Buy Adiemus—Songs of Sanctuary


Royal Albert Hall, 30 Nov 96
Buy Adiemus II—Cantata Mundi

Adiemus, Royal Albert Hall, London, UK
Saturday, 30th November 1996, 20:00

Set list:     before the concert, "Palladio" was played over the PA
"Songs of Sanctuary":
      "Amaté adea"
      "In caelum fero"
      "Cantus inequalis"
      "Cantus insolitus"
      "Cantus iteratus"
- interval -
"Cantata Mundi"
Cantus "Song of Tears"
      "Chorale I (za ma ba)"
Cantus "Song of the Spirit"
      "Chorale II (roosh ka ma)"
Cantus "Song of the Trinity"
      "Chorale III (Vocalise)"
Cantus "Song of the Odyssey"
      "Chorale IV (alame oo ya)"
Cantus "Song of the Plains"
      "Chorale V (arama ivi)"
Cantus "Song of Invocation"
      "Chorale VI (sol-fah)"
Cantus "Song of Aeolus"
      "Chorale VII (a ma ka ma)"

Composed and conducted by Karl Jenkins
Miriam Stockley: solo vocalist, taped vocals
Mary Carewe: live chorus, additional taped vocals
Alison Jiear, Avryl Stockley, Mae McKenna, Stephanie Benavente, Louise Marshall: live chorus
Prof. Pamela Thorsby: gemshorn and recorders
London Philharmonic Orchestra, leader Duncan Ridell
      Percussion section: Rachel Gledhill, Andrew Barclay, Keith Millar, Neil Percy, Jeremy Cornes,
      David Hassell, Glyn Matthews, Paul Glavis

I don't imagine many in the audience would have known why I reviewed this concert for—and I don't know if you, reader, do either! Adiemus—Songs of Sanctuary stormed to the top of the classical charts on the back of being an advert jingle for Delta Air Lines. I was attending the first live performance of "Songs of Sanctuary" and its sequel, then yet to be released, "Cantata Mundi". And the man behind this phenomenon is Karl Jenkins. Karl Jenkins of Soft Machine.

Adiemus has little to do with Soft Machine and Soft Machine attracted less than two sentences in the programme. This was billed and presented as a classical concert: the orchestra in DJs and bouquets for Jenkins, Miriam Stockley (solo vocalist) and Pamela Thorsby (gemshorn and recorders) at the end. A "work locked in the European classical tradition but with vocal sound more akin to ethnic or world music" (to quote Jenkins), with extensive ethnic percussion too, Adiemus is a complex phenomenon. It can sound horribly cliched in small chunks, the female vocals sounding childish, evoking images of the worst attempts at world music by Coca-Cola adverts. It can be described as light classical; "good dinner party" music as I over heard someone describing Jenkins' Diamond Music album. Yet listen to the whole thing and it becomes hard to dislike. Listen further and you hear that Jenkins has done more than simply throw together bits of world and classical music: "Songs of Sanctuary" comes like a message from some distant 'Adiemus-land', a land who have just discovered orchestral music. There is a freshness to Adiemus that was further enhanced in a live performance.

"Songs of Sanctuary" was performed first, in an alternate order to the CD, with "Cantata Mundi" following after an interval. Comparing "Songs of Sanctuary" to the CD, the performance brought a wonderful presence and vitality to the percussion and a certain gravitas to the strings. There were occasional errors and rough spots, but that is to be expected for a first ever live performance.

Classical music buffs might criticise "Songs of Sanctuary" as formulaic and, while happy with one Adiemus, I was worried how a second would be. Adiemus II—Cantata Mundi, released some months after the concert, was an unknown. It began disappointingly, a re-hash of "Songs of Sanctuary" seemed upon us. Yet, as it developed, I saw a further synthesis of orchestral music and that from this strange Adiemus-land. A fuller orchestra supplanted the lone string section of "Songs of Sanctuary"; the use of xylophones and timpani bridging the gap between orchestral and ethnic percussion. "Cantata Mundi" also saw a widening of the Adiemus-language, with the Slavic sounding "Chorale II (roosh ka ma)" and, on "Song of Invocation", what Jenkins describes as "Arabic sounds", but which seemed more north Indian to me.

I was seated behind and somewhat to the side of the stage, overlooking the nine-strong ethnic percussion section. This meant the mix for me was somewhat awry with percussion so loud, but I liked it that way anyway! I was afforded a great view as the percussion section tackled a wide range of instruments. The result was tremendous. At times, I was reminded of Pip Pyle in a recent In Cahoots gig: the same manic drive to the percussion with which everyone else was desperately trying to keep up.

Adiemus has brought Miriam Stockley deservedly to attention. She has been a regular session vocalist, working extensively for Stock, Aitken & Waterman, as well as touring with the likes of Brian May and Mike Oldfield. She has also used her voice in other ways as an impersonator on the satirical TV programme Spitting Image and is employed for many adverts, singing and speaking. Her sister, Avryl, another singer, was in tonight's chorus too. The chorus leader, Mary Carewe, is better known in orchestral circles, as well as in musicals, including Disney's "The Lion King".

Stockley sang such nonsense words as "a-de-a" as if it was something deeply joyous and wondrous and "a-ru-wa-ru-wa" as if those syllables were full of great poignancy. A six-strong chorus—looking vaguely Gospel—supported her, as did some taped material. On "Songs of Sanctuary", taped support on percussion and, I think, some sort of wind instrument were also used, although the taped percussion did not work too well.

The composer, Jenkins, conducted, but did not play. Mike Ratledge, who had helped on the Songs of Sanctuary CD, was absent, having retired wholly from music. Jenkins was a reserved conductor, reminding me of an Albert Einstein hunched over his blackboard

The best received piece of the evening was "Song of the Plains" from Adiemus II, notable for an intro of vocal chorus and rhythmic clapping from the percussion section. Not long after, "Sol-fah" too received much applause, a canon solo by Stockley with herself on tape. In all, the reception was good, although the RAH was less than three quarters full. Odd seating arrangements mean it is rarely full, but I had seen considerably more for King Crimson (THRAK tour) and ELP (Black Moon tour) in recent years.

An encore from "Songs of Sanctuary" finished the evening. I had been tempted to shout out for some Soft Machine songs, but...

Henry Potts, 10 Aug 97; revised 22 Oct 2005

Originally posted to

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