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John TAVENER (b.1944) - A Portrait
In Alium – Section A (1968)
Eileen Hulse, soprano
Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
To a Child Dancing in the Wind (1983) - Movement 1: He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
Heidi Grant Murphy, soprano, Auréole (Laura Gilbert, flute, Mary Hammann, viola, Stacey Shames, harp)
The Lamb (1982); The Tyger (1987)
Choir of St. John’s College Cambridge/Christopher Robinson
Ikon of Light (1984): Movement 1: FOS 1, DOXA Movement 2: Piu Intensita
The Sixteen, Members of the Duke Quartet,/Harry Christophers
Mandelion for organ (1981) (extract)
Kevin Bowyer, organ
Chant for guitar (extract) (1984)
Jonathan Richards (guitar)
Ikon of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (extract)
Durham Cathedral Choir, Ian Shaw, organ/James Lancelot
The Protecting Veil (1989), Section 1
Maria Kliegel, cello, Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
Mary of Egypt (1991) – Act III: Bless Duet
Patricia Rozario, Mary; Stephen Varcoe, Zossima; Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble/Lionel Friend
Akhmatova Songs for soprano and string quartet (1992) (two extracts)
Patricia Rozario, soprano, The Vanbrugh Quartet
Diódia for string quartet (1997) (extracts)
The Vanbrugh Quartet
Song for Athene (1993)
Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge/Christopher Robinson
Zodiacs for piano (1997)
Thalia Myers, piano
Prayer of the Heart (1999)
Björk, voice, Brodsky Quartet
Ikon of Eros (2000): Movement 2: Eρωη (Eros)
John Fleezanis, violin, Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Chorale/Paul Goodwin
Mother and Child (2002) (extract)
Tenebrae/Nigel Short
John Tavener Reflects………A Recorded Interview
NAXOS 8.558152-53 [79:31+75:55]

I think it might be best to look at the Tavener Portrait, one of an increasing number from Naxos, as an illustrated essay. The text is by David McCleery and provides one of the most succinct and structurally commonsensical summaries of the composer’s musical background. It’s true that the essay is schematic and like University English courses tends to make concrete and absolute that which may be more fluid and ambiguous. Yet it is I suppose undeniable that Tavener’s music, more than many others, is susceptible to this kind of analysis, not least because of his religious affiliations.

The recorded interview that takes up about fifty minutes of the second CD is also full of interest. Tavener is an engaging speaker, if not always an especially humorous one (I don’t suppose it’s a precondition but it never does any harm) and this aural testament also adds another layer to the variousness of the enterprise. It may seem generic and journalistic but it does work and given your interest in Tavener (mine for what it’s worth is almost nil) will stimulate further discoveries or rediscoveries (No The Whale here I notice. Wonder why.)

The music consists of extracts licensed from a number of different companies – not just Naxos’s own backlist. So we have Hyperion, Koch International, Coro, Divine Art, Priory, NMC and Regis amongst others. We also have the first release of Prayer of the Heart written for Icelandic popular chanteuse Björk with the assistance of the Brodsky Quartet, purveyors of the background music, though not the superimposed heartbeat.

The most interesting piece here for me, is Zodiacs, for piano, which does have a fascinating colouristic palette. It’s also diverting to hear the guitar piece Chant, a four-minute extract of which is here. The expected hits are here – if I can put it that way – and of course (a quarter of an hour of) the interminable The Protecting Veil in the Kliegel recording for Naxos.

Other than that this biographical essay with supporting aural evidence will doubtless prove of some worth to initiates and indeed detractors alike.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Gwyn Parry-Jones


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