Review: Verdi’s Requiem at Peterborough Cathedral

Requiem at Peterborough Cathedral. Photo: MatthewRoberts
Requiem at Peterborough Cathedral. Photo: MatthewRoberts
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The Day of Judgement descended on Peterborough Cathedral with a vengeance at 7.45 on Saturday night. Screams and howls of anguish, the unmistakable reveille of the last trumpet, thunderous thwacks on the bass drum, all contributed to a deeply scary evocation of the Last Day.

Needless to say, this was the uniquely tempestuous setting of the ancient Latin text Dies irae, dies illa, Day of anger, day of trouble, which forms the second movement of Guiseppe Verdi’s Requiem.

Requiem at Peterborough Cathedral. Photo: MatthewRoberts

Requiem at Peterborough Cathedral. Photo: MatthewRoberts

Even under Steven Grahl’s calm and measured direction the performance had the essential qualities of ferocity and menace at each of its three appearances throughout the 90-minute long work.

It also demonstrated the admirable unity of the massive forces under his control.

A 150-strong chorus enhanced to special effect in this section by the piercing trebles of the cathedral choir. Plus four vocal soloists, and a 50-piece orchestra.

But Verdi’s glorious Requiem is not only about trumpets and drums and fire and brimstone.

Much of its inspired length consists of a procession of unforgettable lyrical melodies composed by an opera composer at the height of his powers.

In many of these the chorus conducted by Steven achieved a mellow and mellifluous tone reinforced by the generous cathedral acoustics. Not least in the opening movement Requiem aeternam. Here the more urgent Te decet hymnus section made a pleasing contrast. In fact nicely judged speeds were a hallmark of the performance.

Only the scintillating Sanctus, heard about 75 minutes later, lacked sparkle and could have gone at a brisker, more jaunty pace.

Of course many of the most moving of Verdi’s melodies are entrusted to the four soloists.

In the lovely Recordare and Agnus Dei, Anita Watson and Jeanette Ager dovetailed their lines charmingly. And in the sublime Hostias Christopher Steele achieved an almost Pavarotti-like transparency of tone.

Guiseppe Verdi: Requiem

Peterborough Cathedral

Saturday, March 12

Anita Watson (soprano), Jeanette Ager (mezzo), Christopher Steele (tenor), Andrew Mayor (baritone), Peterborough Cathedral Choir, Peterborough Cathedral Youth Choir & Festival Chorus, Peterborough Choral Society, Queen’s Park Sinfonia, Steven Grahl (conductor)

Review By Joe Conway