November 2004: Jenkins and Fauré

Jenkins: The Armed Man
Fauré: Requiem

Exeter Cathedral, 11 November 2004


Exeter Express and Echo

Source: Simon Artymiuk

"The cathedral was packed for the Exeter Festival Chorus charity concert marking Remembrance Day.

Accompanied by the Sinfonietta and conducted by Nigel Periin, the choir staged stunning performances of Fauré's Requiem and Jenkins' The Armed Man. The recent Berkshire rail crash was also on everyone's minds, one of the choir members having been injured in the accident, so the chorus dedicated the first piece to the disaster's victims.

Fauré's Requiem, first written in 1888 and added to subsequently, is a much calmer setting than, say, Mozart's. The choir conveyed a good sense of the religious feeling that the composer consciously aimed for in the work, particularly in the Sanctus. They were ably assisted by baritone soloist Gavin Carr and soprano Wendy Dawn Thompson, who effortlessly filled the building with her voice when singing the well-known Pie Jesu and Angnus Dei. The harp and organ accompaniment were highly effective here.

Next came the performance of a work by a living composer who was, in fact, present in the cathedral audience.

Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man, written in 2000, takes as its theme warfare and its relation to poetry throughout the ages and across the world's cultures. With startling effect it zaps back and forth through time and languages linking ideas and related themes.

Appropriately for a work by a film composer, there are also moments of great dramatic effect. The starting point is the 15th century French song L'Homme Armée, which was sung to the accompaniment of drums and stamping feet as the choir marched the length of the cathedral before taking their seats in response to an Arabic call to prayer, a timely reminder of events in Iraq.

Choirboy Joseph Harker bravely faced the crowds from the pulpit in singing the Kyrie before the Sanctus was sung by the choir to a movie epic-type accompaniment calling to mind the marching of Roman legions. This dovetailed neatly into lines by Kipling from the days of Britain's own imperial dominance. A sounding of The Last Post and lines from Dryden and Swift took us back to the time of Marlborough's victory at Blenheim, before a change to Oriental percussion and words by Toga Sankichi laid before us the horrors of the atom bomb at Hiroshima.

A startling juxtaposition to this was the Hindu poem The Mahàbharàta, dating from the 6th century but describing a scene of cataclysmic destruction reading like a vision of such a nuclear explosion.

The piece concluded with a return to the L'Homme Armée theme, medieval dialogue from Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur against the evils of war and a poem by Tennyson on the same theme. An Irish reel accompaniment perhaps hinted at recent hopes of a breakthrough in the Northern Ireland peace process. Lines from Revalations ended the piece and heralded a well-deserved standing ovation for choir, soloists, orchestra, conductor and composer alike."