Polyphony / Stephen Layton

Karl Jenkins: Motets

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It would be easy, and true enough, to say that those who like the productions of British crossover composer Karl Jenkins will love this collection of motets, while his many highbrow detractors will hate it. It's incumbent on both groups, however, to try to see where the music here fits into his overall output. These motets, released in conjunction with the composer's 70th birthday, are not original compositions (except for Locus iste, track 10), but rearrangements of some of the composer's biggest successes: The Armed Man and The Peacemakers primary among them. The arrangements are by Jenkins himself, and the recycling ethos is common enough in this kind of music, where successful profit centers should be exploited to the maximum. The question is whether this format improves the music, and for the most part the answer is no. The music is reduced to its basic vertical sonorities, and these are not really its strong point: John Rutter does sentimental unaccompanied evocations of English tradition better. What's distinctive about Jenkins is the pleasingly eclectic quality of his music, with references ranging from the medieval song L'homme armé (The Armed Man) to popular and world traditions, all made to hold together. The variety is minimized in these arrangements. There are surely plenty of listeners who will enjoy the sweet harmonies, and Stephen Layton and Polyphony establish themselves as Jenkins' ideal interpreters. The sound is superb, but general listeners interested in the best case to be made for Jenkins might seek out the original recordings of the pieces from which these motets are drawn.

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