Cantoris takes on The Armed Man

Cantoris Choir: The Armed Man

Karl Jenkins: The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace

Cantoris Choir, Ensemble and Karakia

Director: Brian O’Regan

St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wellington

Friday, 26th April, 2013

Cantoris are to be congratulated on a very good performance of Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man, as is their new director, Brian O’Regan, and accompanying musicians. As soon as the first drum tattoo echoed through St Andrews, I was glad to be there. The choir made a wonderful start as well, producing a rich and full sound that filled the church. Indeed, it was the warmth and depth of the choir that most stood out for me, carrying the performance through what were occasionally rather banal words (ring out the old, ring in the new/ ring happy bells across the snow). Reading through the programme beforehand, I had wondered how they were going to pull off some of the lyrics, particularly those of the last section, ‘Better is Peace’. The performance stood as a testament to how music can elevate less than astounding words.

The second section, traditionally an islamic call to prayer, was replaced by a karakia, beautifully performed by Wairemana Campbell. The substitution worked well, making this a distinctively New Zealand performance, something that was particularly fitting the day following Anzac Day. The next section, the Kyrie, again showcased the choir’s rich sounds. This part also contained a haunting cello solo by Margaret Guldborg.

The section that was the most striking, however, was section five, the Sanctus. It began quietly, with the underlying menace of the percussion (wonderfully played by Thomas Guldborg and Hazel Leader) belying the sweetness and serenity of the choir. When they reached the Hosanna the audience was rocked by an overwhelming and climactic wall of sound. In a way this made it difficult for the choir in the Charge section, which should logically be the climax of the mass. So much sound and energy had already peaked during the Sanctus that the music struggled to gain enough for the Charge. Although they rallied in the end, for me it lacked the drama of the Sanctus.

After the Charge came the unremitting grimness of the Angry Flames and Torches. It was a relief when the Agnus Dei arrived and the piece began to move away from the horrors described in the middle sections. The choir was particularly soft and sweet during the Benedictus, which also featured some lovely work from the ensemble, although the background organ was perhaps a little overbearing. In the final section, Better is Peace, the choir captured the hope and excitement of the ending, bringing the piece to a spectacular finish.