> DVD - John Tavener [CT]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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John TAVENER (b. 1944)
Choral Ikons
As one who has slept
A Hymn to the Mother of God
Song for Athene
A parting gift for Tam Farrow
Nunc Dimittis
The Lamb
The Tyger
The Hymn of the Unwaning Light
The Lordís Prayer

Plus extra features:

Manifestations of God Ė John Tavener on his choral music
The parents of Athene talk about the inspiration behind Song for Athene
The Ikon chooses you Ė Robert J. Roozemond on spiritual and artistic origins of ikons
The Choir/James Whitbourn
Filmed at TV Support Studios, Hilversum, The Netherlands, 2000?
BBC Opus Arte OA 0854 D [100.00]

John Tavenerís choral music is so well represented in the catalogue on compact disc that I suspect this collection of some of his best known shorter works for choir is likely to have limited appeal purely for the sake of the music itself. However it does score in a couple of other important areas. Firstly, each piece has a spoken introduction by the composer himself, filmed in his own study, in which he explains both the inspiration and the spiritual meaning behind the music. Using the menu, the listener has the option to hear the music alone or with the composerís words to follow. Secondly, much of the imagery surrounding the music is highly effective with a good number of the pieces featuring the choir set in a computer generated recreation of the 6th century Hagia Sophia, the magnificent place of Orthodox worship in Constantinople, the results of which are visually stunning. The remaining works are interwoven with images of Orthodox iconography and close ups of individual members of the choir, some of whom it must be said, look a little self conscious at their newfound stardom.

The disc is topped up with a talk by Robert J. Roozemond, an expert in iconography, who presents an interesting perspective on the origins of icons and their significance in both the ancient and modern worlds.

Perhaps the most memorable moment for many people however will be the poignant interview with the parents of Athene, the young girl who tragically lost her life in a cycling accident and to whom Tavener paid tribute in his Song for Athene, immortalised when it was sung at the funeral of the Princess of Wales. The performance by The Choir is no less beautiful than the moving words of the parents.

In many ways, for this reviewer at least, Tavenerís commentary on the music can tend to be more interesting than the music itself, which in the context of certain of these choral pieces shows a tendency towards the monotonous when listened to in succession, dependent to a degree upon your frame of mind at the time. The composer does however speak with clear passion and authority and certainly succeeds in convincing of the personal integrity behind his inspiration, should this be in doubt.

Ultimately whether this DVD does anything for you is likely to very much depend upon your stance on Tavener. In reality it is unlikely to convert anyone who has not already seen the light although the visuals undoubtedly add a further dimension to the experience. The performances themselves are finely done, James Whitbourn directing his young singers, who the booklet tells us are largely drawn from the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, with authority. I am less convinced by the sound however, which must have given the engineers an opportunity for a field day in computer manipulation. I am afraid that their attempts to create a suitably spacious acoustic to match the imagery of the Hagia Sophia strike me as somewhat overdone to say the least.

Christopher Thomas

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