Jenkins: Motets (CD Review - Gramophone Magazine, 2014)

When John Rutter composed The Shepherd’s Pipe Carol for the second volume of Carols for Choirs back in 1967, he set in motion a new sound for church music with repertoire that was catchy and tuneful, easy to learn and equally enjoyable for singers and audience. Such music was fresh to the ear and quickly caught on. This CD of motets by Karl Jenkins follows a similar pattern, featuring generous, warm-hearted compositions like the songs of yesteryear that are designed to have an immediate appeal to audiences.

The music chosen for this CD is an unexpected choice by Polyphony for their DG debut but Stephen Layton knows how to make these pieces take wing and gives them polish and sheen. The opening track, ‘I’ll make music’, tells us much about what follows. The words from the Old Testament (‘Lord and Master, I’ll sing a song to you’) are set to an appealing melody full of fresh air, the tune reminiscent in character of a Jerome Kern melody such as he might have penned in his early collaboration with PG Wodehouse. Like Kern, Jenkins loves modulations and Polyphony’s smooth performance has a glee-club enthusiasm and sophistication. The singers might be mindful of singing ‘you’ and not ‘yew’ at times and the strong soprano line-up never need to push the tone. To experience Jenkins’s versatility, I would suggest a sequence moving from the opening motet to the gorgeous ‘Laudamus te’ (tr 3), through the dainty 6/8 curvature of Blake’s ‘The Shepherd’, followed by ‘Ave Maria’ with its broken chant of ‘A ve’, an invigorating, trip-along Exsultate, jubilate (tr 12), the star setting, and the rhythmically subtle ‘Lullay’ (tr 16).

The acoustic of All Hallows’ Church, Hampstead, sometimes blurs the words on the upper line – or is it an artificial halo we hear at the beginning of ‘God shall wipe away all tears’? Throughout, Polyphony and Layton once again demonstrate their innate professionalism and a genuine enjoyment in singing this repertoire.

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