Sir John TAVENER (b. 1944)
Choral Ikons
The Lamb [3:09]
Magnificat [6:49]
Nunc dimittis [2:56]
A Hymn to the Mother of God [3:02]
Song for Athene [7:17]
Annunciation [5:49]
Parting gift for Tam Farrow [2:00]
As one who has slept [4:11]
The Tyger [5:43]
The Hymn of the Unwaning Light [13:24]
The Lordís Prayer (1999) [4:12]
The Choir/James Whitbourn
rec. July 2000, TV Support Studios, Hilversum, The Netherlands and St Albans Abbey, UK
Texts included
OPUS ARTE OA CD9007 D [58:34]

The rear cover of this CD carries the statement, in minuscule type, that the disc ďcomprises tracks from the Opus Arte DVD Choral Icons OA 0855 DĒ. I havenít seen the DVD so I donít know if this programme comprises all the music on the DVD but intending purchasers should be wary of the possibility of duplication.

For anyone who is coming fresh to this collection, it offers a good introduction to the choral music of Sir John Tavener. As the title of the programme suggests much of the music is inspired by his Russian Orthodox religion, though thereís one secular item in the shape of his William Blake setting The Tyger. I should say that, to judge from his comment in the booklet, the composer appears to regard this, too, as a religious piece.

Several of the pieces are extremely well known, not least Song for Athene, which acquired an instant fame when it was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Lamb is almost as well known, thanks to its association with the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Kingís College, Cambridge. The gorgeously-textured Hymn to the Mother of God and Tavenerís settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are also among his best-known compositions.

Some of the other items are less familiar, however, not least The Hymn of the Unwaning Light, which I canít recall hearing before but which is an eloquent and very devotional piece. Unfortunately, the booklet notes arenít a great deal of help. These consist of a short, somewhat philosophical note by the composer and a longer Ė and rather specialised Ė article on the subject of ikons. Unfortunately, neither tells us much about the music itself, which isnít much use to anyone who isnít au fait with Tavenerís music. Thatís a shame because itís precisely that type of person who may well buy this CD, perhaps as an impulse purchase.

However, what I can assure prospective purchasers is that, if Tavenerís Orthodox Church music either appeals or is something you wish to explore, this collection is an excellent Ė and representative Ė starting point. Better still, the music is well served by James Whitbourn and the fourteen singers who make up his ensemble, The Choir. They sing Tavenerís music very well indeed and they are atmospherically yet clearly recorded. The Ďblurbí on the back of the CD describes this music as ďhauntingly beautifulĒ and I think thatís a pretty fair description, especially of the gently prayerful setting of The Lordís Prayer and As one who has slept. There are quite a number of collections of Tavenerís choral music in the CD catalogue but this is as good as any Iíve heard.

John Quinn

There are quite a number of collections of Tavenerís choral music in the CD catalogue but this is as good as any.