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John TAVENER (b.1944)
Ikon of Eros (2003) [61:38]
John Tavener in interview with Brian Newhouse [10:45]
Jorja Fleezanis (violin)
Patricia Rozario (soprano)
Tim Krol (baritone)
Minnesota Chorale
Minnesota Orchestra/Paul Goodwin
rec. Cathedral of St Paul, Saint Paul, Minnesota, April 2003
REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR 102CD [72:03]

 


In the ten minute interview preserved as an appendix in this recording John Tavener talks to his American interlocutor Brian Newhouse about his music. Expected phrases duly appear; “primordial and simple … the beautiful … contemplative beauty … a longing for God … stasis … pre-existent music.” That defines the Ikon of Eros quite satisfactorily, a work that originally began as one for violin and orchestra but which grew into one for solo violin, orchestra and choir. The choir, as the composer makes clear in a brief written note, acts as a Greek chorus, singing at a remove; they sing the “key words” in Greek – Metemorphothes (Transfigured), Eros (Divine Love), Ekstasis (Ecstasy) and Alliluia. Orchestrally Tavener’s schema is strict – brass represents God the Father, strings God the Son and woodwind the Holy Spirit. The solo violin is Eros and Tavener is just as specific as to his preferred layout – Trinitarian, shaped like a pyramid with the solo violin at the pinnacle “or at least above the orchestra.” I assume that’s how it was in the vast Cathedral of St Paul, Saint Paul, Minnesota for which building Tavener wrote. He had the advantage of a soloist whose playing he admired, Jorja Fleezanis, an old colleague in Patricia Rozario, a baritone in the shape of Tim Krol and the experienced Paul Goodwin on the rostrum.

That’s the theory, what of the music? Like his most recent work for solo violin and orchestra, Lalishri, this is a big work – in fact considerably more imposing in terms of length than its chorus-less sister. The violin writing, representing Eros, is overwhelmingly high lying except for those moments of ecstatic dance in which it leads. The distant effect Tavener wanted is best exemplified in the second movement where its refinement pays testimony to the conductor’s control of texture, and the choir’s own high standards. In the very resonant cathedral it must have been difficult to control the disparate forces but one can say that the balances are highly sympathetic to the conductor’s instructions.

How one responds to this music depends on how one deals with Tavener’s aesthetic. The contemplative and the beautiful are certainly here, as are wild, shamanic dances, elements of medievalist tapestry, percussive interjections, choral shouts, acts of repetitive, Blondin-like daring from the high wire violin soloist, stasis and stillness. If you like the sound of this then you have an hour’s worth awaiting you.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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