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by on 11 November 2020

The Blessing of Freedom


by Karl Jenkins

St Mary’s Hampton, 8th November, then on YouTube

Review by Mark Aspen

If there are two overarching emotions from the mixed bag of feelings that Remembrance Sunday evokes, these surely are sadness and pride.  Although particularly associated with the Armistice of the Great War on 11th November 1918, Remembrance Sunday honours those lost in fighting all wars, including both World Wars.  Sadness is of course inevitable when one contemplates the millions deaths in the World Wars.  However, without a sense of pride in the fighters for our freedom and way of life, we dishonour those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.   Now in 2020 when there are many threats to our way of life and our national culture that these brave warriors died defending, it is even more important that we should commemorate Remembrance Sunday.

For St Mary’s, the parish church of Hampton, Remembrance Sunday 2020 was tinged with a certain irony.  It had reopened its door to public worship the previous Sunday, its post First Lockdown revival having been delayed due to restoration works, which had coincidentally been scheduled for spring and summer, but were prolonged by the restrictions.  After one Sunday of glory, Lockdown 2.0 stifled plans for the parish service of remembrance.   Nevertheless, a special commemoration did take place behind closed doors, but streamed to the world on the internet, in pride and honour to the fallen.

In homage to the brave fallen heroes, a musical tribute formed the opening of the service.  Karl Jenkins’s Benedictus from his work The Armed Man was a moving and, in the almost deserted church, highly atmospheric piece, to honour the fallen of Hampton and beyond.  The musicians, David Pimm on the organ and Amy Gould on the cello, made a seamlessly integrated team.  The Armed Man, A Mass for Peace is scored for full symphony orchestra with an extended, and eclectic, percussion section and a large choir.  This adaption was for organ, but keeping the cello solo in the first, non-choral, half of the reflective movement entitled Benedictus or blessing.

Sir Carl Jenkins

The full work was commissioned by the Royal Armouries Museum in 2020 from the Welsh composer Sir Karl Jenkins, who once lived in the Borough and was a patron of Arts Richmond.  Sir Karl dedicated The Armed Man to victims of the tragic wars at the time of its composition, following the break-up of Yugoslavia.   The eclecticism of the work is apparent from its inspirational sources, which range from the 15th century French folk song L’homme armé to the call to prayer of a muezzin.  Indeed the languages used include French and Arabic.  The Armed Man is intended to encompass the worldwide and eternal experience of war.

David Pimm and Amy Gould’s version of Benedictus resonates as a musical embodiment of the blessing of peace after war.  Its clarity and sense of direction makes the piece soul piercing and almost unbearably moving.  Sir Karl Jenkins himself describes the movement as intuitive and simple.  The D major opening on the organ does not sound at first like an introduction and the cello comes in almost immediately.  As it develops, the cello solo is set high in the instrument’s register giving it an ethereal and spiritual elation that makes the piece so deeply touching.  Gould plays the solo with a gravitas and seriousness that paradoxically lightens the pieces and makes it float on the precise and uplifting base of Pimm’s organ bedrock.  But my, he really does know how to make the venerable Bishop organ sing.  This is a magnificent instrument, a gift from King William IV to his own parish on his coronation in September 1831. 

This short recital recording does also reveal for the first time publically the beautifully restored church, built in 1829-31 on previous medieval foundations by architect Edward Lapridge, whose other works also include St Paul’s Hammersmith (long since dwarfed by the A4 flyover) and Kingston Bridge.   The restoration has bought out the resplendent blue of the nave and choir ceiling, believed to be the original Georgian colour.  Especially remarkable though is the gilded mural above the chancel arch, with angels praising God, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, long lost under numerous decades of grime.  Nevertheless the most pertinent feature relevant to remembrance, and seen in some detail in the video, is the intricately carved oak choir screen erected a century ago as the memorial to the men of Hampton lost in the Great War, to which a quarter century later were added those lost in the Second World War.  All their names are carved in the oak.  If the stories of all these brave men were brought together, what a fascinating tome that would be. 

It is these men, and the many millions of men and women who were their comrades in arms, whom Remembrance Sunday seeks to honour.   In churches and at war memorials all around the country on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, two minutes silence was keep, parenthesised by the Last Post and Reveille, the bugle calls sounded to mark the end and start of the military day.  In the context of remembrance, as the St Mary’s curate, Cara Lovell reminded us in the contiguous service, these calls are an allegory, the Last Post signifying the sadness, darkness and fear of death, whereas Reveille signifies that the darkness of death does not have the final word.   The Resurrection promises hope, joy and freedom.

Hope, joy and freedom form a Benedictus, as much in the troubled days of 2020 as in the tragic days of war. 

Mark Aspen, November 2020

Photography by Neville-Woodroffe, Sofia Rizzi and St Mary’s Hampton

From → Music

One Comment
  1. Celia Bard permalink

    Interestingly, I listened to the Philharmonic recording of The Armed Man earlier this week so was delighted to read this most informative review written by Mark Aspen. Now, will go to You Tube to listen to the St. Mary’s recording of Benedictus. Thank you.

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