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The Divine Feminine: A Musical Meditation on the Mystery and Spirit of Woman
John TAVERNER (b.1944)
The Last Sleep of the Virgin (excerpt) [1:17]
Robert KYR (b.1952)/Hildegard of BINGEN (1098-1179)
O eterne deus (excerpt) [0:47]
O viridissima virga [4:15]
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935)
Fratres, for eight cellos (excerpt) [1:17]
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1549-1611)
O magnum mysterium (excerpt) [2:22]
Alan HOVHANESS (b.1911)
Alleluia and Fugue, Op.40b (excerpt) [3:12]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Le Spectre de la rose, from Les Nuits d’été, Op.7 [6:23]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Siciliana, from Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No.3 [3:29]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Adagio, from Symphony No.8 (excerpt) [1:37]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Venus, The Bringer of Peace, from The Planets [8:30]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Madrigal, from Romeo and Juliet, Suite No.1, Op.64A [3:20]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Love Scene, from Roméo et Juliette (excerpt) [4:30]
Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
In trutina, from Carmina Burana [2:13]
Ralph Vaughan WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (excerpt) [5:57]
Christopher ROUSE (b.1949)
Movement V. Ànhran, from Flute Concerto (excerpt) [4:58]
Recording and performer details at end of review
TELARC CD80689 [55:34]



How misleading a title can be! Not long ago there appeared on Alia Vox (AVSA 847) a CD entitled Lux Feminae, on which Montserrat Figueras explored, with great originality, medieval and Renaissance Spanish music which presented a compelling image of the Feminine, of feminine strengths and sufferings, joys and pains, of feminine spirituality, even something of the female face of divinity. This all went to make a beautiful CD of substance and clearly-conceived and purposeful integrity.
 
The title of this new CD – ‘The Divine Feminine: A Musical Meditation on the Mystery and Spirit of Woman’ – might perhaps have made one hope for something similar, at any rate something worth taking equally seriously. Unfortunately, what we get is a CD which differs from that created by Figueras in almost every respect. Where that was the serious expression of a coherent and explicit idea, this is a hotch-potch of extracts and fragments in the service not of the kind of integrated vision which characterises the Alia Vox CD but rather in the service of a wishy-washy lazy would-be-feminism cum new age confusion. The aspirations of the marketing department are not hard to discern – “Each who listens may hear a different element in the complexity, simplicity, and mystery of how the composer and performer visualizes Woman. For it is mystery that is at the heart of the divine, and of both sacred and secular feminine”. There has been a lot of fascinating, even revelatory, writing about the ‘Feminine’ – from the pens of psychologists and theologians, sociologists and, for that matter, musicologists – in recent years. Waffle such as the booklet note to this CD is a trivialisation of a profound and important matter.
 
The music is trivialised too. The CD, we are told, is “a compilation of portrayals, of meditations, of varied representations of the ‘sacred feminine’ [which] brings us closer to recognizing, and listening to, the voice of the divine that exists in each of us, male or female, composer, performer, or listener”. What this means, in practice, is one minute seventeen seconds from Tavener’s The Last Sleep of the Virgin - or to be more accurate two minutes thirty four seconds, since the extract, which opens the CD, is repeated at the end of the CD, too - and one minute thirty seven seconds of the adagio from Bruckner’s Eighth. What it means is music by Hildegard of Bingen arranged by Robert Kyr or an incomplete version of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. What it means is one track virtually segued into the next to make a kind of seamless wash of sound. What it means is a booklet in which nothing is said - beyond the kind of generalised gush quoted above - about the music, but in which the number of every CD from which an extract has been taken is provided so, presumably, as to facilitate ordering them should one so wish.
 
I feel sorry for performers of the quality of many of those represented on this CD. Can they really have agreed to have their work treated in this way, or is built into their contracts? Elly Ameling singing Berlioz, Previn conducting Vaughan Williams, Paavo Jarvi conducting Prokofiev – I have no objection to, and some admiration for, these and others represented on the disc. But not trivialised, chopped up and segued.
 
This is sadly disappointing and wasteful of good music and good performers. An example of the compilation album at its worst.
 
Glyn Pursglove
 

Performance details
Taverner: I Fiamminghi, The Orchestra of Flanders/Rudolf Werthen;15-18 September, 1997, Onze Lieve Vrouw, Presentatiekerk, Ghent
Kyr/Hildegard: Tapestry; 28-31 May, 1997, Studio A, National Music Foundation, Lenox, Massachusetts
Pärt, Hovhaness: I Fiamminghi, The Orchestra of Flanders/Rudolf Werthen; 18-20 August, 1994, Basilica de Bonne Espérance, Vellereille-les-Brayeux, Belgium
Victoria: Robert Shaw Festival Singers/Robert Shaw; 26-28 July, 1989, Church of St. Peter, Gramat, France
Berlioz (Les nuits): Elly Ameling (soprano), Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Robert Shaw; 21 March, 1983 and 10 May, 1985, Symphony Hall, Atlanta, Georgia
Respighi: Lausanne Chamber Orchestra/Jesús Lopez-Cobos; 29-31 May, 1991, Musica Theatre, La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
Bruckner: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Jesús Lopez-Cobos; 14-15 March, 1993, Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio
Holst: Women of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Yoel Levi; 3-4 April, 1997, Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, Georgia
Prokofiev: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi; 17-18 November, 2002 and 9-10 February, 2003, Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio
Berlioz (Romeo): Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/David Zinman; 5-6 October, 1987, Joseph Meyerhoff Concert Hall, Baltimore, Maryland
Orff: Judith Blegan (soprano), Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Robert Shaw
Vaughan Williams: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn; 6-7 July, 1988, Walthamstow Town Hall
Rouse: Carol Wincene (flute), Houston Symphony/Christoph Eschenbach; 24 September and 1 October 1996, Jones Symphony Hall, Houston, Texas

 

 


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