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Classical Notes

The mass appeal of Karl Jenkins

Posted at 2:19 PM on April 21, 2006 by Don Lee

Britain’s Classic FM has released the results of its annual Hall of Fame survey. By polling its listeners, the station declares a composition “officially the nation's favorite piece of classical music.” This year, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto unseated Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which had been No. 1 for the previous five years.

Their broad appeal makes those pieces understandable choices. Not surprisingly, the entire list of top finishers includes what you might call the usual suspects. Except this one: The Armed Man (A Mass for Peace) by Karl Jenkins, which finished No. 10.

Have you heard of that piece? I hadn’t, although I do know Karl Jenkins as the 70s jazz/rocker-turned-“classical”-composer who wrote “Palladio,” an urgent-sounding, Baroque-flavored tune used a few years ago to help sell DeBeers diamonds in TV ads.

A few samples from the Boosey and Hawkes Web site demonstrate that this mass is pleasing music too…Mozart filtered through the sensibility of a film composer like John Barry. On a page touting a recording of the piece, Boosey proudly quotes The Guardian newspaper: “’No doubt, this will sell by the lorry-load.’”