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Lifting the veil

Recent recordings of John Tavener

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CD Review
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With John Tavener music is timeless, contemplative, ritualistic. The listener needs to respond by allowing a comparable state of mind to overwhelm as the physical senses retreat and quiescence takes over. That I perceive as the ultimate in receiving Tavener's music, whereas in reality it needs much exercise in discipline. John Tavener - The Protecting Veil - In AliumNonetheless, I remember the Proms debut of The Protecting Veil as an experience that had an almost hypnotic effect on the audience. Clearly, then, with listeners in a much less exalted state the composer still has sufficient sway to create a particular ambience that almost transcends the physical attributes of a performance. Listening to this work alone in my study cut off from players and other listeners, absorbing the 'slow heartbeat' of the music, the effect subtly penetrates one's being. From there everything depends on individual reaction.

For those who do not know this work's background, Tavener's intent is to give musical voice to the Mother of God through the solo cello, which, with the main body of strings, goes through eight sections related to Feasts. Thus there is continuous variation in mood and intensity. (Click here to listen to part of section 5.)

Whereas the preceding work is instrumental, In Alium is an amalgam of live and pre-recorded material both instrumental and voice, conceived for the vast symmetrical space of the Royal Albert Hall. Its conception and realisation is complex yet its basis is not unduly taxing for the listener. Lines from Charles Peguy are the motivating force in a construction made up of four sections. Much in reception of such a work depends on your willingness to accept sounds, either natural or electronic, as building blocks activated by the creative force in a journey planned and directed by the composer. It is a complicated process making no concession to the listener - and yet revealing of its basic simplicity to those who have ears to really hear. (Click to listen to part of section B.)

The other record contains five pieces, including the Funeral Canticle for Tavener's father, and what I've found as an almost perfect creation, Song of the Angel. It would be trite to dub this a human idea of angels' music; much more, and deeper, is Tavener's understanding as the composer of a tenderness tinged with ecstacy that can fill the heart. (Click to listen.) Conversely, Sappho: Lyrical Fragments is of darker hue for two quite dramatic sopranos. (Click to listen.) Just before that is heard Petra: a Ritual Dream (click to listen), as recollection of a ritualistic ascent from darkness to light, adorned in Tavener's best way with a simplicity that invites repetition and yet reveals the subtle variants that mark the creative mind.

Copyright © Basil Ramsey, July 1st 1999

John Tavener


The Protecting Veil for cello and orchestra
In Alium for soprano, tape and orchestra

Maria Kliegel, cello
Eileen Hulse, soprano
Ulster Orchestra / Takuo Yuasa

Naxos      8.554388       DDD    59'56

Recorded at the Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland
on 17 and 19 March 1998

Producer and Engineer: Tim Handley
Music notes: John Tavener
Publishers: Chester Music Ltd., London



Eternity's Sunrise
Song of the Angel
Petra: A Ritual Dream
Sappho: Lyrical Fragments
Funeral Canticle

Patricia Rozario, soprano
Julia Gooding, soprano
George Moseley, baritone
Andrew Manze, violin
The Choir and Orchestra of
The Academy of Ancient Music
Paul Goodwin, director

harmonia mundi    HMU907231          DDD         65'03

Recorded in the Temple Church, Inner Temple, London
on 6-8 July 1998

Producer: Robina G. Young
Recording Engineer: Mike Hatch
Music notes: John Tavener
Publishers: Chester Music Ltd., London


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