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Review: Peterborough Cathedral's Summer Music Festival and The Bristol Ensemble , Peterborough Cathedral Choir, Youth Choir, Festival Chorus, Peterborough Choral Society,  March 2017
Steven Grahl (organ)
David Hill (conductor)
7.30 pm 10 June, Peterborough Cathedral
This concert was not only the climax of Peterborough Cathedral's Summer Music Festival, it was also everything a festive musical event should be! With a first half focusing on works for organ and orchestra, and a second half of music for combined choirs, this was really two generous concerts in one.
The brainchild of Steven Grahl, the Cathedral's Director of Music, the occasion was a celebration of changes recently made to the pitch of the organ. Though it might sound a bit abstruse the re-pitching has had highly practical consequences. Previously it was impossible for the organ to play along with other instruments because of a clash of tuning, but now it can blend happily with any combination of instruments and voices.
The programme began with perhaps the most beautiful work ever written for organ and orchestra, the concerto by the French composer Francis Poulenc. For years he was regarded as a musical clown and mischievous master of what's facetiously called 'leg-poulenc.'  Not to mention a musical magpie unashamedly borrowing from other composers. Yet his works are turning out to be among the most enduring of the 20th century. Does it really matter if the opening chords, magnificently performed by Steven Grahl on the refurbished organ, sound like Bach? Or that the ravishing dotted note string melody, passionately played by the Bristol Ensemble conducted by David Hill, owes something to Faure? Or even that there's a sequence of descending chords literally lifted from Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony? The point is that all these fit into a musical tapestry which is woven together coherently and colourfully.
Less familiar but highly appropriate to the occasion was Samuel Barber's Toccata Festiva which soon emerged as a mini-organ concerto in all but name. This taxing score with its welcome moments of sunny lyricism received a highly charged performance from the Bristol players, while Steven Grahl excelled in an organ cadenza played exclusively on the pedals.
After the interval the choristers of the Cathedral Choir, the Youth Choir, the Festival Chorus, and the Peterborough Choral Society took their place on stage. They made a stunning impression with unanimous and powerful singing in Balfour Gardiner's Evening Hymn again conducted by the tireless and authoritative David Hill.
Their programme of familiar spiritual songs also included the world premiere of Toby Young's The Way, the Truth, and the Life. Exciting and enjoyable, this accessible score was characterised by near Caribbean rhythmic exuberance, plentiful key change, and a feisty coda for rushing strings with an ending that took everyone by surprise.

Review: Handel’s Messiah with Peterborough Choral Society and City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra, Peterborough Cathedral; March 2013

HANDEL’S Messiah is almost an ‘institution’ of Britain’s cultural heritage. But I do wonder whether sometimes we forget how supremely beautiful a work of musical genius it is.

Peterborough’s Choral Society and friends, with members of the City’s Symphony Orchestra, left us in no doubt.From the opening bars of the overture, the orchestra, precise and sonorous and prepared in three weeks of rehearsals under leader Angus McGibbon, promised much, and with the entry of tenor Greg Tassell with Comfort Ye My People and then the chorus, and the whole body of singers and musicians under the baton of Anne MacDonald, the promise began to be fulfilled.Greg was to return more than once with passionate power, as in the recitative Thy Rebuke Hath Broken His Heart. He would be matched by Neil Baker, bass baritone, in the electrifying Air, The Trumpet Shall Sound; the trumpets starred also in the chorus Glory to God. The women soloists were Rebecca Hodgetts, soprano, and Emma Carrington, mezzo-soprano. In his introduction, cathedral dean, the Very Rev Charles Taylor, also society president, had told us that some 50 of those on stage were guests from other choral societies who had joined with Peterborough exclusively for this evening’s performance.The Hallelujah Chorus was stirringly rendered, and in the lament Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs, the combined choir even touched something of the deep emotion that Handel inspired – as he testified, by the libretto created by his friend Charles Jennens – in writing this, the greatest of all oratorios in English.

Please visit our gallery to see some photographs taken of the performance.