Reviewed by Phil Thomson
Not to be outdone in the Christmas market, this prolific composer has created an album of classical work which is as fascinating as it is frustrating. From the opening unison of "Celebro" the signature horns and heraldic Latin announcement set the pace. What follows are waves of gloriously complex choral outpourings with that assertive Jenkins signature, blessed from time to time by the pure soprano voice of EMI artist Kate Royal, award-winning young chorister Alice Halstead and the exquisite trumpet playing of Classical BRITS Alison Balsom. It is indeed a joyous marriage throughout. What is more, the ensemble singing - from Tenebrae, The Adiemus Singers and The Marylebone Camerata - is peerless; intimately in touch with every Jenkins nuance. But the whole project seems slightly tinged with a nervousness from the sole librettist Carol Barratt, given vent in such forced titles as "Wintertide", "Sleep, Child Of Winter", "Make We Merry". Admitedly, it is impossible to ignore the global reach of Karl Jenkins' over-familiar "Adiemus" and the strains of such a unique musical marquee permeate the first part of the album, "Stella Natalis" itself. To a certain extent, this informs the settings of the lyrics. The point is, with Jenkins we expect to be caught out and are not disappointed. All the customary eccentricities which have set him apart in the world of contemporary classical music are on display, this time drawing on texts as diverse as the Zulu language, the words of Hindu gods and the Old Testament - yet it is this something-for-everyone element which makes it all feel just a little contrived for the carol/Christmas genre. As if to make sure we get it, the second part of the album is entitled Joy To The World and Christened as world carols. It features Jenkins' arrangements of a few standards such as "In Dulci Jubilo", "Silent Night", "The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy" and "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" - now, what is that doing there? Just occasionally, you can hear the TV ad soundtracks seeping through. Bane or blessing? On balance, blessing.
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