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Sir John TAVENER (b. 1944)
Schuon Lieder (2004) [62:19]
Patricia Rozario (soprano)
Gillian McDonagh (Tibetan temple bowls)
The Schubert Ensemble
Rec. 24-26 November 2004, St Michael’s Church, Highgate, London. DDD
BLACK BOX BBM1101 [62:19]

This world première recording of Sir John Tavener’s Schuon Lieder (first performed in the 2004 Cheltenham Festival) represents an important addition to the composer’s already extensive discography. This work, just over an hour in length, is closely linked to, and partly born out of, Tavener’s deep interest in the philosophical and poetic writings of Frithjof Schuon. As a result of this, the influences found in this major composition are wide-ranging, Tavener now having what he himself calls ‘permission from Heaven’ to discover and explore other world religions beyond his profound Russian Orthodox faith.

Scored for soprano soloist, string quartet, piano and Tibetan temple bowls, it is here performed by the musicians for whom it was conceived, most specifically the soprano Patricia Rozario. Tavener sets to music 19 of Schuon’s poems in their original German, each song separated by a short and sinewy canon for string quartet, the cycle ending with an instrumental postlude that refers back to the first song of the cycle.

Musically, this work is extremely diverse and Tavener has clearly been inspired by a number of things. The influence of the lieder tradition is often vivid and there are scattered among the songs influences from a variety of composers, with quotations or suggestions of Schubert, Richard Strauss, Mozart, J.S. Bach and Messiaen. Strong hints of the chorale and chant are also evident at various points. The presence of the piano is essential in the scoring, furthering the link with the lieder tradition, while the subtle but frequent use of Tibetan temple bowls adds a distinctly Asian quality that creates an unusual atmosphere to the convincing fusion of the various influences.

Often there is a childish and innocent quality to the music. Schuon Lieder also contains some of the most intensely beautiful, mystical and spiritual music to have come from Tavener. An essence of repetition is still present in the music, but his musical language contains an extra element of sustained, reassuring warmth no doubt gained partly from his discovery and exploration of Schuon’s work. There is also a measured and appropriate intensity where required in the text.

The musical score is clearly demanding and the performers present an effortless and powerful interpretation. There is a certain purity in much of Rozario’s singing, which is most noticeable when she is singing softly in a high register. The Schubert Ensemble and Gillian McDonagh are intensely musical and it is a bonus to have this repertoire played by them. The recorded sound is commendable, helping to create the required atmosphere, although the string quartet is on occasion just a little too distant in relation to the piano. The disc itself is beautifully presented, with informed and interesting notes from Stephen Johnson and David McCleery.

Overall a must for fans of Tavener, but equally an important work that is well worth exploring further.

Adam Binks

 

 

 



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