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Tavener: The Veil of the Temple / Layton

Tavener / Choir Of The Temple Church
Release Date: 01/28/2014 
Label:  Signum Classics   Catalog #: 367   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John Tavener
Performer:  Thomas GuthrieJames VivianJeremy BirchallIan Le Grice,   ... 
Conductor:  Stephen Layton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra Brass EnsembleHolst SingersTemple Church Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

“I regard The Veil of the Temple as the supreme achievement of my life and the most important work that I have ever composed.” – Sir John Tavener

Signum Records re-releases the landmark recording of Sir John Tavener’s The Veil of the Temple. This 2-CD set captures the concert version of this 8-hour work, composed to last through the night until dawn in the manner of the grand vigils of the Orthodox Church. Combining the psalms of a number of different religious traditions, Tavener skillfully blends together a work that is truly all-encompassing in its scale and spiritual fervor. Originally released on RCA, 2003.


Read more mention of the fact is made in this Signum release, but from what I can make out this recording is a re-release of the RCA/BMG recording reviewed by John Quinn back in 2005. For a more detailed look at the work his review is very useful indeed. The Veil of the Temple exists in a version which takes us through an all-night ‘vigil’, though as the composer stated, lacking a formal liturgical or ceremonial function. This is the ‘concert’ version of the work which preserves some of the music from all of the cycles, though Cycle II remains complete. This continuity is important, since the effect of the work as an entirety is one which takes us gradually from sparseness to the ‘awesome grandeur’ of the final three cycles – ‘a symbolic unveiling from darkness towards light.’

With John Tavener’s death still in recent memory much attention has been given to his work of late. In interviews he stated that there was no expectation that people should sit though the full-length version of The Veil of the Temple as if it were a concert performance. Two and a half hours is also a pretty long sit, but don’t feel too guilty if your mind wanders or you need breaks of one kind or another. This is the kind of piece which works cumulatively, which demands its own time and space. How you wish to inhabit this space is entirely up to you, though the devotional aspect of the music is pretty much unavoidable.

Performed with subtle grace by these musicians, this recording is of major importance to the Tavener catalogue. Aside from some ‘essential’ or ‘best of Tavener’ extracts this is the only recording currently available and I can’t imagine it being improved upon any time soon. Even though the recording is a little vague and generalised the benefit is one of potent atmosphere rather than startling detail. Alas I don’t have the surround-sound original to hand for comparison. There are some gentle bumps and ticks which are all part of the live recording experience but hardly a distraction. All we can hope for is that someone decides to record the full version including a single vast MP3 file so we can set it running and ignore the juggling of physical discs. If you are looking for ‘if you like this, then try…’ comparisons, then the nearest work I can think of in terms of scale and devotional expressiveness is Arvo Pärt’s Kanon Pokajanen, which has a comparable choral vibe but none of the primordial apocalyptic explosions of the Tavener.

In terms of highlights, yes, there are many, but what I find is that I respond differently to different aspects of the music on different occasions. Sometimes all it takes will be the unearthly duduk notes towards the beginning, at other times I need to be called back into the flock, shaken out of reverie by an impressive gong stroke. Sometimes it will be a real surprise, like the little Wagner quote Tavener throws into the Knights Templar movement of Cycle VIII. This is the kind of work which can transport you into different planes of imagining and experience, though you have to be prepared to let it take you there. If you resist then yes, this is a very big roll of cosmic wallpaper indeed. It is however one with so much remarkable beauty, depth of expression and gestural grandeur that you will more than likely find yourself drawn in, even against your will.

– Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

The Veil of the Temple by John Tavener
Performer:  Thomas Guthrie (Baritone), James Vivian (Harmonium), Jeremy Birchall (Bass),
Ian Le Grice (Harmonium), James Vivian (Organ), Adrian Peacock (Bass),
Dirk Campbell (Duduk), Ian Le Grice (Organ), John Thurgood (Tibetan Horn),
Simon Wall (Tenor), Nathan Vale (Tenor), Hugh Benson (Percussion),
Patricia Rozario (Soprano), Christopher Kassam (Percussion), Andrew Rupp (Baritone),
Alex Mitchell (Percussion), Robert Millett (Percussion), Yates Norton (Percussion),
Luca del Panta (Percussion)
Conductor:  Stephen Layton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra Brass Ensemble,  Holst Singers,  Temple Church Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002; England 
Date of Recording: 2003 
Venue:  Live  Temple Church, London, England 
Length: 148 Minutes 13 Secs. 

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