Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’ music is the perfect niche-marketing product: a pick ‘n’ mix blend of soothing New Age soporific religiosity and world-music eclecticism. This was a greatest hits concert beginning with a mixture of miniatures and snippets from larger pieces. The music like the audience, with their sensible shoes and comfy woollies, was polite, cosy and utterly unthreatening. Jenkins’ music gestures to important themes (musical, political and religious) but sanitises them for Classic FM consumption.
Do you find Vivaldi’s Four Seasons too long and complex? Try Jenkins’ mock-baroque Palladio (once a television commercial jingle) instead. It’s 80 per cent shorter and with a very catchy “da da da dum da da da dum dum dum” theme. Want something “deep and meaningful” but find Shostakovich’s eighth string quartet (even in Barshai’s version for string orchestra) hard going? Passacaglia is just the thing.
It’s the perfect oxymoron – undemanding profundity. The Manchester Concert Orchestra, Jenkins conducting, performed both competently. There were also excerpts from Jenkins’ choral works – Requiem, The Peacemakers and Stabat Mater – all dreary, plaintive and one featuring the cheesiest “Amen” imaginable.
The ever-reliable City of Birmingham Choir were given more to do in the hour-long The Armed Man, A Mass for Peace from 2001, where Jenkins’ martial music in Charge! made a welcome change from large doses of dolefulness. It ends with Better is Peace – who could disagree? I don’t question Jenkins’ sincerity but as with John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance such monumental issues demand music of greater substance.