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John TAVENER (b.1944)
Beyond the Veil
Song for Athene (1993);
'Spit in My Face' from 'Three Holy Sonnets of John Donne' (1960);
Annunciation (1992);
The Protecting Veil (1987) - First Movement;
Akathist of Thanksgiving (1986-87);
'The Bless duet' from 'Mary of Egypt' (1991);
'As One Who Has Slept' (1996);
Agraphon (1994).
Westminster Abbey Choir; Stephen Varcoe (tenor); Renato Ripo (cello); La Camerata/Alexander Myrat; Choir of Greek Orthodox Cathedral, London; Patricia Rozario (soprano).
Produced and Directed by Bryan Izzard
Edited and Presented by Melvyn Bragg
Photography: Clive Barda, Performing Arts Library
Filmed in England and Greece, 1998, 2006
LWT/NVC ARTS 3984-23931-2 [80:00]

This DVD is based on LWT's television production about the composer's life and works. He is sympathetically, but not sycophantically, interviewed by Melvin Bragg. Scenes are shown of his childhood home in Buckinghamshire, his studio, monasteries he has found inspiring to visit, rehearsals of his works and performances including that of 'Song for Athene' composed for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Some exploration is made of his involvement in the London scene of the 1960s, as well as his later conversion to the Orthodox strand of Christianity. However, this is not brought out equally in the selection of musical works presented.
Performances have been included of an otherwise representative selection of his works to the date of production, including the piece for Diana's funeral which has brought him most into the public eye (which opens the disc), and a developing sequence of works inspired by his religious faith. Perhaps 'The Whale' - a seminal 1960s piece for which the London Sinfonietta was formed - is conspicuous by its absence.
The documentary-style production is clear, helpful, well made and informative. Its main shortcoming is that there is now significant more recent works and footage which it does not include, such as the recent commission, 'The Beautiful Names' premiered at Westminster Abbey but drawing on Islamic material. There’s also an epic work for the Temple Church of which a concert suite has been performed at the Proms and toured internationally.
Inevitably, hearing predominantly short extracts from longer works can be frustrating for the serious music enthusiast. These can only serve as a taster or sampler for full-length performances or recordings. However, it remains an informative introduction to the composer's life and work and is a tribute to what can be achieved in careful and thoughtful television production.
Julie Williams



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