, conducted Good Friday’s performance.

The power of Penthos to connect with the listener made an indelible impression back in 2018. Good Friday’s performance, given as another war rages in Europe, reinforced that initial impression. Hannah Stone’s achingly beautiful poetry is rich in imagery and vivid in its depiction of characters. Oglesby’s musical soundworld deploys tolling Russian bells and Serbian Orthodox choral chant to reach beyond the words and affirm the deepest human longing for peace.

St Peter’s Singers and the twenty-six musicians of the National Festival Orchestra, gave a beautifully nuanced reading of the score under Alex Woodrow’s direction. Clearly he has inhabited this music for the past few weeks. Carefully delineated orchestral and choral textures were punctuated by the awesome sonorities of the Minster’s great organ played by William Campbell.

The audience rose to its collective feet in a standing ovation at the end of an incredibly moving experience. Penthos Requiem is for our time and deserves to be widely performed.