A mass for the masses

Singers inspired to greater heights in Karl Jenkins' popular work



I HAVE a lot in common with Sir Karl Jenkins... We were both members of the Mid-Glamorgan Youth Orchestra (Karl played the oboe and I was the first girl to play in the trumpet section). We both have albums in the Classic FM Hall of Fame and we both like a good tune. When I hear people say Karl's music is 'too accessible', I wonder what on earth they mean. Why would any composer not want their music to be accessible to their audience? I'm a real melody fan so it was a thrill to be asked to review a performance of his best-known choral work on Saturday at St Nics.

This winter season, Newbury Choral Society's concert gave us an evening packed with tunes, opening with Elgar's collection of songs From the Bavarian Highlands. The words, written by his wife Alice, sketched mental images of their walks through the mountains and the choir clearly enjoyed singing this charming collection of Victoriana. Did anyone else hear echoes of The Sound of Music? Being of its time, the piano featured heavily and Steve Bowey was a fine addition to the Southern Sinfonia ensemble of flute, cello, trumpets, percussion and double bass.


Newbury Choral Society, at St Nicolas Church, Newbury, on Saturday, November 26

Our conductor was chatty Irishman Cathal Garvey, who spoke with ease to the audience prior to both halves. His introductions gave us an insight into the music and we all enjoyed his informative contribution.

Sir Karl's The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace was in total contrast to Elgar's secular song cycle. Movements from the traditional Latin mass, the Adhaan (Muslim call to prayer, sung by Imam Moynul Haque from the pulpit); powerful words by Guy Wilson and Rudyard Kipling, the very moving Sanskrit poem Torches and of course, the secular 15th century title song L'Homme Armé were all sung with passion and conviction by our choir and they boasted some fine soloists from within their own ranks. Special mentions go to flautist James McDowall, solo cellist Joseph Spooner (his performance of the famous Benedictus solo was exquisite) and a fine, three-man trumpet section, Craig Burnett, Andrew McLean and Alisdair Ashman.

A highlight for me was the movement Charge! Depicting the horror of battle, Cathal Garvey inspired his singers to even greater heights and we witnessed such an outpouring of grief, random shouting, wailing and crying, we might have been in the midst of battle ourselves. The ensuing silence was broken by a heart-wrenching performance of the Last Post, played impeccably by Craig Burnett.

When I asked Sir Karl whether he could have predicted the success of his music, he gave a wry smile and said: 'No, it's been a series of fortuitous accidents.' Hearing my fellow countryman's music performed in my adopted home town last Saturday, I couldn't help but smile too. He's a star and deserves every bit of his incredible success.

Congratulations to all who took part in this wonderful concert, it was a pleasure to be in the audience.

Fiona Bennett



Reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Weekly News