John Tavener can be heard here in two works
from the turbulently active 1970s.
The twelve Canciones Españolas
are very short - the dozen being complete in less than 17
minutes. They set six Spanish folk songs concerned with love
and death – rich pickings! These silvery flame-flickering
slivers of sound are rife with vitality and with the redolence
of Dufay and of the Trouvères. Some tracks might almost be
pastiches but then we come to Dime a do tienes las mientes
and to Pase el agua ma Julietta where a fractured
shatter synthesises courtly dances. You hear this again in
the stagger and grip of Interlude (VI) where held notes by
the organ are hedged around with percussion impacts and a
flitter of woodwind note-cells. Postlude (X) is similarly
challenging. Rosa das Rosas with its strangled tinkling
bell ostinato provides a stimulating bed over which the voices
of Bowman and Smith writhe in an ecstatic angelic progress.
Those crusader dances are evoked by the drumming background
for Maravillosos et Piadosos. The final Haceme vivir
penada takes us back to the serene reverential world of
Tallis without even a lick of 1970s modernism.
Music of Iberia had already been used by Tavener
in his Ultimos Ritos dating from shortly before the
Canciones. Intending a more direct use of the material
he scored the Canciones for two high voices, two flutes
(doubling piccolo), alto flute, amplified harpsichord, chamber
organ, hand bells, side drum and four small gongs. This makes
for fascinating and very attractive listening, not at all
the holy minimalism for which he has later become known. This
sequence has something in common with Berio's then contemporary
sets of folksongs.
The Requiem for Father Malachy is
a much more substantial work incorporating the most commonly
encountered mass particles but adding a Hosanna. If
Berio used the Swingles in his Sinfonia then Tavener
was happy to use The King's Singers in this Requiem
as well as a much-expanded Nash Ensemble. The work is one
of a number of Tavener requiems – four in all. The others
are Celtic Requiem (1969), Akhmatova Requiem (1980)
and just issued on EMI Classics his 2008 Requiem. The
Father Malachy Requiem is dedicated to the free-thinking
Father Malachy Lynch (1899-1972) of the Carmelite Priory at
Allington Castle in Kent. Tavener is more unforgivingly avant-garde
in this work. Japanese temple music mixes with dark choral
waves, organ flights and protesting brass. A touch of the
medieval - and even of Orff - can be heard in Dies Irae
but it is extruded through the withering avant-garde blitz
of the 1970s. Seraphic voices of the middle ages can be heard
in Offertorium. The bright dazzling light of his later
scores is there with a modicum of Messiaen (with whom he studied)
in the Sanctus. The griping and braying brass and a
wailing sense of peril make for a strange Hosanna movement.
That Orffian stomp, rhythmic vitality and helter-skelter onrush
returns for the Libera me which melts into a chiming
and honeyed address from the choir amid a delicate dripping
The soundly researched and detailed notes are
by Paul Conway - a meritorious regular for Lyrita and the
rising Lewis Foreman of his time. The vocal and instrumental
contribution seems perfect – certainly clear and confident.
Simon Gibson has wrought the usual wonders with analogue originals
dating back three and a half decades. They sound stunning.
It is good through this vital and emotionally
inventive music to be reminded of Tavener’s roots and thriving
originality. The music still draws you in.