Notes and Editorial Reviews
In some ways I am the worst possible critic to write about the work of Sir John Tavener. I find his spiritual pronouncements, especially when they take the form of music criticism, foolish at best and frequently devoid of the very humility he seems to espouse. The flip side, I suppose, is that when I like something, as I do here, it stems from a response to work that, despite my misgivings, overcomes my inherent resistance to his writing.
is one of two works he composed in 2003?04, based on the writings of the Swiss philosopher and mystic, Frithjof Schuon (1907?98). Schuon converted to Catholicism at
the age of 19, his focus being the adoration of the Virgin Mary. This continued through his subsequent conversion to Sufi mysticism and informs the poems set by Tavener in both the present work and the choral
The texts are in German and come from a body of poetry that Schuon wrote in the last four years of his life, amounting to some 3,000 individual poems. Tavener sets a total of 19 poems. These are interspersed with a series of canons on fragments from the preceding song that strongly recall the string-writing of the Second Viennese school in their tonal period and followed by an instrumental postlude. The whole cycle runs about an hour and is one of Tavener?s most interesting and varied works.
The instrumental ensemble of piano quintet, augmented by a sixth player on Tibetan temple bells, calls to mind the works of the Viennese masters in many ways, a quality that carries over into Tavener?s specific writing for them. The vocal writing is demanding in the extreme. Tavener draws on the entire history of vocal music from the last 700 years or so. Melismatic writing that recalls nothing so much as Machaut is set next to the writing in the second song, which could be from Philip Glass?s own work on India,
. While there are none of the extra musical vocal effects Tavener sometimes requires of his soloists, Rozario is called upon to sing extended legato passages at the very top of her very wide-ranging voice. It is a virtuoso performance that never calls attention to itself. I can only imagine that the reason Ms. Rozario is not better known this side of the Atlantic is that, like Claron McFadden, she tends to sing mostly new music, which has a smaller audience. The instrumental support from the Schubert Ensemble is wonderfully rich and full bodied. The notes do an admirable job in setting up the construct of the work and there are full texts and translations of the Schuon poetry. Black Box?s recording is rich and full, perfect for the sensibility of the work. Recommended.
FANFARE: John Story
Works on This Recording
Schuon Lieder by John Tavener
Patricia Rozario (Soprano),
Gillian McDonald (Bowls),
Jan-Peter Schmolck (Violin),
Douglas Paterson (Viola),
Jane Salmon (Cello),
William Howard (Piano),
Simon Blendis (Violin)
Schubert Ensemble of London
Period: 20th Century
Written: 2004; England
Date of Recording: 11/2004
Venue: St Michael's Church, Highgate, London
Length: 62 Minutes 19 Secs.
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