Arts review: The Armed Man

The Welsh composer Karl Jenkins is among the most performed living composers. His 2000 work The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace has racked up nearly 3000 performances to date, and receives its first “full” Australian performance in the 2022 edition of The Big Sing.Jenkins takes the text of the Latin Mass as his basis, and around it weaves other texts including a Muslim call to prayer, the Indian epic Mahabharata, and poetry by Kipling, Dryden, Malory, and the Japanese poet Sankichi.

The Big Sing is now firmly established as a major community event in the southern vales, and this mammoth undertaking is by far their most ambitious project to date. No fewer than five choirs, 300-odd voices, plus the combined orchestras of Marryatville High School and Brighton Secondary School (with some illustrious alumni in section leads) were under the outstanding direction of Carl Crossin. Crossin is among the finest choral conductors in Australia, and brought together the disparate forces with consummate skill.

And so to the music. The 13 movements are very diverse, from martial pomp to poignant reflection, and there is some very exacting writing. It has its memorable tunes — the Benedictus is played to a madness on ABC Classic. But when experienced with the accompanying film — the first performance in Australia — the whole enterprise takes on a new depth.

Harrowing vision of the preparations for war, of conflict itself, and of days of so-called victory, from days gone by and into the 21st century, left many members of the packed house profoundly moved. The great take-home message was the vision of refugees who have, in utter desperation, taken to the seas — or, sickeningly, shores strewn with unused life-jackets — as the text of the Benedictus was sung. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” That one, those dozens, those thousands, those tens of thousands, are the refugees.

The Armed Man makes a political, as well as a musical, statement, written as it was in the shadow of the Kosovo War. And in this full form, it does so in spades. Think, friends, of Ukraine. There are two more performances in the Adelaide Town Hall on Saturday, August 6. It can hardly be more strongly recommended.

– Peter Burdon
The Advertiser
2 August 2022

Source: Burdon, P 2022, ‘Arts review: The Armed Man’, The Advertiser, 2 August 2022, <https://www.adelaidenow.com.au/entertainment/arts/latest-review-the-armed-man-symphony-series-5-spellbound/news-story/9c09f98d2f5e7d275a92d50baef49cb2>.