Review: An emotional afternoon with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Northampton

Anna Brosnan reviews The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

By Peter Ormerod
Monday, 7th February 2022, 2:52 pm
Updated Monday, 7th February 2022, 2:54 pm
'A musical education': The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
'A musical education': The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

An emotional rollercoaster ride of music was on offer from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday afternoon at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate.

The programme was eclectic, taking audiences on a journey from the early 20th century and the joyous, jagged orchestral rhythms of Walton’s seaside-inspired Portsmouth Point, through to Elgar’s smooth masterpiece – Introduction and Allegro for Strings.

After the interval, the mood changed as performers plunged into a piece written by Sir Karl Jenkins around the time of the millennium - the epic and complex The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace.

I have to admit, I had been unfamiliar with the piece in its entirety – but I now realise how important it is to appreciate the message and structure of the music from start to finish.

The work as a whole gives an overview of war – its pageantry, but also the chaos, pain and bloodshed that comes with it, and the hope for peace in the future.

Traditional texts and music carry with them emotional connotations so the patchwork of allusions from literature and prayer that run through the piece must have an evocative effect for most listeners.

The work draws from sources as broad and varied as the traditional Latin mass text through to the Muslim call to prayer and the words of Tennyson.

Imaginative use of instrumentation and creativity within choral passages also helped the work pack its emotional punch. Definitely an homage to percussion, it boasts an exhaustive representation from that section, with instruments such as the snare drum helping to lend a military feel.

As ever, the RPO delivered an exceptional performance of this challenging work, led by the talented conductor Adrian Partington.

A fine solo performance was given by soprano Rebecca Bottone, supported by the wonderful Northampton Bach Choir. The choir was impressive in capably handling the complexity of Jenkins’ music, which included an eerie and menacing vocal section that seemed to illustrate the cries of the dying. No easy task.

As someone who had been unfamiliar with Jenkins’ work, this was a musical education for me and a useful reminder of the power of music to make audiences think and feel.

* Visit www.rpo.co.uk for more information about the orchestra and future concerts.