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Karl JENKINS (b. 1944)
The Very Best Of
Conducted by Karl Jenkins
Soloists include Marat Bisengaliev (violin), Alison Balsom (trumpet), Kate Royal (soprano), Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano), Alfie Boe (tenor) and Bryn Terfel (baritone)
No recording dates and venues given.
DECCA 4817903 [80:43 + 80:16]

Born in Wales with a Welsh father and a Swedish mother, Karl Jenkins had en early career as jazz- and rock musician, which has made its mark also on his later career as composer. It was in the mid-1990s that he had his breakthrough with the project Adiemus, which attracted choirs around the world – and not only young singers.  The album Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary (1995) topped the classical album charts and was followed by a flood of other albums in the same vein. A number of large-scale works with a religious or humanistic message have further enhanced his fame and popularity, the greatest and most successful The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace (1999). It was commissioned by the Royal Armouries Museum for the Millennium celebrations, with an appeal that the new millennium would be less afflicted by war than the previous one, especially the 20th century. The mass is the single most performed work by a now living composer with almost 1000 performances since the premiere at The Royal Albert Hall, London, on 25 April 2000.

This compilation, selected by Jenkins himself and also orchestrated, produced and conducted by him, gives a good picture of his oeuvre in more than 2˝ hours playing time. Bits and pieces from larger works are not always satisfying on their own, but in Jenkins’s world the movements are as a rule self-contained and those who are largely unacquainted with his music can get form their opinion about him. There are some things I can skip next time I feel for a dose of Karl Jenkins, while other things will stand out as attractive new favourites.

The first CD, opens with Dies irae from his Requiem and this is a knockout start: hard-hitting, insistent percussion and a choir that shouts out its desperation, hammering in the message. Here Karl Jenkins, the rock musician is in the foreground. It is intensive music but repetitive and in the end a bit tiring. Others may feel differently. Benedictus from The Armed Man is one of the finest things Jenkins has done. This is music to return to over and over again, and Guy Johnston plays the beautiful cello melody with noble tone and warmth. Palladio is a work for string orchestra from 1995, written in concerto grosso style. The opening Allegretto is attractively rhythmic. Pie Jesu from Requiem is obviously modelled after Andrew Lloyd Webber’s composition, at least the combination of soprano and treble soloists. Beautiful.

Gloria in excelsis Deo is hefty, but not as overblown as Dies irae. There are further numbers from The Armed Man: Agnus Dei, soft and intimate, and later Sanctus, repetitive but thrilling. Here, as in several other numbers in this collection, the composer’s son Jody K. Jenkins provides percussion contributions. In between these two numbers we hear a dance from the orchestral number Saeikiz, with Marat Bisengaliev as violin soloist. Here are influences from folk music and a virtuoso cadenza for the soloist. Fresh music. From Stella natalis there are three excellent numbers, all three featuring soprano Kate Royal and the superb trumpeter Alison Balsom. We are also treated to Kiri Te Kanawa’s soprano in In Paradisum from Requiem. Less creamy of voice than during her heydays but sensitive and touching. The recorder, played by Pamela Thorby, is effective as obbligato solo instrument. In Lacrimosa from Requiem, the harp, Catrin Finch, lends heavenly sounds to the music, and Nicole Tibbels’s soprano sails up in Heaven, too.

And the Mother did weep from Stabat Mater is a beautiful movement for choir and orchestra, while In these Stones Horizons Sing the repetitiveness of both text and music only becomes tiring. On the other hand Chasing the goose! From Quirk is a fascinating orgy in rhythms and sounds with flute and percussion instruments in front of the LSO. Sometimes it sounds like a jolly Shostakovich.

On CD 2 I have to admit that the seven excerpts from Adiemus were rather unenjoyable, mostly due to the raw and unsophisticated singing. Hymn is OK and Dos a Dos (Square Dance) is entertaining. Pamela Thorby’s recorder and Jody K. Jenkins’s percussion contribute with some nice and fun effects and it is rhythmically thrilling. The Wooing of Étain, instrumental with jazzy feel – Martin Taylor’s guitar solo! – and the exotic pipes Davy Spillaine plays bagpipe like and blends with the soft recorder contrasted well, and in the swinging Boogie Woogie Llanoogie Jenkins joins in at the piano – memories of days gone by.

Otherwise Bryn Terfel sings well in an alternative version of In these Stones Horizons Sing; Alfie Boe is in good voice in Ave verum corpus, but I would have liked him to be more hushed – which he is towards the end; Karl Jenkins plays his own arrangement of Benedictus from The Armed Man – an indication that he is fond of that melody. This is also the only number on the compilation that was previously unissued. Unfortunately most of the piece is played at an unremitting fortissimo – though he scales down towards the end, and then it becomes what it is supposed to be: a Benedictus.
Two movements from Gloria round off the programme: the prayer Laudeamus te with beautiful choral singing and Tim Hugh’s cello solo and the song I’ll make music with lovely soprano solo by Hayley Westenra. She is even allowed to sing on her own, without intrusive accompaniments. In the best music making less is often more.

Karl Jenkins’s fans probably own this music in complete recordings and need not bother about this twofer. Others will, hopefully, find things that are to their liking and be inspired to investigate further. They should know that the technical standard is high and the playing and singing generally on a high level.

Göran Forsling

CD 1 [80:43]
1. Dies irae [4:39]
The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace:
2. Benedictus [7:35]
3. Allegretto [3:44]
4. Pie Jesu [4:32]
Gloria – I. The Proclamation:
5. Gloria in excelsis Deo [4:47]
The Armed Man:
6. Agnus Dei [3:37]
7. Dance. Vivace [6:38]
Stella natalis:
8. Only Heavenly Music [3:53]
The Armed Man:
9. Sanctus [6:58]
Stella natalis:
10. The Protector [4:14]
11. In Paradisum [5:26]
Stella natalis:
12. Lullay [3:59]
13. Lacrimosa [4:45]
Stabat Mater:
14. And the Mother did weep [5:49]
15. In these Stones Horizons Sing [4:20]
III. Chasing the goose! [5:11]

CD 2 [80:16]
The Adiemus Collection:
1. Adiemus (1999 Version) [2:56]
2. In Caelum Fero (Radio Edit) [4:42]
3. Kayama (Radio Edit) [3:58]
4. Hymn [2:38]
5. Cantus – Song of the Spirit [6:10]
6. Cantus – Song of the Plains (Edit) [3:56]
7. Dos a Dos (Square Dance) [4:13]
8. The Wooing of Étain [5:22]
9. Boogie Woogie Llanoogle [3:26]
10. Beyond the Century [4:52]
11. Introit [6:44]
12. In these Stones Horizons Sing [2:21]
Stabat Mater:
13. Sancta Mater [6:16]
14. Ave verum corpus [3:26]
The Armed Man:
15. Benedictus [4:32]
Gloria II. The Prayer:
16. Laudamus te [7:11]
Gloria IV. The Song:
17. I’ll make music [5:53]

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