Music and Vision homepage

CD Spotlight

Unquestioning faith

A CD of John Tavener's choral music -
considered by

'If Tavener can sometimes seem a victim of his own mannerisms, the performers under Paul Goodwin have done him proud.'

John Tavener: Total Eclipse; Agraphon (p) 2001 harmonia mundi


John Tavener has probably stayed in more of the Mount Athos monasteries than I have, discussed theological matters more profoundly with more monks than I have, watched in wonder more of the icons being painted than I have, listened more critically to their music than I have, and certainly his membership of the Orthodox Church has given him more inspiration than my scholarly delvings into earliest monasticism have enriched me. Yet questions remain about the effects of that inspiration. The Orthodox Church, in its timeless spiritual certainty, admits the validity of no other religious worships. Its age-old rituals and discipline of interminable services seem hardly to have remarked the Gregorian calendar, let alone Greenwich mean time. Its hierarchical organisation demands an unquestioning faith and absolute obedience. The dangers to the Church must concern higher authorities than me; the dangers to a composer are manifest in the two works on this CD. If Orthodoxy runs all the risks of ossification, so does Tavener; and his risk is the greater.

Total Eclipse (1999) is concerned with the conversion of that Saul who watched the stoning of Stephen to the St Paul who wrote epistles to the Corinthians and others. The work begins cataclysmically, with timpani thundering from the bowels of the earth and wind shrieking in prolonged agony at the crucifixion. Such sounds have become a Tavener formula, as indeed is the succession of dominant seventh chords that imply a descent from the supersonic to the subsonic. James Gilchrist is the tenor Christ, eerily questioning Saul on the road to Damascus. The future saint is both the countertenor, Christopher Robson, and soprano saxophone of John Hurle. The first moment of magic in the work is at the start of the 'Agape' section, when the boy treble Max Jones soars over the music of the New College choir to introduce selections from Corinthians 13 [listen -- track 1, 22:00-23:09].

Continue >>

Copyright © 3 March 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK







 << Music & Vision home      Recent reviews       Langgaard >>

Download a free realplayer 

For help listening to the sound extracts here,
please refer to our questions & answers page.