Karl Jenkins

Karl Jenkins: Gloria; Te Deum

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Beginning with The Armed Man, his take on the Renaissance L'homme armé tradition, British crossover composer Karl Jenkins achieved rapidly mounting popularity. By 2010 it was claimed that he was the world's most often performed living composer. It is still true that if you're looking for subtlety you're in the wrong place in the Jenkins section, but it is now becoming equally clear why he has become more than a flash in the pan and why his simple structures do not cloy or wear out their welcome. They are never sentimental; he never asks of them more than they can reasonably deliver; and he has continued to develop certain adjunct ideas -- broad multicultural gestures most obviously, but also a particular take on the textures of older British band music -- in consistent and solid ways. The result in the case of the Gloria featured on this release is unusually satisfying. Jenkins breaks up his usual sequence of big, brassy, quartal-sounding movements and quiet ones in which the choir circles around a core of three or four notes, inserting short (30- to 45-second) readings of scripture from Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Islamic traditions. "Ethnic percussion" vaguely associated with these faiths permeates the work as a whole, and Jenkins takes things one step further here with a movement called "The Song," setting texts cobbled together from Psalm 144 and other biblical texts. The reedy voice of the young New Zealand soprano Hayley Westenra is beautifully deployed here, adding a burnished shade to the pastels of Jenkins' quieter movements. The whole thing doesn't necessarily sound as though it would hang together, but thanks to the basic simplicity of the materials it does, and it suggests a sincere ecumenism on the composer's part. The Te Deum that rounds out the disc is a bit less successful; Jenkins works better on a large canvas than on a small one. But the percussion rhythms in the big opening movement, repeated at the end, suggest new directions for his music. Recorded in April 2010 (you can get an idea of the blocklike quality of Jenkins' music by noting that the choral and orchestral parts were recorded on separate occasions), this disc was on sale by August of that year; clearly Jenkins can get the British recording establishment to move, well, heaven and earth. But their investment should be well repaid; this release will more than satisfy Jenkins fans and should get him some new ones. Notes are in English only; texts for all the music are given in their original languages (in transliteration only where the originals are in other kinds of writing) and in English translation.

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