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Names of Allah

MALCOLM MILLER reflects on a
John Tavener first performance


The world première of Sir John Tavener's The Beautiful Names -- A Vision for tenor, double choir and orchestra, was a memorable event: a work setting the 99 names of Allah used in the Koran, which had attracted attention even before its première on account of its mixed influences, drawing on Eastern, Middle Eastern as well as Western musical traditions, and suggesting that Tavener's leanings have altered away from the pure Greek Orthodox allegiances of his works from the late 70s onwards to a more eclectic, ecumenical outlook.

At the performance, given at Westminster Cathedral on 19 June 2007, there was tight security around, due both to the obvious topical-political nature of the work and the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales who had commissioned the work in 2005. Also present was the composer, seated next to his patron, who came up on stage at the end, in his famous white suite, to receive applause from the large, enthusiastic crowd. Jiri Beholavek conducted the BBCSO and chorus, and the Westminster Cathedral Choir, with dynamic impetus, command and expression, while the tenor soloist, John Mark Ainsley, gave a memorable intensely compelling performance.

The two opening works of the concert, Populae meus (Improperium) (1585) by Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), a transitional work from the world of Renaissance polyphony to early Baroque homophony, and Tavener's own Hymn to the Mother of God (1985), ravishingly sung by the Westminster Cathedral Choir under Martin Baker, seemed to prepare the ground for the main work by creating a mood of resonant serenity highlighting textures and techniques such as triadic progressions, overlapping imitation, and sharp contrasts of gesture and colour, which would be repeated and exploded onto a larger canvas in The Beautiful Names.

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Copyright © 27 June 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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