Say what you like about his music, but Karl Jenkins is a phenomenon. From 1970s jazz-rock to advertising jingles and large-scale choral works, he is now, as his publicity trills, ‘the most performed living composer in the world.’
To an extent Jenkins’ latest magnus opus, The Peacemakers, follows on from The Armed Man, which is not very far. Like the earlier piece, it is driven by pacifist sentiments and draws on a polyglot text from many sources. It is also far too long.
There are some attractive moments – sweet songs involving children, like ‘I offer you peace’ and ‘Evening Prayer’, exotic percussion and solos that enliven an otherwise dull score – although they don’t add up to much. Rather than progression and development, the seventeen movements are constructed from one or two musical ideas that alternate between loud and soft, slow and fast(ish), and are often tiresomely repetitive.
Instead of being uplifted, perhaps even challenged, we are mollified by pleasant-sounding tunes with nowhere to go.
Full marks, though, to the performers – Côr Caerdydd, a well-balanced SATB choir based in Cardiff (from whose ranks emerged the fine mezzo-soprano soloist Rhiann Williams); our own Lichfield Cathedral Young Voices, who displayed both beauty of tone and endurance; the excellent Manchester Concert Orchestra, with its sonorous strings, effulgent brass, and four distinctive soloists for extra instrumental gloss – and Jenkins himself, who conducted throughout the 79 minutes without raising a sweat.
Was it worth the effort? The ecstatic audience obviously thought so. And does The Peacemakers express genuine personal beliefs, or just milk a successful formula? I suspect a bit of both.