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

Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Saturday, August 6, 2022.

There’s nothing more exciting than massive vocals raised in harmony. Each singer has his role to play and his voice to offer. Since 2017, with a pandemic-enforced hiatus, The Big Sing has given hundreds of South Australians the chance to take part in major works of choral repertoire. The armed man, a mass for peacewas this year’s choice, performances of Adelaide tied to the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

The first performance a week earlier, at Tatachilla Winery, capped the number of choirs at 300. The two Adelaide performances were reduced, but the choir filled the stage and the orchestra took up half the floor of the auditorium. The availability of the Brighton Secondary School and Maryatville High School orchestras was essential to the success of the evening, with superb playing throughout the score, with powerful brass.

Welsh composer Karl Jenkins drew inspiration from a medieval song about a knight-at-arms, using the refrain from the ancient ballad at the start of the work. There are many medieval masses by composers such as Machaut and de Prez, using melody as the basis of their work. The technical term is “parodic mass”, but these are serious works of devotion.

Jenkins’ text uses parts of the Ordinary of the Mass, but adds other words, including a striking prayer before the battle, for Rudyard Kipling, who calls on the God of Battles for help. The work includes the Muslim call to prayer, delivered forcefully by local singer Farhan Shah, and the Kyrie from the mass was sung by young treble, Max Junge. The young cellist, Jack Overall, was the star soloist of the Benedictus.

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

What made this performance so special was the inclusion of film made up of archival footage, from military marches, in many different uniforms, to harrowing images of the dead in concentration camps. The visuals were thematically linked to the music, and at one point a military band of young soldiers joined the young musicians of the orchestra. The first big bang, timed for a nuclear bomb, was so loud that a small child behind me started crying and asked to be taken out. The voices of the anguished children carry very clearly.

Carl Crossin, indeed of course Dr. Carl Crossin OAM, led his forces with expected skill. It is no coincidence that marshals and conductors carry truncheons.