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<<  -- 4 --  Malcolm Miller    COSMIC FAILURE

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In the Pre-Prom Radio 3 talk, which featured three very expressive and effective chamber and vocal works, John Tavener described his aesthetic stance in relation to the new piece. For him, it appears individual 'fantasy' is implicitly not 'the truth', since truth lies outside human perception, is the 'sacred' embodied in 'tradition', for Tavener that of Orthodox Christianity. He claimed that the Song of the Cosmos was a work of 'tradition' rather than his authorship. These statements show his contradictory artistic personality, for it is in effect the fantasy elements of the Song of the Cosmos, which are the most successful, the melismatic soprano and bass lines, the stark accompaniments, and the idea of bold contrasts and spatial concept itself. A similarly artistic truth was vividly brought to life in the vivid fantasy of 'Venus -- bringer of peace' in Holst's masterpiece The Planets which followed in the BBC Philharmonic's brilliantly colourful and riveting performance conducted zestfully by Jan Pascal Tortelier. By contrast, it is the 'traditional' elements of Song of the Cosmos that fail the most: over-repetition and over-simplicity of form, cliché of choral textures, indistinct, uninvolving drumming, and the untrained voice of the priest, neither effective nor ironic. After the first two sections one had heard the entire work. Yet in its blatant shortcomings, Tavener nevertheless recalls those challenges of his earliest works, in his attempt to question the boundaries between art-work and rite. Still an 'enfant terrible' iconoclast, here the icons he destroys are his own, and while the new work may be a failure, it is, at least, one of cosmic proportions.

Copyright © 12 August 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK

 

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