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Karl JENKINS (b.1944)
Motets
see end of review for trac listing
Polyphony/Stephen Layton
rec. no details supplied. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 3232 [74:08]

I’m ashamed to say that back in February 2014 I missed the seventieth birthday tributes to Karl Jenkins a man much loved by choral societies for his Adiemus - Songs of Sanctuary, Armed Man Mass and recently his Requiem. This CD acts as a birthday tribute to this much performed composer and offers us an opportunity to hear a selection of his a capella choral works on one CD and in superb performances.

However this reviewer has a problem. I have been sent only a slimly packaged promotional disc with no essay and no texts, so I have no idea if these items are presented in the CD booklet. In addition it seems that only twelve of the items on my disc are replicated on the disc you can purchase from the web or from shops which incidentally has a DG number as given above. Even more confusingly it’s the same cover. My comments then will just touch on these joint items.

Polyphony under Stephen Layton is unbeatable especially in this sort of repertoire. I have no texts, as I said, but their words are 95% clear with just some missing consonants at the ends of words. They have been aided and abetted also by the superb acoustic of All Hallows Church Hampstead which gives the top line a sort of halo.

The opening song of the Songs of Sanctuary is probably Jenkins’s best-known piece. He converted it into a brief setting of the Cantate Domino in which form it works quite well. There are poignant sections here from the Requiem of 2005: the lyrical In Paradisum and the rather sentimental Pie Jesu. For his modern Stabat Mater Jenkins set the words And the Mother did weep.

Some motets come from the Armed Man Mass: the Benedictus and God shall wipe away all tears. These pieces demonstrate Jenkins hymn-influenced, Welsh chapel background, being homophonic and essentially melodic with a liberal use of sequences and conventional modulations and cadences. The Adiemus movement which he uses in the Cantate Domino and a movement such as Healing Light from The Peacemakers, with their repeated patterns, show a vague debt to African music and minimalism. The latter also uses a Celtic Blessing text. It is these pieces that demonstrate Jenkins' own voice much better with their modality and simplicity.

Not all the texts are religious. Blake’s The Shepherd from his Poems of Innocence and of Experience is set in a gentle compound time adopting a language that would have been familiar one hundred years ago in catch clubs and village choirs ... and there is no harm in that. From his Stella Natalis comes the setting of Lullay — rather too sickly sweet for my liking. Also from his cantata the Peacemakers comes Peace, Peace one of my favourite movements this, with its exclamations of Shalom towards the end, peace being a regular cry in Jenkins’ compositional output.

Much of this music appeals to good amateur singers, is mostly not too demanding, is rewarding to sing and is easily available. Although like much music, to do it well is the big challenge.

Although sometimes emotionally charged these settings are also warm-hearted and communicative. They speak to all levels of musical society even if many tend to be rather sniffy about the success this composer has achieved.

Gary Higginson

Track-listing

1. I'll Make Music - Gloria 4:40
2. Cantate Domino - Adiemus - Songs of Sanctuary 2:40
3. Laudamus te - Gloria 4:52
4. Benedictus - The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace 4:03
5. The Shepherd - The Healer - A Cantata for St Luke's 2:54
6. Ave Maria - Adiemus - Songs of Sanctuary 4:08
7. Ave verum corpus - Stabat mater 4:23
8. Agnus Dei The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace 4:01
9. Healing Light - The Peacemakers 3:05
10. Locus iste 2:48
11. Pie Jesu - Requiem 3:08
12. Exsultate, jubilate 4:20
13. God Shall Wipe Away All Tears - The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace 2:08
14. And The Mother Did Weep - Stabat mater 5:47
15. Lullay - Stella natalis 4:06
16. Peace, Peace! - The Peacemakers 4:07
17. In paradisum - Requiem 4:15
18. Dona nobis pacem - The Peacemakers 4:24
19. Nunc dimittis - The Healer - A Cantata for St Luke's 4:19