Karl Jenkins The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

This expertly performed recorded version gives a good flavour of its live power.

Charlotte Gardner 2010

Karl Jenkins composed The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace in 2000. EMI are marking its 10-year anniversary by re-releasing it as a special edition album. Not many modern musical anniversaries would warrant such a fuss, but this mass has become Jenkins' most performed work, clocking up over 900 performances since its première. Jenkins fans will want this re-release for the inclusion of For the Fallen, Jenkins' new war-related choral piece, recorded here for the first time.

Without wishing to dwell too much on a work and a recording that have been in the public domain for some time, The Armed Man incorporates every style and mood, from a serene Islamic Call to Prayers, to wailing screams (really – in the seventh movement, Charge!). Whilst it doesn't bear much comparison to other famous war-themed classical works, most notably Britten's great War Requiem, when assessed by itself its popularity is unsurprising. It's musically accessible, and quite a show, particularly when performed live. The expertly performed recorded version gives a good flavour of its live power.

On to the new, and For the Fallen: In Memoriam Alfryn Jenkins is dedicated to the memory of Jenkin’s viola-playing uncle, lost in action in 1944. The work lasts just under five minutes and is a setting of the Laurence Binyon poem recited every Remembrance Day. Evidently written from the heart, it opens with a viola solo, and features Jenkins' regular solo soprano of choice, Hayley Westenra. Jenkins' very effective compositional device has been to draw the main musical idea and its harmonies from The Last Post bugle call. Less effective is the spoken narration of one verse over the music itself. There's a reason why there aren't numerous classical works featuring speech over musical accompaniment: it doesn't work. Rather ironically, the verse Jenkins has picked features the line, "There is music in the midst of desolation". Music. Not talk. However despite this, and despite The Armed Man's popularity, For the Fallen still feels like the better, more mature work. It's been performed here with strength of feeling by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and the London Symphony Orchestra.

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