CONCERT REVIEW: Jenkins – The Armed Man

By Martin Dreyer

York Minster, 14 November 2015

IN the immediate aftermath of the Paris massacres, Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man, subtitled A Mass for Peace, offered a timely antidote. Saturday evening’s performance, conducted by David Pipe, was preceded by a salutary moment of silence.

This concentrated the minds of choir and orchestra alike: there was palpable determination in the martial opening. The presence of a muezzin, Ustadh Adam Aslam, intoning the Muslim call to prayer from the pulpit, lent welcome perspective, since Jenkins’ underlying use of the mediaeval melody L’Homme Armé (“the armed man should be feared”) implies that warlike intent – from any quarter – has always bedevilled civilisation.

The bombastic Kyrie and ironic Sanctus carried special impact, building towards a terrifying climax in Charge!. The soloists, soprano Katie Trethewey and baritone Greg Skidmore, provided catharsis in Toge Sankichi’s post-Hiroshima musings; Trethewey, singing solo, was movingly smooth in Now The Guns Have Stopped, alongside gentle strings. Military fife and drums returned for the finale, where the choir conjured optimism from part of Tennyson’s Ring Out, Wild Bells – even if Jenkins’ un-harmonised last chord left ambivalence in the air.

In a Vaughan Williams second half, Sophie Lockett’s confident violin, rightly shunning sentimentality, turned that old chestnut The Lark Ascending into something new-minted and fresh, floating her tone into the welcoming acoustic. Similarly, it was a treat to hear the orchestral version of Five Mystical Songs, with Skidmore’s ringing clarity making the very most of George Herbert’s poetry. The choir shadowed him beautifully.

Reproduced by kind permission of The Press