A great and successful occasion

Requiem, Karl Jenkins; The Armed Man, Karl Jenkins; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, performed by Stowmarket Chorale, Eye Bach Choir, Colchester Royal Grammar School Choir and Suffolk Symphony Orchestra, and soloists, April 4

Requiem, Karl Jenkins; The Armed Man, Karl Jenkins; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, performed by Stowmarket Chorale, Eye Bach Choir, Colchester Royal Grammar School Choir and Suffolk Symphony Orchestra, and soloists, April 4

A famous musician once described Snape Maltings as having the finest acoustic of any concert hall in Europe. This, combined with its beautiful and atmospheric setting by the River Alde, makes any concert important. When that concert includes the choral work currently the most often performed in Europe, with four outstanding local groups of amateur musicians, it becomes a major event.

Any anti-war work is bound to draw comparison with Britten's immortal War Requiem; to perform Jenkins' The Armed Man in Britten's own concert hall was a brave act. Karl Jenkins sprung to fame in 1995 when his stunning and unusual choral work Adiemus captivated choirs and audiences all over the world. With its eclectic mix of quasi-ethnic styles and made-up words it still does, but it has to be said that Jenkins has recently struggled to regain that fresh voice.

The Requiem and The Armed Man are not great works of music. Jenkins comes closest to his original inspiration in the Sanctus of The Armed Man which echoes the ethnic style so effective in Adiemus. Elsewhere he is frankly derivative, even to a Pie Jesu where the boy treble and adult soprano solos are a pale imitation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's very beautiful rendition, and the lament for the victims of Hiroshima was done far more effectively by Michael Berkeley in his 1982 work Or shall we die?


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Stowmarket Chorale and Eye Bach Choir are two experienced and able choirs, and presented a well-prepared and thoroughly detailed performance. Balance was excellent, and tone warm and mellifluous with particularly beautiful singing from sopranos and altos. The tenor line improved markedly in the second half when joined by the boys of Colchester Royal Grammar School. The boys sing in an uncomplicated, natural manner, blending well with the older singers and making a significant contribution to the performance.

Soprano soloist Charlotte Newstead was calm and authoritative and gave us the most beautiful singing in Now the Guns Have Stopped, all the more effective because for once the composer was content to let a beautiful voice speak for itself with simple accompaniment. On the other hand her haunting account of the aftermath of Hiroshima, Angry Flames, was marred by the composer's banal scene-painting; was it really necessary to depict the word “erupt” with a sudden loud crash from the orchestra?

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In Pie Jesu she complemented and balanced the singing of the boy soloist with astonishing breath control. Tom Chippendale gave a convincing account of his solo, with lovely tone and effortless diction.

The second movement of The Armed Man was the unusual Call to Prayer, re-creating the sound of the muezzin. Mojlum Khan's restrained rendition was highly effective, the totally different notion of tonality giving it a strange beauty.

The concert was conducted in his usual calm, precise manner by Leslie Olive and The Suffolk Symphony Orchestra, led by Geoffrey Barker, played a reliable and professional part.

The Requiem was marked by some lovely horn playing, and The Armed Man by the large and splendid brass section, though they were stretched by the complex fanfares in one movement. One should mention Geoff Webb's very sensitive playing on the tuba, an instrument that rarely earns its player enough credit.

This was a great and successful occasion, a major concert in a major concert hall, featuring some wonderful singing and playing, including some talented young people, and hugely enjoyed by a capacity audience. Let us hope it won't be long before it happens again.

A.E.Hayward

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