John Tavener Fall and Resurrection. 4 January 2000; St Paul's Cathedral City of London Sinfonia cond. Richard Hickox, BBC Singers and soloists
The timing of this world première couldn't have been better, coming only days after the announcement of Sir John Tavener's knighthood and days into the new millennium (and within the Cathedral's millennial Octave of Celebration and Prayer). Nor could the setting have been better for a work on this exalted theme, making such heavy use of visual effects. These included the use of lights, beamed from the ceiling of the transept, to represent different elements of the drama: orange light for Resurrection, darkness for the Beginning of Time.
The work begins in silence (as well as darkness) and gradually 'Chaos' grows out of this, represented by five minutes of unrelenting cacophony in which, according to the composer, all the material of the work is amassed. Then 'Paradise' is ushered in and Adam (bass) and Eve (soprano) sing ecstatically to each other in harmonious, scale-like melodies. Rapid, rasping strings herald 'The Fall', and the soloists are joined by the full choir in a primordial chorus reminiscent of Carmina Burana. In 'Adam's Lament', solo parts interweave in a duet, with a poignant, high flute accompaniment.
'Prediction' begins Part 2, and we hear a dialogue between the Voice of God (singing words taken from Old Testament prophecy and Psalms) to a serene melody over a Taveneresque string drone), Adam and Eve and the choir, in an Hebrew-style prayer sung in major rising sixths, again characteristic of Tavener. Strident and dissonant antiphonal trumpets in the galleries each side of the transept end the section and lead into the 'Incarnation'. Here the Psaltis introduces the Byzantine chant 'Thy Cross we Adore' (on which the work is based) contained in 'Chaos', but now in its bare form, and alternating with the choir. Here, the juxtaposition of the spiritual quality of the Psaltis's chant and the wild, untamed character of the choir's cry of 'Crucify Him! Crucify Him!' is very striking.
At last all is sublimated into Mary Magdalene's ecstatic recognition of Christ at 'Resurrection', the impossibly high line beautifully and movingly sung by Patricia Rozario, a frequent exponent of Tavener's music. The work culminates in a massive organ blast and the opening of the West Door to welcome in the sound of Easter bells.
A very impressive finish, then, which prompted a standing ovation from many of the packed audience (with others following in order to see Sir John take his bow), but I felt that the enormous expectation at the start of the evening had not been fulfilled for everyone. Overall, the pace was slightly too slow for a work lasting an hour and 10 minutes. But Fall and Resurrection was, to a considerable extent, redeemed by its imposing, highly ritualistic quality. It certainly received a dedicated performance from Hickox and his forces.
Fall and Resurrection received mixed reviews. The Times (Barry Millington) felt that before its overwhelming closing minutes, and found the invention thin in purely musical terms, with probably 20 minutes worth of music in the 65 minute score and almost complete lack of real substance, according to the canons of traditional Western culture.
It was broadcast live on radio 3 and will be televised Saturday evening, on BBC 2. Reactions from readers would be welcome? Editor
Seen&Heard is part of Music on the Web(UK) Webmaster: Len Mullenger Len@musicweb.force9.co.uk
Return to: Seen&Heard Index
Return to: Music on the Web