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Review: THE BIG SING - THE ARMED MAN: A MASS FOR PEACE at Adelaide Town Hall

Review: THE BIG SING - THE ARMED MAN: A MASS FOR PEACE at Adelaide Town Hall

Massed voices raised in harmony.

Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Saturday 6th August2022.

There is nothing quite as thrilling as massed voices raised in harmony. Every individual singer has their part to play, and their voice to offer. Since 2017, with a pandemic mandated break, The Big Sing has given hundreds of South Australians the chance to participate in major works of the choral repertoire. The Armed Man, a Mass for Peace, was this year's choice, the Adelaide performances tied to the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

The first performance a week earlier, down at Tatachilla Winery, capped the choir numbers at 300. The two Adelaide performances were slimmed down, but the choir filled the stage, and the orchestra took up half the auditorium floor. The availability of the orchestras of Brighton Secondary School and Marryatville High School was vital to the success of the evening, with superb playing across the score, with powerful brass.

Welsh composer, Karl Jenkins, took inspiration from a mediæval song about a knight-in-arms, using the refrain of the old ballad at the start of the work. There are extant many mediæval masses by such composers as Machaut and de Prez, using the tune as the basis for their work. The technical term is 'parody mass', but these are serious works of devotion.

Jenkins's text uses parts of the Ordinary of the mass, but adds other words, including a striking Prayer Before Battle, by Rudyard Kipling, which calls on the God of battles for aid. The work includes the Muslim call to prayer, delivered powerfully by local singer Farhan Shah, and the Kyrie of the mass was sung by young treble, Max Junge. Young 'cellist, Jack Overall, was the featured soloist in the Benedictus.

It was good to hear among the soloists, Aldis Sils, in the brief baritone part. He's Head of Music at Marryatville High School, and directly responsible for so much of the quality on display. Six women of the Elder Conservatorium Chorale, Gianna Guttila, Katelyn Crawford, Amelia Price, Alison Hardy, Alexandra Fowler, and Leyang Hong, presented their lyrical solos clearly.

What made this performance so special was the inclusion of a film made of archive footage, from the military marches, in many different uniforms, to the distressing footage of the dead in concentration camps. The visuals related thematically to the music and, at one point, a military band of young soldiers matched with the young musicians in the orchestra. The first big bang, timed to a nuclear bomb, was so loud a small child behind me started to cry and demanded to be taken out. The voices of anguished children carry very clearly.

Carl Crossin, actually, of course, Dr. Carl Crossin OAM, directed his forces with the expected skill. It's no accident that both Field Marshalls and conductors carry batons.

Regional Awards


From This Author - Barry Lenny


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